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Promoting Metacognition through Reflection Exercises in a Thermodynamics Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Using Communication and Writing Techniques to Improve Student Learning

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.999.1 - 23.999.13



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Paper Authors

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Mariajose Castellanos University of Maryland, Baltimore County


Joshua A Enszer University of Maryland Baltimore County

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Dr. Joshua Enszer is a full-time lecturer in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. He has taught core and elective courses across the curriculum, from introduction to engineering science and material and energy balances to process control and modeling of chemical and environmental systems. His research interests include technology and learning in various incarnations: electronic portfolios as a means for assessment and professional development, implementation of computational tools across the chemical engineering curriculum, and game-based learning.

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Promoting Metacognition through Reflection Exercises in a Thermodynamics CourseChemical engineering thermodynamics is a core course in the undergraduate curriculum, but itsseemingly unintuitive nature makes it a challenge for novices to understand. At our institution,student feedback for the past several years has included complaints about having to “know” toomany equations, the existence of an apparent disconnect between theory and real worldexamples, and a textbook they do not enjoy using. We believe that focusing on how studentsunderstand their own work with the textbook addresses not only the last complaint, but also theother two, and to that end have modified our thermodynamics course structure with an emphasison reading activities and self-reflection.Now in class, students practice regular reflection through a short weekly assignment that we call“the reflection paragraph,” which supplements the regular problem solving homework. Studentsare instructed to write 200 words to explain what they have learned and to provide evidence ofthat learning. They are also given a series of prompts designed to explore the way they study forthe course and to encourage them to make more direct connections between theory and their ownexperiences and learning. Students also self-assess their reflection using a provided rubric. Thecourse instructor provides comments as feedback for the first few iterations of this assignmentwithout an impact on the grade before starting to numerically assess the student responses andself-assessment for the rest of the semester.Further, in-class activities include regular use of a reading activity, in which students take time toexplain to one another the most important details of the week’s textbook reading, then discusswhy those details are important and relevant. This reading activity leads into a short assignmentof listing what points are unclear about the current problems worked in class, which helps toguide the examples and mini-lectures conducted by the course instructor.In this paper, we discuss in more detail the logistics of administering, collecting, and assessingstudent reflection exercises, as well as discuss the importance of self-reflective activities. Wewill explore the correlations between student self-assessment and instructor assessment on thereflection paragraphs, and provide the results of an attitude survey regarding the incorporation ofreflection exercises into the course. Most importantly, we will report the impact of this requiredreflection activity on traditional exam performance in thermodynamics.

Castellanos, M., & Enszer, J. A. (2013, June), Promoting Metacognition through Reflection Exercises in a Thermodynamics Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22384

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