“Building Faculty Capacity for 21st Century Teaching” is a faculty-led professional development model designed to help faculty integrate evidence-based teaching practices using metacognitive approaches. The approach includes four components and models that show how faculty can apply lessons from cognitive science to classroom teaching: (1) shifting the delivery of metacognitive training to shorter “chunks” provided in intervals; (2) providing regular opportunities to test and apply knowledge; (3) engaging in ongoing peer discourse through a learning community; and (4) offering coaching support with a faculty development specialist.

Through this grant, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE) created a virtual teaching and learning center that expanded the metacognitive professional development model they had developed in seven institutions within the consortium. The resources (e.g. Compendium for using Metacognition in the Classroom) were heavily informed by the research and faculty development expertise of Dr. Chris Jernstedt, Professor of Psychological Brain Sciences and Director Emeritus of The Center for Educational Outcomes at Dartmouth College.

This project exceeded the faculty participation goals SEPCHE had set forth. Anyone who has written grant proposal knows that it is no easy feat to set ambitious metrics and then exceed them, yet SEPCHE did just that. For instance, 40% of full-time faculty and 33% of adjunct faculty engaged in the faculty-led workshops and subsequently applied a strategy they learned in their class and assessed its effectiveness on student learning and engagement.  


of full-time faculty participated


of adjunct faculty participated


faculty participated in the program total

What were the implementation factors that contributed to the deep reach with faculty?

First, the workshops were scheduled in a manner to incentivize participation by both full- and part-time faculty. For example, chief academic officers created time and space within existing, required faculty in-services and if they created a separate workshop, they provided a meal such as dinner.  Time and space was also integrated into existing, required pre-semester meetings for adjunct faculty. The workshop sessions were planned to not only enhance faculty members’ instruction by modeling effective applications of metacognition, but to engage them intellectually as researchers by providing avenues for scholarship on teaching. Modest incentives such as a stipend ($100) or gift card ($25-$50) were sometimes provided for completion of a brief faculty reflection report requiring them to apply a teaching strategy, assess its effectiveness and reflect on their findings.

Importantly, training sessions were led by faculty conveners who were selected for their passion for this topic and strong relationships with faculty on campus. Two faculty conveners per campus were paid a modest stipend each semester ($300) to communicate the project through faculty channels, provide workshops and assist faculty with institutional review board procedures. Faculty conveners led at least one workshop on their campus that was open to all faculty on all campuses. Faculty therefore learned about this initiative through both administration and faculty channels.

Second, SEPCHE established an innovation fund to support research related to metacognition. The size of the awards was modest, averaging between $500 to $1000 per accepted proposal, but they motivated faculty to participate and experiment with metacognitive approaches to teaching. The workshops helped generate research ideas and supported them in the process of proposal development. The innovation fund ultimately supported 50 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) research projects involving 67 principal investigators and 18 learning communities. In many cases, investigators served as learning community facilitators, organized by campus, cross-institutionally or through a specific discipline. Learning communities adopted a common research question or research theme testing varying interventions around a common topic. Faculty conveners sometimes served as learning community facilitators and brought questions from the on-campus learning community to the learning community that met monthly and was facilitated by Dr. Jernstedt.  

Reporting templates supported individual and organizational reflection tools for monitoring progress. Participating faculty were required to reflect and report on their findings and their change in learning as a result of this effort. The reporting process fostered shared reflection and learning in ways that motivated faculty to continue building evidence-based practices beyond the formal grant period.

For example, an English professor from Neumann University wanted to learn how to engage his students more thoughtfully in critical analysis of literary texts and how to engage them more purposefully in their writing. As part of an on-campus learning community using a common resource, Student Engagement Techniques: A Guide for College Faculty (Barkley, 2009), Professor Kain tested an in-class exercise called Silent Socratic Dialogue whereby students responded in writing to a text, provided written feedback to their classmate’s response and repeated the cycle several times before engaging in whole group discussion about their findings. Formative feedback was instructive:

…Students were engaged more thoughtfully and their interpretations went much further and deeper than a normal class discussion in which only a few students speak and the others agree…Our follow-up discussion was much more interesting and far-ranging than a typical class discussion…They learned that writing their thoughts and asking and answering questions with other students was critical to developing a better understanding of what they were reading.  They said they never would have interpreted the poem that well without this process.

Professor Jim Kain, Neumann University

Through continuous participation in the learning community over several semesters, Professor Kain confirmed, 

Brain based research supports the kinds of student-centered learning activities that I have found effective. Colleagues are finding many of the same strategies effective in their own courses, in their own ways.  Engaging students in ways that stir their curiosity, creativity and collaboration is much more effective than traditional models of teaching in higher ed. Student-centered learning activities require more intentional planning, more improvisation, more risk-taking and more letting go of control on my part.  

Since then, Professor Kain has promoted lessons learned from this effort as chair of the university’s faculty senate committee on professional development. He also coordinates the core writing program and is working with Neumann faculty convener Janelle Ketrick-Gillespie, Associate Professor of English, to incorporate these lessons throughout the program. To see the full report on Professor Kain’s work, please see this PDF.

This is just one of many faculty stories describing the continued impact of this effort. At a recent professional development conference, they invited faculty to share how their teaching and learning has evolved over the past three years: 

Through intentional applications of metacognitive strategies, I have become a better teacher because I am more aware of my students, their needs and their approaches to learning. I have also become a better colleague who is more interested in the successful practices of other teachers and researchers. My purpose has been renewed in the last three years; it is a privilege to teach and to research.

Much more focus on student-centered activities. I’ve built in more activities in every course, so that students take more of an active role in educating themselves and each other. This has changed the way I prepare for classes, engage with individual students, and assess them.

Participating in Immaculata’s metacognition workshops has greatly increased my purposeful lesson plans, use of reflection by both myself and students and continual student feedback and adjustment.

Resources related to this effort, including workshop slides, a metacognition libguide, reporting templates and other scholarship of teaching and learning resources can be found here

Released May 18, 2016