Teaching Spotlight – Adding Metacognition to Art-based Observation Activities in BIOL 323 and BIOL 203

Brett Couch recently developed a series of art-based observation activities in collaboration with the UBC Belkin Gallery. These activities were designed to provide students with tools to become more active observers of demonstration material in organismal biology labs in BIOL323 (Structure and Reproduction in Fungi) and BIOL203 (Eukaryotic Microbiology). Brett chose to include a metacognitive component to these art observation activities and below he describes the motivation for doing so, the impact on students, and how he overcame some key challenges.

How did you incorporate metacognitive elements in the art-based observation activities?

I included post-activity reflection questions for each of the activities and an end of course reflection assignment.

What motivated you to include these reflections?

The reflective activities were designed to: 1) help students see the connection between the art-based observation activities and course-content specific activities in the lab; 2) have students identify how they have developed as observers; and 3) help students identify the applicability of skills developed in my course to other courses.

What impact have these activities had on your students?

Based on student responses to the reflection prompts, the students seem to have generally appreciated that the art-based observation activities were useful for developing skills required for success in the course and in other courses. I am currently in the process of performing a thematic analysis of reflections to quantify student impressions of the activities based on their responses to the reflection prompts.

What did you find most surprising?

I learned that some students that were previously uncomfortable using drawing or graphical representations as tools to organize and represent information took the approaches from BIOL323 and applied them to other courses.

What advice do you have for other instructors who are interested in using similar metacognitive activities in their own courses?

The two biggest challenges for me were: writing the reflective prompts and grading the reflection submissions.  For writing the prompts, I made use of some great resources from the University of Waterloo (https://uwaterloo.ca/writing-and-communication-centre/critical-reflection).  For grading the prompts I used a rubric that included marks for completion and marks for the quality of the argument or reasoning.

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