'Prospecting for metacognition' in a science museum: A metaphor reflecting hermeneutic inquiry
University of British Columbia
Gregory P. Thomas
University of Alberta
Studying metacognition brings with it many challenges. The challenge of researching metacognition is exacerbated when research, (a) moves from clinical or highly structured settings, those associated with much research in this field, to more naturalistic contexts with less structure, and (b) begins in previously unexplored settings and social contexts with little, if any, existing literature related its study within such settings. We use the metaphor of 'prospecting' to characterise a qualitative methodology that employed a hermeneutic dialectic process to explore the metacognition of parents and their children as they interacted in the naturalistic setting of a science museum. We explore and explain the dialectic hermeneutic questioning and decision making processes we employed and how the research proceeded over 4 days and 14 cases as part of our detailed methodological reflection. Our aim is to inform future research in metacognition, or other under-researched learning phenomenon, using interpretive methods in such settings, and to provide examples of the decisions and thinking that shaped our study's progress.
In this paper, we draw from a sub-study of the MRI that focused on a not previously investigated examination of metacognition manifest in parent-child interactions during their engagement at an interactive exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The focus of this paper is the systematic review and reflection on our own hermeneutic questioning techniques and research processes we employed to explore the metacognition of parents and their children as they interacted in the naturalistic setting. We seek to stimulate further discussion regarding how metacognition research in science museums, and in naturalistic settings in general, might be conducted. Furthermore, we also seek to provide a model metaphor of qualitative research and thinking about such matters, particularly as it relates to the evolution of lines of questioning throughout the course of study.
This is important because much reported research on metacognition understates the methodological considerations and decision-making processes that inform and are inherent in the research enactments, and often implicit and not visible in research publications. This can be said of studies from across paradigmatic orientations. Maximum word lengths for manuscripts can reduce the opportunity for elaboration of qualitative methodologies, and for reflection on and critique of those methodologies. Hence, the capacity to justify employing such methodologies is diminished. Indeed, the understanding of validity and reliability attributed to quantitative research reports is most often tacit and 'taken for granted' and challenging such momentum within the scholarly community requires an opportunity to explicate new approaches and highlight their potential value. Finally, the metacognition research community's predominant interest in findings rather than how the findings were arrived at also downplays discussion of the value and appropriateness of approaches that might not reflect dominant, hegemonic practices within that community.
It is to address these concerns regarding the place and practice of qualitative, interpretivist, and hermeneutic inquiry in relation to metacognition research in complex naturalistic settings, such as science museums, that we sculpt this paper. Details of the findings regarding the participants' metacognition are not the focus of this paper. However, Thomas and Anderson (2013) report two strongly supported assertions from this particular study within the MRI, namely:
We emphasise at this point, that our considering and writing about the process of this research into parent and child metacognition in a museum setting is itself a consequence of us reflecting metacognitively. We were metacognitive about the thinking processes we ourselves used to contemplate the nature and value of the questions we designed and employed. We did not enter the research cognizant of this metaphor for the process we were about to experience. Our use of metaphor - defined as a conceptual tool for implicitly comparing the conceptual structures between two domains - follows a long tradition of the use of metaphors in science education for a range of learning and meaning-making purposes (e.g. Aubusson, Harrison and Ritchie, 2006; Duit, 1991; Thomas & McRobbie, 2001; Tobin, 1990). Interestingly, Aubusson et al's review of the use of metaphor in science education does not contain reference to its use as a means of conceptualising methodological research processes in science education. However, we see that it has high utility in both conceptually understanding and reflecting on methodological issues.
Conversely, researchers more aligned with a relativist-contextualist paradigm regard contextual factors as highly relevant to considering individual's metacognition and its development and enhancement. They acknowledge the importance of the psychosocial nature of individuals' environments for influencing metacognition and see the ecology of the environment within which metacognition is embedded as vitally important. Studies reflecting this paradigm are typically interpretivist in nature and most often employ qualitative or mixed methods. Critics of such an orientation, e.g., Dunlosky, Bottiroli, and Hartwig (2009) propose that such a position can be problematic for helping develop a generalisable theory of metacognition. Yet, even those authors acknowledge the importance of environment when suggesting that, "to obtain generalizability across environments, education researchers should begin by describing the environment to which they want their outcomes and conclusions to generalize" (Dunlosky et al., p. 436).
Our orientation within the MRI was consistent with a relativist-contextualist paradigm which regards factors such as visitors' agendas, self-efficacy, motivations, prior knowledge and socio-cultural identities as highly influential and important in relation to their metacognition. We consider the natural ecology of the learning environment within which the research participants are embedded (i.e., a science museum setting) as vitally important for framing the learner and his or her metacognition. Our MRI studies have departed from the tradition of "lawlike theories of social behaviour" (Popkewitz, 1984, p. 36) that declares that there exists a single, objective reality that can be uncovered by stripping away "possible contaminating influences" in "searching for the way things really are" (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 84). Instead, we explored metacognition through the lens of social constructivism. Consequently, we aligned our methodological approaches to be predominantly qualitative and interpretivist. In the MRI studies we regarded such an approach to be more fruitful for constructing assertions to assist science educators and museum staff to improve learning outcomes within informal learning contexts.
Within such interpretivist approaches, research methods should, where practicable, not be rigidly fixed, but rather be dynamically responsive to (a) a study's research objectives, (b) the progressively developing understandings of the researchers in relation to the phenomenon being studied, and (c) any evolution of the epistemologies of the researcher(s). On this latter point, several pre-conditions are required of researchers. Firstly, they need to be critically cognisant their own epistemological stances and the views they hold about the learning phenomenon under investigation. Secondly, they should consider that their approaches regarding their investigation of phenomena should be flexible and should have the capacity to shift approaches in response to changes in their understandings of the world(s) in which these approaches are contextualised and/or changes to their understandings of the learning phenomenon they are investigating. Thirdly, the researchers should possess a willingness to allow their approaches (i.e., interview questioning tools) and the values they hold about their positions, even as they emerge from their interactions with the data, to be challenged along with the progressively developing understandings of the phenomenon being studied (c.f. Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 149; Guba & Lincoln 1997). Indeed, the position held across the MRI studies was that progressive change and the development of one's epistemological stances in this paradigm are both necessary and virtuous.
Given our appreciations of the nature of experiences that afford rich manifestations of metacognition, we sought an exhibit as the context for exploring visitors' metacognition that met several criteria. Firstly, the exhibit needed to be rich; meaning that its features could be manipulated in multiple ways and have multiple starting points of engagement and multiple outcomes as a function of participants' manipulation and starting points. Secondly, the exhibit needed to be predominately non-didactic in orientation. It could not simply consist of a prescribed and largely inflexible set of possible events or activities. Rather, it needed to enable diversity of possible experiences that had potential to result in cognitive challenge and higher-order learning. Thirdly, the exhibit needed to be both intelligible and engaging so that visitors could understand and comprehend the aim of the experience, and also maintain an intrinsic willingness to persist. Finally, the exhibit needed to present visitors with experiences that initiated a cognitive load that maximised the stimulus for them to become self-aware of their own learning and cognitive challenges as they arose.
We selected the "Math Tracks" exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in Saint Paul, Minnesota, which we deemed met these criteria (Figure 1) (See a more extensive description at http://www.smm.org/static/explorations/calculus.pdf pp. 10-12). Math Tracks is part of the Handling Calculus exhibition. It is comprised of two parallel tracks upon which carts travel. Each cart can carry a miniature tin silhouette of a familiar character that could be selected by the participants (i.e., Little Red Riding Hood, the post man delivering mail). Visitors could enact scripted stories, like Little Red Riding Hood's trip to Grandma's house, or generate their own scripts and play them to generate graphs, and in so doing potentially link their experience with some prior knowledge. The overall aim of the exhibit was to develop an understanding between slope and motion, the derivative and motion, and the visual connections between a graph and its derivative. The exhibit could be manipulated in several ways. For example, the carts could be physically moved along the track as part of a story rich in movement and mathematics (e.g., the wolf ran to the woods while Little Red Riding Hood meandered up the path). The motions would then be electronically recorded and displayed as displacement, velocity and acceleration versus time graphs. Alternatively, displacement, velocity and acceleration verse time graphs could be manipulated by means of a mouse and then played, illustrating the resultant movement of the physical carts along the track.
Figure 1: Manipulating the Maths Track exhibit
The semi-structured interviews were conducted in a relaxed, friendly manner. The research team members sat around the exhibit with the participants and began by asking them to describe their experiences with the exhibit. This was followed by a series of questions regarding aspects of their own knowledge and understanding of conceptual science they had become aware, as well as new insights, if any, they had gained. Additional questions followed, that probed their awareness of individual and collective knowledge about strategies they employed during their engagement in the activity, the fruitfulness of those strategies, and their mutual understanding of one another as learners. All interactions with the exhibit and the face-to-face interviews were video recorded for later analysis.
With each successive interview we allowed our questioning to evolve and adapt in concert with our emerging understandings of the phenomenon. This practice was in keeping with our hermeneutic dialectic epistemology. Hence, following each interview we paused and reflected deeply on participants' own interpretation of metacognition and the capacity of our interview questions to yield deeper understandings of that. Further rounds of reflection occurred at the conclusion of each day of data collection which sometimes led to adding and/or deleting questions and/or changes in questioning approaches the next day. Interviews were conducted over four days; cases 1 and 2 on day 1, cases 3 to 6 on day 2, cases 7 to 10 on day 3, and cases 11 to 14 on day 4. The evolution of the questions that we asked participants about their learning and metacognition from group 1 to group 14 could not have occurred without us engaging in ongoing hermeneutic dialectic reflection regarding what we were learning about metacognition, and also what we were learning about the effectiveness or otherwise of the questioning tools we were using.
The reasons for this are several. Firstly, there is no reason to expect that the metacognition and/or learning processes or behaviours of one individual or dyad should be identical across individuals and/or groups. Rather, we should expect that some participants would be more and/or less and differently metacognitive than others. Therefore, the potential of each case to yield further understandings of metacognition and, as a consequence, influence the refinement of questioning tools, should not be expected to progress at equal time intervals or to the same extent for each case. Secondly, we should not expect that all participants will have identical capabilities to effectively articulate their metacognition in an interview, especially one that was not part of their expectations as a museum visitor. Indeed, it is extremely difficult for most people to express or elaborate on their own metacognition given that they are very rarely asked to consider such issues and are unfamiliar with the language they might use to make their metacognition evident and open to scrutiny. Thirdly, the relationships and status of relationships that exist between parents and their children vary, as does their personal knowledge of each other's cognition and metacognition. As such, particular kinds of questions may be deemed by the researchers to be inappropriate to ask on the basis of what was observed by the researcher during the participant/s' interaction with the exhibit, and/or on the basis of what emerged during the interview itself. This is especially the case when at the time of questioning, researchers discern that it may be ethically inappropriate to ask questions that might compromise the parent-child relation or create tension between the researcher and these participant volunteers who have no vested interest in the research outcomes.
Our initial question sets, posed in the first few interviews, were informed by, (a) our core research objectives to understand participants' learning processes and their knowledge, control and awareness of their individual and collective knowledge about the strategies they employed with the exhibit, and (b) their mutual understandings of one another as learners. The question sets used in the initial interviews were akin to an orientation phase for us in which we were intent on developing foundational understandings of the 'lay of the land' concerning participants' metacognition. We came to interviews with some pre-existing knowledge about how to explore metacognition based on, (a) our past experiences as researchers of learning and metacognition, (b) the literature on metacognition, and particularly, (c) our experiences in other studies we had collaboratively undertaken within the MRI project. However, we acknowledge that our collective and individual appreciations of parent and child metacognition, situated in the context of shared experiences at an interactive exhibition in a science museum, were limited. This is particularly since we considered that this was the first such study of metacognition with this specific focus and context in mind. Hence, we considered that because of this context and focus that the study was ideally suited to the application of a dialectic hermeneutic approach (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004), where we were (a) studying a limited number of cases in depth, (b) attempting to describe complex phenomena, and (c) attempting to describe metacognition in rich detail, as it was situated and situated in a social context.
We employed different forms of questioning tools to locate and 'reveal' the participants' metacognition, although we acknowledge strongly that revelation regarding a phenomenon such as metacognition is heavily shaped by our interpretations as researchers, as is the case in interpretive research. We allowed the participants' responses to guide our efforts, just as rock types speak to prospectors. The tools we required to uncover metacognition in the metaphorical 'dark' context of the science museum in some cases needed to be created and were often not at our disposal at the commencement of our 'dig.' With our emerging understandings of the context and of the phenomenon itself gained through reflections after each interview and at the conclusion of each day, we re/designed effective questioning tools and modified these over the data collection to excise details regarding the elements of the participants' metacognition.
Within this 'prospecting for metacognition' metaphor, we draw five further mappings (Gentner, 1989; Holyoak and Thagard, 1989) to our dialectic hermeneutic practice as researchers, focusing on our questioning techniques that we employed across the cases in this study through the analysis of Appendix B. We elaborate further on these metaphorical mappings as an exposition of what interpretive researchers - prospectors of metacognitive phenomena - might practically expect in the exploration of new and unfamiliar territory regarding metacognition through the application of dialectic hermeneutic methods. The mappings (a) to (e) that follow are all represented as Table 1 with examples of questions asked. Table 1 is a distillation of the mappings (a) to (e) from data presented in Appendix B, and the purpose of Table 1 is to simplify Appendix B to highlight these specific mappings. As previously explained Appendix A provides the description of codes for all question asked during interviews.
Within qualitative interpretive research, researchers seek both confirming and disconfirming data from the cases in order to construct assertions (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Generally speaking, the confirmability of assertions is derived from patterns of responses that occur consistently across multiple cases, i.e., in our study (a) A consistently productive seam and (b) An emergent productive seam. The emergence of isolated or unique phenomenon within cases might be valuable to explore and further understand, but the choice to do so must be framed and comprehended within the boundary of the study, the study context, and the time constraints (Stake, 1994). Isolated and atypical data arising from particular questions are not generally employed in the confirmation of more prominent assertions. Further, these questions tended not to be asked again after their value for furthering this research came into question and began to be doubted. In the case of our study mappings (c) A localised seam, (d) A depleted seam, and (e) A fruitless seam typify such categories of unproductive questions. We should add that under different circumstances or in a study with different goals these questions may be more valuable and lead to new insights.
|A: Consistently Productive Seam||MCA-SRB||**||***||****||*||***||****||**||***||****||****||***||***||**||**|
|Metacognitive Awareness of Social Role & Behaviour: What were participants' views on their roles within the dyad?|
Eg., Think about what you did this last ten minutes in terms of both your roles; what you actually do at the exhibit and how did you engaging with each other?
|B: A Depleted Seam||MCA-PSD||*||*||**||**|
|Metacognitive Awareness of Psycho-Social Dimension: What was the quality and extant of awareness of how the other influenced their interactions with that person Eg., Do you think about how you might treat each other in terms of what your role might be in relationship to each other?|
|C: A Fruitless Seam||MCA-TRE||**||*|
|Metacognitive Awareness of transfer of role as an expert: Did participants report other contexts within which they also took on the role of expert?|
Eg., And when he [dad] helps you with your work that you do for school, is that [the way he helps] the same or different?
|D: Localised Seam||A-WILSO||*|
|Awareness - When to Implement a Learning Strategy to attempt to assist Others: What awareness is held of when to implement learning strategies for others?|
Eg., What's the tell-tale clue for you to know that you've got to implement that strategy with your daughter?
|E: Emergent Productive Seam||MCA-VLABS||****||*||*||***||**||*|
|Metacognitive Awareness of Variation in Learning Approaches Between Siblings: Parents' awareness of own cognitive approaches are similar to a specific sibling (identification)|
Eg., And do you think your older son does things differently to your daughter? Do you think they have different thinking processes?
Calls for research into children's thinking and metacognition in informal settings have been largely ignored. We posit, in line with considerable literature, that this is largely because of well documented difficulties that present themselves when working with children, and especially in such settings (Piscitettli & Anderson, 2001). However, we propose that with a reasonable and functional understanding of the hermeneutic dialectic approach, such issues can be addressed and overcome. More broadly, under-researched and non-traditional research contexts and research questions can be investigated with some hope and confidence.
The hermeneutic dialectic process requires an iterative interplay between researchers' experience, the researchers' interpretation of emerging assertions and the process by which those assertions emerge. It is potentially further complicated by the diverse nature of human participants, the research context, and the need to ethically balance research agenda with participants' agendas in such settings. In this study, where the participants were children and parents interacting in a science museum setting, these challenges become even more noteworthy.
Traditional research practices most often place virtue on making minor, if any, changes to interview protocols. We argue this constrains the possibility of attending fruitfully to new emerging insights, our metaphorical potentially gold-bearing veins, that may or may not lead to assertions that can be confirmed, and consequently contribute to the production of new knowledge of phenomena. Rather, we argue that qualitative researchers (as miners of phenomena) can break ground with an initial set of tools which then might be refashioned during the 'dig.' We have abstracted and made transparent five 'mining' mappings of the metaphor 'prospecting' to define question categories that arose within and across dyads and that ultimately improved the likelihood of us elucidating and understanding the complex nature of participants' metacognition in the science museum context. We propose that metaphor is useful for considering, contemplating and reporting on the research processes in and across research studies, especially those that, like ours, were investigating a well-mined concept in a new context. Our process is in keeping with those who have used metaphors to make abstract concepts, processes and phenomena understandable (e.g Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Milne & Taylor, 1995; Munby, 1986; Paris, 1988). It may be that others may consider the prospecting metaphor itself as a useful way to conceptualise their own new or ongoing research.
From another perspective, we have engaged in reflection on our own metacognition as it related to our knowledge, control and awareness of our thinking processes of our research in ways rarely documented and made transparent in published research studies. In doing so, we have tried to address the aforementioned concern we raised regarding the truncation of methodologies in papers related to metacognition research and often in many papers employing qualitative research. As we have earlier alluded to, traditions in our fields of metacognition and informal learning that often tend to emphasise research findings over any critique and reporting of methodologies and their underlying epistemological foundations. The influence of methodology cannot be under estimated in terms of its affordances and constraints with regard to the production of new knowledge. Qualitative research has a valuable role to play in opening up new areas for investigation in metacognition. Through this paper we have sought to demonstrate the type of researcher thinking that might be employed to further such research.
|||The Thomas and Anderson (2013) report's findings about parent-child metacognition considered only 12 of 14 case groups because of the specified age range of the child participants.|
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Appendix A: Question codes, titles and descriptions for questions asked during interviews
|Question Code: Title||Description|
|E-SR: Elicitation: Stimulated Recall||What did participants report about their thinking, learning or experience with the exhibit as a consequence of stimulated recall during the interview?|
|MCA-LE: Metacognitive Awareness of Learning Episodes||When, if at all, during the activity did participants become aware of learning 'x'?|
|MCA-SMK: Metacognitive Awareness of Self Meta-Cognitive Knowledge||What General Declarative and Procedural metacognitive knowledge did participants report?|
|MCA-CMK: Metacognitive Awareness of Conditional Metacognitive Knowledge||What, if anything, did participants report about how, if at all, their thinking/cognition was exhibit/context specific?|
|MCA-CLPOG: Metacognitive Awareness of Cognitive and Learning Processes of others in General||Did participants report meta-knowledge of how the other thought and learnt in a general (i.e. in an everyday sense)?|
|MCA-OLD: Metacognitive Awareness of others' Learning Dispositions||What were participants' view/s of the/any preferences and tendencies of others that they are reported being aware of?|
|MCA-CDVI: Metacognitive Awareness of Context dependence of interactions with others||Are participants aware that they change their interactions with others as a function of the context?|
|EOLS: Evaluation of others strategies for learning||What were participants' evaluations of the other's learning strategies?|
|MCA-CP Self-in-situ: Metacognitive Awareness of Cognitive Processes-Self In-Situ||How were the participants thinking (in-situ) when they engaged with the activity?|
|MCA-CP-Others-in-situ: Metacognitive Awareness of Others' Cognitive Processes - In Situ||What did participants report in situ that they know about the others' cognitive processes and thinking when they were engaging with the activity?|
|MCA-SRB: Metacognitive Awareness of Social Role & Behaviour||What were participants' views on their roles within the dyad?|
|MCAE-SOE: Metacognitive Awareness & Evaluation of other's and self expertise||What did participants consider were their own and the other's level of expertise in relation to the task?|
|MCA-PSD: Metacognitive Awareness of Psycho-Social Dimension||What was the quality and extant of awareness of how the other influenced their interactions with that person|
|SE: Self Efficacy||What was the participants' self-rated level of confidence or expertize in relation to the task and setting?|
|MCA-TRPS: Metacognitive Awareness of Transfer of Role, Planning or Strategy in support of others learning||Did the participants report that they engaged in a similar role with the other outside the exhibit context so as to support the other's learning?|
|MCA-TRE: Metacognitive Awareness of transfer of role as an expert||Did participants report other contexts within which they also took on the role of expert?|
|MCA-P: Metacognitive Awareness of Planning||Did participants have a plan or approach to the activity (or the other) in mind?|
|MCA-ISLA on Planning Metacognitive Awareness and Influence of one's own Learning Approaches on Planning and Strategy to support of others learning||Did participants report that their knowledge and awareness of their own learning approaches influenced their planning and strategies to support others' learning?|
|MCA-IOLA on Planning: Metacognitive||Awareness and Influence of Others' Learning Approaches on Planning and Strategy to support of others learning Did participants report that their K & A of other learning approaches influenced their planning and strategy to support others' learning?|
|A-OBAEL; Awareness of how the other's behaviour assisted engagement and learning?||Did participants' report an awareness of how the other's behaviour assisted their own engagement and learning?|
|A-WILSO||Awareness of when to implement a learning strategy to attempt to assist others|
|ERC: Evaluation of relative contribution of the other to task completion||What did participants report was the relative contribution of the other to task completion?|
|EOS: Evaluation of Other Success||The evaluation of other dyad members' success at the task given the consciously employed behavioural and social role of self.|
|MCA-VLABS: Metacognitive Awareness of Variation in Learning Approaches Between Siblings||Are parent participants aware that they employ or scaffold different learning approaches between siblings?|
|MCA-ILASO: Metacognitive Awareness that one's Learning Approach is the Same as an Other||Awareness of the child participant that their own cognitive approaches are similar to a specific sibling (identification)|
Appendix B: Frequency of questions of particular types being asked over the period of data collection
|MCA-CP (S)||***** ***||***||***** ****||**||*||*||***||**||**** ***||*||**||***** **||***|
|Key: * represents one instance of a particular question type being asked|
|Authors: David Anderson is a Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy and director of the Master of Museum Education program at the University of British Columbia. His research interests include, metacognition, psychology of autobiographical long-term memories, museum education, educational reforms in museums, and visitor studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory P. Thomas is a Professor in the Department of Secondary Education at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. His research and scholarship is concerned predominantly with investigating metacognition as it relates to science teaching and learning pedagogies and processes. Email: email@example.com
Please cite as: Anderson, D. & Thomas, G. P. (2014). 'Prospecting for metacognition' in a science museum: A metaphor reflecting hermeneutic inquiry. Issues in Educational Research, 24(1), 1-20. http://www.iier.org.au/iier24/anderson.html