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Scholarship Wrappers as Faculty Development

Barry Sharpe, Western Governors University


Key Statement: Assignment/exam wrappers support metacognition and reinforce learning. Scholarship wrappers can help faculty get more out of their scholarship and support deeper reflection on professional learning.


Keywords: Assignment/Exam Wrappers, Faculty Development, Metacognition


While working on a project about learning to teach and teaching to learn, I pivoted, due to a bit of serendipity, to another project. The initial project involved bringing together presentations and publications as a patchwork chronicle of professional learning—episodes of self-discovery as a teacher and learner. As I reviewed these episodes with a bit of distance from my new project, it was clear that there was little self-conscious movement from one episode to another, but rather a kind of finding my way as a reflective practitioner. I was also struck by how often I fell into the same habits of working that stalled progress and impeded learning. Looking back on these episodes, I can now make connections and identify patterns in a way I could not while in the middle of things. When I return to the project on learning to teach and teaching to learn, I hope to make meaning out of accident, mistake, habit, serendipity, and the gifts of others.

Image Courtesy of Mélanie Arouk, Unsplash.


The Pivot

But what about making better connections and identifying patterns while in the middle of things? How can faculty support critical reflection while at the beginning or in the middle of a scholarly project, extend their learning after completion of the project, and identify and learn from mistakes? This article represents my initial attempt to answer these questions. The impetus behind the pivot? Assignment/exam wrappers.



Wrappers as Inspiration for Faculty Development


Assignment wrappers help students process feedback, support metacognition, reflect on mistakes, and reinforce learning. Wrappers invite students to extend the learning and focus on more than just the grade (Exam Wrappers, n.d.).  How often do faculty engage in the same kind of self-reflection about their own scholarship? Consider the following:

  • What might faculty gain from revisiting and reassessing their scholarship to focus on the process of learning, not just the work product?

  • What sort of activities might wrap around a scholarly project?

  • How important would it be to have activities before, during, and after a project, especially given the limits of and problems associated with memory?

  • At what point would faculty begin to feel, perhaps like students, that the wrapper is getting in the way of the “actual work” of scholarship?

  • If improved performance is to be the key standard and motivator, what does that look like outside of the context of grades?


Consider how reflection on these questions recasts thinking about preparation, purpose, and performance. Self-reflection of this sort could be as important as the development of questions for a scholarship wrapper.


            I am drawn most to the following definition of exam wrappers: “Exam wrappers and test analyses are strategies meant to encourage learners to actively process exam feedback and reflect on their preparation strategies. They can also encourage learners to look for patterns in the errors they made” (Exam Wrappers and Test Analyses, n.d., para. 1).


The first thing that drew me to this definition of a wrapper was the language of learner. Thinking about oneself as a learner, especially while working on a scholarly project, provides a potentially helpful nudge toward greater self-reflection on the work of scholarship. However, if wrappers are to serve as a framework for faculty self-reflection, one challenge needs to be met – finding a clear analogue to student reflection on grades and feedback on grades. Grades and feedback on grades provide a clear target for student reflection. What should be the target for self-reflection for faculty? I pose the question without an answer here because reflection on this question will be crucial for the development of a scholarship wrapper.


Consider that “exam wrappers are activities that "wrap around" an exam—that is, they come either before or after the exam, or both—and that help students plan their study for the exam or reflect on their performance afterward and strategize how they can improve their performance on the next exam” (Kurz, 2022, para. 2), and that “a wrapper is a short form that students complete along with an assignment or exam that focuses on the learning process rather than on the content itself” (Assignment/Exam Wrapper, n. d., para. 1). These definitions nicely capture my intuition about what could be valuable in translating wrappers for faculty development purposes: extending the learning by including reflection on the process, not just the product. While attempting to get at this learning process, my first thoughts centered on the context for doing work: Where do I work? When do I work? What am I doing when inspired? Are there differences in work conditions when in a flow state or operating more methodically? These questions highlight another potentially useful link to wrappers – metacognition , defined as “a complex set of skills including self-awareness (knowing your strengths and weaknesses), understanding learning goals, planning an approach to learning, monitoring, evaluating performance, reflecting and adjusting” (Bowen, 2013, para. 7).


Wrappers support gains in metacognition for students. Thinking through what it means to reflect on the learning process, not just the content of scholarship, provides an appropriate focus for faculty self-reflection. Although there is work on metacognitive teaching (Foote, 2022) and pedagogical metacognition (Tocco et al., 2023), whether the same benefits apply to assessing scholarship has not been thoroughly answered. But I do think there could be benefits for student learning, as well as for teachers reflecting on their scholarship. Perhaps attempting to turn theory into practice, not just talking about metacognition but practicing it, could improve faculty’s ability to connect with students struggling to do the same.


Developing a Scholarship Wrapper


With these questions and goals in mind, the actual work of developing a scholarship wrapper begins. Although there is not sufficient space to detail the development of a wrapper in this article, I offer the following suggestions about how to proceed:

  1. Learn from what your students learned

    1. What did your students find most useful or valuable about wrappers?

    2. What was challenging or disappointing about wrappers from students’ point of view? What adjustments did you make?

  2. Review examples

    1. Sample question from student wrappers (Kurz, 2022): What was difficult for you on this exam? What was easy?

      1. Reflection Suggestion: How might reflection on levels of difficulty be useful for a scholarship wrapper?

    2. Sample question (Bowen, 2013): What percentage of your preparation time was spent on each of these activities (reading, reading and taking notes, re-reading, finding online content, thinking, brainstorming or conceptualizing, sharing ideas with others, preparing, researching, drafting)?

      1. Reflection Suggestion: Grappling with Bowen’s question could highlight habits of thinking/working in need of disruption, while providing suggestions for thinking and doing things differently (e.g., recognition of conflating re-reading with thinking and overly prioritizing editing over brainstorming or conceptualizing).

  3. Modify existing questions (Additional Questions, n. d.)

    1. Do you ask yourself how course concepts are connected and build upon each other?

    2. Are you asking yourself the rationale, aka “the why,” of what you are doing?

      1. Reflection Suggestion: How might these questions be modified for a scholarship wrapper?

  4. Make the connection from student learning to faculty development

    1. Reflection Suggestion: What question(s) do you think would be most important to include as part of a scholarship wrapper?

    2. Reflection Suggestion: What have you “accidently” learned as a result of reflecting on prior projects? How might this inform how you prepare for future projects? How might this inform how you incorporate formal reflection on past/future projects?



Discussion Questions 

  1. Reflect on a recent experience of creating scholarship. Did the process feel intentional? Or did it feel pushed by circumstances and time available?

  2. Consider current assignment wrappers you may be using for students (or perform a quick internet search to find some good examples). Can you pick one or two general questions that could be tailored to your own metrics of scholarship process and measures of success?

  3. How might the considerations in questions 1 and 2 inform how you (a) prepare for future projects and (b) incorporate formal reflection ongoing in your scholarship?



Additional Questions for Consideration on an Exam Wrapper. (n. d.). Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Virginia Tech University. 

Assignment/Exam Wrapper. (n. d.). Office of Teaching and Learning. University of Denver.

Bowen J. (2013, August 22). Cognitive wrappers: Using metacognition and reflection to improve learning, José Antonio Bowen.

Exam Wrappers. (n. d.). The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. Carnegie Mellon University. 

Exam Wrappers and Test Analyses. (n. d.). Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Virginia Tech University.

Foote, S. (2022). Metacognitive teaching–reflecting on our teaching practice. Pedagogicon Conference Proceedings.

Kurz, L. (2022, April 27). Help students learn to take exams with exam wrappers. Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, Indiana University.

Tocco, A. J.,  Mehrhoff, L. A., Osborn, H. M., McCartin, L. F., & Jameson, M. M. (2023). Learning communities promote pedagogical metacognition in higher education faculty. To Improve the Academy: A Journal of Educational Development, 42(1), 9.


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