Reflections on Productive Discomfort and The Right Amount of Confusion, Frustration and Success


  • Jace Hargis NYU SHANGHAI


Reflective Metacognition, Active Teaching Methods, Formative Self-Assessment, Student-Narrative Feedback


The primary goal of this research was to demonstrate how the instructor’s reflective metacognition can act as a powerful tool for real-time course modification as well as an effective means for reevaluating longitudinal data of students’ feedback for the course. Key to this approach was timely, frequent documentation based on a set of insightful prompts, which elicited deeper contemplation, rather than placing a superficial judgment whether we or the students believe the class session went well. By collecting additional qualitative data, such as midterm student perception surveys and final student evaluation of teaching (SETs), particularly the student narrative feedback, we were able to triangulate the data, creating areas of agreement and outlier data. Ultimately, we found that by using several data collection instruments for reflection of teaching and being serious about entering the data on a regular basis, we were able to collect and make sense of the methods that worked well in the course and be better prepared to redesign our course for the next term. Longitudinal data of students' perceptions three months following the course indicated they still (1) are using course specific terminology; (2) are sharing the major course themes with others; and (3) can articulate central ideas.

Author Biographies


Dr. Jing WANG is a Global Perspectives on Society fellow at NYU Shanghai. Before moving to Shanghai, she was a visiting scholar in the Anthropology Department at University of Pennsylvania. She has earned a PhD in Social/Cultural Anthropology from Rice University. Dr. Wang’s research focuses on multiculturalism, memory politics, media ecology, Muslims in China, Chinese diasporas, and globalization. For more information, please visit her website.


Dr. Jace HARGIS is currently a Professor and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at NYU, Shanghai. His prior positions include a Professor and Associate Provost in Hawaii; a College Director in Abu Dhabi, UAE; an Associate Professor and Assistant Provost in northern California; and an Assistant Professor and Director of Faculty Development in Florida. He has authored a textbook, an anthology and published over 150 academic articles as well as offered hundreds of academic presentations. He has earned a BS in Oceanography from Florida Institute of Technology; an MS in Environmental Engineering Sciences and a PhD in Science Education from the University of Florida. Dr. Hargis' research focuses on how people learn while integrating relevant instructional technologies. For more information, please visit his website.


Asad, T. (Ed.). (1973). Anthropology & the colonial encounter (Vol. 6). London: Ithaca Press.

Cohen, P. (1980). Effectiveness of student-rating feedback for improving college instruction: A meta-analysis of findings. Research in Higher Education, 13(4,) 321–341.

Coker, J., Haskell, R., & Nelson, T. (2014). Teaching global studies to all undergraduates: A required first-year course, Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 13(1-2), 267-280.

Elliot, A. J., & Devine, P. G. (1994). On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance as psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(3), 382–39.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Flavell, J. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. In The nature of intelligence. L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Fuller, I. (2014). Redesigning the first-year orientation course: How a discipline-specific approach can deepen student engagement. AAC&U Liberal Education, 100(3).

Gao, J., & Hargis, J. (2010). Promoting active learning in computer science education. Journal of Effective Teaching, 10(2), 81-93.

Hargis, J. (2014). A ten-year study of faculty classroom observations. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 7(2), 1-21.

Hargis, J., & Soto, M. (2017). A proposal to use classroom observations as assessment data to measure and evaluate effective teaching. The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education, 7(2), 6-17.

Hemans, P., Gluckman, M., Ferry, L., & Hargis, J. (2019). Reflective teaching: What instructional assistant reflection can inform us about transformation in higher education. Journal of Transformative Learning, (6)1, 22-38.

Hollywood, A., McCarthy, D., Spencely, C., & Winstone, N. (2019). ‘Overwhelmed at first’: the experience of career development in early career academics. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1-15.

Hursch, D. (1988). Reflecting on teaching teachers to become reflective: Proposals for reforming teacher education based on an ethnographic study of preservice teachers. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, New Orleans.

Hurston, Z. N., & Washington, M. H. (1979). I love myself when I am laughing... And then again when I am looking mean and impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston reader. Feminist Press at CUNY.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kleinfeld, J., & Noordhoff, K. (1988). Rethinking teacher education programs: What are the questions? Paper presented at the Western Meeting of the Holmes Group, Boulder, CO.

Liu, Z., Pataranutaporn, V., Ocumpaugh, J., & Baker, R.S. (2013). Sequences of Frustration and Confusion, and Learning. EDM.

Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the Pacific. New York, Holt, Reinhart and Winston.

Marcus, G. E., & Clifford, J. (1985). The making of ethnographic texts: A preliminary report. Current Anthropology, 26(2), 267-271.

Marcus, G. E., & Fischer, M. M. (1986). A crisis of representation in the human sciences. Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences, 7-16.

Mead, M. (1943). Coming of age in Samoa: A study of adolescence and sex in primitive societies. Penguin books.

Murray, H. G. (2007). Low-inference teaching behaviors and college teaching effectiveness: Recent developments and controversies. In R. P. Perry & J. C. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based perspective (pp. 145-200). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Nilson, L. (2010). Teaching at its best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ottenhoff, J. (2011). Learning how to learn: Metacognition in liberal education, Liberal Education, 97(34), 28-33.

Padgett, R. D., Keup, J. R., & Pascarella, E. (2013). The impact of first-year seminars on college students’ life-long learning orientations. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 50(2), 133–151.

Rabinow, P. (2007). Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco: with a New Preface by the Author. Univ of California Press.

Schraw, G. & Dennison, R.S. (1994). Assessing metacognitive awareness. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 19, 460-475.

Singer-Freeman, K., & Bastone, L. (2016). Pedagogical choices make large classes feel small. U of Illinois and Indiana U, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Svinicki, M., Williams, K., Rackley, K., Sanders, A., & Pine, L. (2016). Factors associated with faculty use of student data for instructional improvement. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10 (2), Article 5.

Taylor, K. & Baker, A. (2019). Examining the role of discomfort in collegiate learning and development. Journal of College Student Development, 60(2), 173-188. DOI:

Thibodeaux, J., Deutsch, A., Kitsantas, A, & Winsler, A. (2017). First-year college students’ time use: Relations with self-regulation and GPA. Journal of Advanced Academics. 28(1) 5–27.

World Economic Forum (2016). Global Challenge Insight Report. The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Retrieved from

Venkatesh, S. A. (2013). The reflexive turn: The rise of first-person ethnography. The Sociological Quarterly, 54(1), 3-8.






Research Articles