Mayan K. Castro, M.A., Department of Psychological Science

What is a MICA?

This is a call for a new type of assignment: a Meta-Integration Collaborative Activity (MICA). The goal of a MICA is to present an explicit opportunity for students to connect the dots among the disparate ideas introduced across their various courses and to encourage students to reflect on how those connections fit into the bigger picture of their learning and identity. As much as these may be implicit goals of many of the activities we assign to students, a well-organized MICA precisely and overtly targets these aims from start to finish.

The MICA Structure 

  1. Introduction

In the first phase, we present the goals and format of the MICA to students with clarity and directness. Explaining the purpose of the MICA increases students’ buy-in and motivation.

  1. Collaborative Integration

In this phase, students work together in groups to discuss and create concept maps linking their newly-learned material with content from other courses or their own outside knowledge.

For example, students learning a new idea in calculus, such as how to take a derivative, will brainstorm and visually represent the link between mathematical derivatives and the meaning of the word derivative in a literary sense. Students can incorporate contextualizing information about historical and sociological forces that played a role in the development of the concept of derivatives in calculus, as well as applications of the concept in both historical and modern scientific and technological advances.

In the collaborative integration phase, we guide students to embed new knowledge within their existing network of understanding. Recent evidence has emerged indicating that this can be one of the most effective ways to help students understand and remember new information (Owens & Tanner, 2017). As a bonus, extensive research has shown that collaborative learning is associated with student improvements in teamwork, problem solving, and overall performance (Taylor, 2011; Tomcho & Foels, 2012).

  1. Individual Meta-Integration

The third phase of the MICA provides time for students to work independently on brief, free-writing journal entries. Students can keep journals which are turned in periodically and graded for relevance and completion only; educators need not grade based on writing style, spelling, or any objective sense of “accuracy.”

This is a sample individual meta-integration prompt:

“Think about the concept map you just created with your peers. Before making it, did you realize how connected all of these ideas are? What does this tell you about how great ideas develop through human history and group collaboration? What did you learn about yourself – how you learn, what your strengths are, and what your unique perspective brings to the world?”

The individual meta-integration phase cultivates students’ curiosity, self-exploration, and awareness of identity and diversity in the context of learning. Research has found that reflective journals are effective tools for developing students’ self-knowledge and increasing students’ personal sense of purpose and investment (Huang, 2014; Pavlovich, Collins, & Jones, 2009). 

  1. Consolidation

The brief, final phase of the MICA is an open discussion centering students’ insights from the collaborative integration phase or the individual meta-integration phase.

Make it Stick with a MICA

As facilitators of our students’ learning, we always hope that they see the bigger picture: How does this fit with what you already know? Why should it matter to you? Does it help you make sense of the wider world and your place in it? By explicitly bringing these questions to the surface and encouraging students to discover the answers together, the MICA framework helps new material stick longer and mean more.


Huang, L.-S. (2014). Students Riding on Coattails during Group Work? Five Simple Ideas to Try, 1–6.

Owens, M. T., & Tanner, K. D. (2017). Teaching as brain changing: Exploring connections between neuroscience and innovative teaching. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(2), 1–9.

Pavlovich, K., Collins, E., & Jones, G. (2009). Developing Students’ Skills in Reflective Practice. Journal of Management Education, 33(1), 37–58.

Taylor, A. (2011). Top 10 reasons students dislike working in small groups … and why I do it anyway. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 39(3), 219–220.

Tomcho, T. J., & Foels, R. (2012). Meta-Analysis of Group Learning Activities: Empirically Based Teaching Recommendations. Teaching of Psychology, 39(3), 159–169.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on November 25th, 2019.