This study was carried out to investigate how metacognitive activity, particularly cognitive regulation, manifests in the collaborative planning of chemistry practical investigations by senior undergraduate students in a simulated industrial project. The participating students worked in home groups to evaluate three synthetic routes for a given compound, and decided on a preferred route while considering the criteria of cost, technical challenge, and environmental impact. This is consistent with the jigsaw learning technique. During the planning session, the students who were evaluating the same synthetic routes convened in specialist groups to draw up detailed experimental procedures for their routes.
Audio recordings of the two specialist and the four home group discussions were purposively selected, transcribed, and analysed for manifestations of metacognitive regulation. This study started with a partial theory of what constitutes cognitive regulation in collaborative group discussions, and as the research progressed, verbal indicators of each component of cognitive regulation were inductively determined from analysing the pilot study data. These were then compiled into a coding scheme. The coding scheme was further refined following recommendations of an analytic audience. The students' self-reports were collected through retrospective stimulated recall interviews and were used to triangulate the findings inferred from the group discussions. This study has made important theoretical and methodological contributions.
The coding scheme proved to be both conceptually and methodologically useful in that it allowed for fine-grained coding. The system of coding interrogated not only the manifestations of metacognitive regulation at play (planning, monitoring, control and evaluation), but facilitated an in-depth look at the types of regulation, i.e. self or other, the areas where students applied their efforts towards regulation (cognition, behaviour and task performance) as well as the depth of cognitive regulation (low or high). The coding scheme went beyond serving as a tool for characterising manifestations of metacognitive activity, it developed into a framework which provides a finer theoretical elucidation of the social nature of metacognition.
I show in this thesis how in group work metacognitive activity was found to be predominantly other-regulatory, manifesting mostly as control and monitoring, with much fewer instances of planning and evaluation. These observations were made across all groups despite the differences in social context. The low occurrence of planning, evaluation and high-level regulation seemed to suggest a hierarchy in terms of the level of difficulty of metacognitive regulation. An even deeper look revealed that individual patterns of regulation differed in terms of individual dispositions and personal goals. Investigating the transferability of the individual patterns of regulation increased the originality of this study. Both the personal characteristics (extrovert vs introvert) and the personal style of regulation (assertive vs tentative) were found to be transferable and not group dependent.
The findings of this study show that peer interaction in collaborative tasks can facilitate achievement of collective conceptual understanding and learning gain through inter-individual regulation in social contexts. However, students find planning, evaluation and high-level regulation challenging, especially in social contexts. I suggest that concerted efforts should be made to teach students to make the most of group work by identifying and introducing instructional strategies that develop the desirable skills of egalitarian collaboration and the more difficult aspects of cognitive regulation and high-level engagement. Strategies such as metacognitive prompts, teaching students about team development techniques and exposing students to collaborative ill-structured tasks could be helpful in this regard. Some suggestions have also been made in terms of directions for future research.