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Processes of metacognitive regulation and knowledge co-construction in case-based collaborative learning at university

Khosa, Deep (2014) Processes of metacognitive regulation and knowledge co-construction in case-based collaborative learning at university. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Providing students with professionally relevant critical thinking and life-long learning skills is an important consideration for tertiary level education. Given that it can be argued that professional learning is predominantly collaborative in nature, this necessitates the development of skills that facilitate learning effectively with and from peers. The considerable benefits of collaborative learning are well established in the literature, with the cognitive gains well documented and substantiated. It is also recognised that groups of students simply cooperating to manage a group task is not as effective as engagement in productive collaborative processes to achieve learning outcomes. Group learning activities are often considered a challenge to implement in tertiary level education, as students may prefer and be accustomed to teaching styles that promote individual forms of learning, which may have led to previous academic success.

The research presented here was conducted with veterinary medical students engaged in collaborative clinical case-based learning, where they were required to apply complex medical knowledge to authentic clinical cases. Although effective collaborative learning and case-based learning have attracted much attention in the veterinary medical and broader education literature, little attention has been focused on the effectiveness of facilitating groups of students working on case-based learning, so that they may productively learn from each other. There has also been little research scrutinising the nature and significance of productive cognitive engagement and metacognitive regulation in collaborative learning activities that involve complex medical knowledge.

This research had three primary aims. The first was to investigate the effectiveness of a metacognitive intervention aimed at facilitating groups of students to engage in productive collaborative learning while working on clinical case records. The second was to investigate the extent to which differences in groups’ cognitive engagement and metacognitive regulation can contribute to explaining differences in group learning outcomes. The third aim was to explore students’ and their teacher’s perceptions and reflections on the use of a collaborative concept mapping task. These three aims were addressed in two interrelated studies (Study 1, Study 2 and a follow up to Study 2). The first aim was addressed in Study 1. In the context of a real-life collaborative clinical case-based learning assignment, a contextualised metacognitive intervention introduced students to strategies aimed at enhancing learning through meaning making in group interactions and high-level questioning. In a comparison of intervention and control cohorts, it was found to be possible to foster veterinary medical students’ engagement in effective learning from and with their peers. Results from self-reported questionnaire data showed that the intervention cohort found their case-based learning task less challenging than the control cohort. The intervention students were also observed spending more of their group meeting time on content-related discussions, a finding that was supported by students’ self-reported estimations of time spent discussing content versus organisational matters. The intervention cohort spent more time discussing content related matters, but there was minimal engagement in the most desired high-level content-related discussions. These findings prompted the question of how students actually engage in effective collaborative learning, addressing the second research aim.

The second aim was addressed in Study 2. In the context of the same collaborative case-based assignment, but with a new cohort of students, two tasks (informal group meeting and concept mapping) were host to the analysis of group learning interactions. The cognitive and metacognitive regulation processes of two groups with disparate learning outcomes were analysed using a fine-grained, theory-based, contextualised coding scheme. Results of these analyses revealed meaningful differences in interactive learning processes. The higher performing group showed evidence of spending more of their overall group efforts in co-constructing knowledge. In comparison, the lower performing group expended more effort simply co-producing the task. While no differences were found in the two groups’ amount of metacognitive regulation, statistically significant differences were found regarding their respective depth of engagement in metacognitive regulation, with the higher performing group directing more of their metacognitive regulatory efforts at high-level meaning making.

The third research aim, addressed in a follow-up to Study 2, was an empirical study analysing students’ and their teacher’s perceptions and reflections of the concept mapping task, but this time embedded in regular teaching (same clinical case-based assignment) and with a new cohort. Two major themes pertaining to learning from concept maps emerged from students’ reflections: the value of concept mapping for case knowledge understanding; and the use of concept mapping to assess the level and progress of group understanding. Their teacher’s reflections were consistent with the view that concept mapping is valuable in case-based learning to enhance students’ understanding of complex knowledge. The value of concept mapping to address some of the learning challenges experienced by students when tackling case-based assignments was also emphasised.

This research made two important contributions to the rapidly expanding research on productive collaborative learning and interpersonal regulation in collaborative learning. First, it provided evidence that it is possible to enhance the ways in which groups of students work together, increasing the amount of time spent on productive knowledge construction, rather than simply managing and organising the task. This addressed a gap in veterinary medical education research, and contributed to the higher education literature by examining the impact of an intervention that targeted groups of students rather than individual learners who typically have been the focus in the research to date. Second, it addressed the issue of how students engage in effective collaborative learning. A theory-based, contextualised coding scheme was developed, which was sensitive enough to scrutinise and analyse the dynamic and complex nature of interpersonal regulation, helping to explain groups’ differing learning outcomes. This contributed to the nascent but rapidly expanding body of research on interactive data analysis, and research involving interpersonal regulation and its association with learning outcomes.

Educational implications and future directions are discussed. These include the implications of investigating learning interactions in groups with successful learning outcomes, the use of concept mapping in teaching that involves complex medical knowledge, particularly in case-based learning, and the future development of innovative, analytic methodologies to examine collaborative regulation processes in real-life learning settings. Given the increasing use of collaborative learning activities from universities through to the workplace, investigating how to facilitate, and study the nature of productive collaborative learning is likely to dominate the research agenda in years to come.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor: Volet, Simone and Bolton, John
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