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  • Sidhant Jadeja

Your University Guide: Self-regulation and collaboration

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

Whether you are training on the football field on a chilly evening, or grabbing a coffee with a colleague in London’s “Square Mile”, it is often remarked that teamwork is the key to success. What these seemingly polarising settings have in common is that they pose difficult challenges that can be overcome through collaborating with and learning from your team members. What about a Sixth Form student with aspirations to study law at the University of Oxford? This journey seems a much more personal one. When Oxford students are asked about the ingredients essential to achieving this goal many students may cite hard work, analytical ability, and oratorical skills – all personal attributes. However, we often miss collaboration and teamwork – I am going to focus on these parts of your wider journey to university and how this is fundamental to your success.

What are the big challenges you will face?

To answer this question, we can begin by looking at the application process itself. I am going to focus on the personal statement and interview. But what is it about these processes that makes it so difficult? The first step to perform well is to understand the relevant subject matter – this often comes as a result of valuable personal attributes and research skills. But actually, this is not the biggest reason why people fail to gain admission to top universities. The biggest challenge is to communicate your understanding and passion for the subject in an effective and concise manner.

The First Part – Meta cognition and Self-Regulation

Before jumping to collaboration and working with your peers, the best first step is to implement meta cognition and self-regulation. This is the process through which you think about your learning explicitly, by thinking about strategies for planning, monitoring, and evaluating your learning. What this process often involves is reflecting on the way you think and learn, the limitations of this and consequently how to improve your approach to certain problems. This has a dual impact on improving yourself - you will be better equipped to improve understanding of a subject as well communicating your ideas effectively. This is quite an abstract idea so far, however let us now think of how you can implement this practically.

When you begin to reflect on the way you think and what sort of learning style resonates with you, you will find deficiencies in your approach. Let us take the example of a prospective Economics student who generally learns through personal reading and research. This reading may be varied and consider different economic perspectives and models. However, it may also overlook some of the political or even moral ideas that contribute to modern economic policies. Taking a legal example, it is remarkably interesting and valuable to see how my view on what constitutes medical negligence conflicts with a doctor’s view on it and why this conflict exists. It exists because they have a certain appreciation for the rigour of medical protocols, which I do not have and perhaps cannot have without practical experience.

What meta cognition and self-regulation allows you to do is identify the deficiencies that you have. Simply understanding this equips you better to identify your own mistakes, and in an interview setting, predict counterarguments. From this point, you can now work to deal with and work toward removing your deficiencies.

The Second Part – Peer Tutoring/Learning

The link between meta cognition and peer learning is seamless. The first process allows you to identify deficiencies you possess due to the particular way you approach and solve problems. This second process tells you how to work on your deficiencies – collaborating with and learning from others.

When writing my personal statement and preparing for my interview, I had a group of friends with whom I debated contentious issues. To give an example – we discussed the extent to which the government should interfere with personal life. Whilst I would put forward arguments based on typically legal principles and issues I had read about; my friends may tackle the issue from a philosophical or even psychological perspective. Through this process, the most obvious impact is the increase in understanding of a subject matter. What this process also allows you to do is identify deficiencies in the way other people learn and argue. As a result, the arguments you put forward can be made in a way that preempt and deal with counter arguments.

There is one huge advantage of peer learning that I have not even touched upon. By discussing issues with others in an analytical and creative way, you will become more comfortable with communicating your arguments with confidence. Over time, you will learn how to set out an argument clearly and effectively – a skill which is essential to get into and then also succeed at university. You will be accustomed to people disagreeing with your point of view, and perhaps accustomed to being outwitted (as sad as that may be). This is a learning experience – how do you deal with being wrong? Can you backtrack and identify where you went wrong, and then put forward a counterargument? Through collaboration and constructive discussion, you will not only learn more about your subject, but also learn how to communicate and show off your vast knowledge and passion.

Bringing it together

The two processes I have talked about work together to identify and then solve problems in your approach. The process begins with reflection, followed by collaboration through which you gradually learn. But rather than thinking of this article is a two-step guide, think of it as a constant cycle of identifying and solving problems. After you have got together with your friends to discuss a recent economic policy, think about your performance in the discussion. If you were particularly impressed by a certain line of argument, ask your friend what has informed their point of view. This may reveal yet another deficiency, which you can again strive to solve.

The process I have discussed, although abstract, is applicable to any stage in your life. That is why all throughout your academic career you will hear that teamwork is the key to success – but the journey begins with self-reflection. And with these words, I want you to begin now to reflect on what I have written. What deficiencies can you see in my line of argument? What do you think is the key to success and if it is different from mine, why is yours more important than my understanding of what it takes to be successful in your journey?


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