One of the main issues in education is learner autonomy. Depending on the students' discipline, autonomy, responsibility, motivation, time-management and self-determination, he or she will succeed in a traditional face-to-face class or in a distance program. During this week, we were asked to read about learner autonomy, precisely a hard discussion point in my teaching context and one of the major problems we face. The students' lack of learning autonomy brings about lots of problems, among them, the abandonment of their studies. For years, we have discussed which would be the best way to approach this situation. We don't have a final answer but we are clear in that learner autonomy depends on many factors, but mainly on the student and the school.
According to Godwin-Jones (2011):
...developing learner autonomy does not just involve putting appropriate learning materials in front of a student, but necessitates helping the student develop the skills and mindset that can lead to successful self-guided language study. Part of thatBased on Godwin-Jones's words, learner autonomy basically depends on the student's motivation and on the school policies to make the student feel engaged in his/her own learning. In order to enable learner autonomy, teachers should provide opportunities for the student to develop effective learning strategies. That would guide the student on the way to be conscious of his/her own learning process. For example, writing traditional diaries or journals leads the student to make reflections on his/her language learning progress. Technology also becomes a means of great help. The use of web tools like Google docs or e-portfolios, for instance, are effective tools for the student to document personal achievements. These documents can be shared later with the teacher and other students.
effort has a psychological side; the student needs to have the proper motivation for independent study. Partly the process is political and has to do with educational or school policies and the degree of individual freedom afforded learners to engage in autonomous learning...
In this sense, trying to support my students in their way to develop learner autonomy, I use polls, journals, Google docs and e-portfolios in my courses. I use polls to find out about the students expectations and their background knowledge. Based on the results, I include in the course several activities that can meet the students' needs and wants. Consequently, they feel more engaged and motivated.
I also use journals. These are resources available for teachers in our university Moodle platform. They are great for the students to make reflections on their own language learning progress. I always ask them to self-evaluate their English language learning process and make reflections on that. In case of facing any problem with the target language, they are asked to design a plan to solve it. Journals are only read by the student and me, nobody else. I provide feedback and students really appreciate it.
Besides this, I have also used Google Docs and Wikis to create text typology e-portfolios, a group project based on text types. What I have seen from this project is that my students really enjoy working collaboratively while they develop the skills to analyze different types of texts and summarize them. Before starting the project, I ask them to set group rules, create a group identity with glogs, and distribute responsibilities based on individual roles. I also ask them to evaluate their language learning process during and after the project.
As additional resources, I add online dictionaries and interesting links that might help them to study. They also have to Websearch and find English sites to be shared with their peers.
In summary, there are many strategies, activities and resources that can make students feel motivated and engaged in their learning process. They are more active when their needs are taken into account, as well as when they receive a constant feedback from the teacher. Therefore, if schools want to have autonomous learners, they must provide opportunities for the students to create, analyze, and make reflections by using critical thinking and meta-cognitive strategies. Thus, the paths for academic success are open.
Godwin-Jones, R. (2011). Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Language Learning. Language Learning & Technology. October 2011, Volume 15, Number 3, pp. 4–11. Available at: http://llt.msu.edu/issues/october2011/emerging.pdf
The one-computer classroom
In the XXI Century, many people might think that not having a computer lab with Internet access in a school or having a low tech infrastructure unable teachers and students to carry out any technological project. However, technology is not only Internet. We may develop exciting and engaging tech projects even with one computer in the classroom and/or without Internet. In my context, classes are offered under a blended modality; it means that working with one computer in the classroom can only be applied during the face-to-face encounters, which are very limited. Three of those encounters are used for workshops and evaluations, and one for the final test. In my opinion, the one-computer classroom activities are excellent for the traditional f2f class; but, perhaps, they do not fit into a distance education program.
I love using mobile phones with my students from the f2f program, but I cannot use them with my distance education ones, since many of them live in remote areas where there is no access to telephone or Internet. Some students might have mobile phones, but only a few have smartphones, not even thinking in tablets or digital cameras. In virtue of this, using mobile learning is not a feasible option at this moment. We might think of it in the long term.