The Learner Autonomy SIG: At a glance

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Event date: 
Monday, April 8, 2013 - 10:00
The Learner Autonomy SIG: At a glance  - hancockmcdonald.com/blog/learner-autonomy-sig-glance

No-one would refute the often-heard general claim that new technologies offer much by way of independent or autonomous learning, and this year’s Learner Autonomy SIG Pre-conference event took this bull by its horns and addressed issues related to Language learner autonomy and today’s technologies: challenges and possibilities.

The day offered participants the opportunity to move seamlessly from theory to practice. David Little opened the event with a keynote session by presenting the learner autonomy big picture to ground subsequent talks and poster displays. Numerous presenters provided sessions on informative and practical applications of new technologies, evidencing their use in different teaching/learning environments. Jo Maynard gave the closing keynote session on facilitating the development of meta-cognitive awareness using technology tools. Finally, participants discussed ways of moving forward.

Here’s a very brief summary of the sessions:

David Little began by offering an exploration of learner autonomy from the historical perspective of learning theory. He explored the following issues: agency, co-construction and identity, ‘monologic’ technology and self-access centres, and the communicative and metacognitive use of the target language. Bringing us to the present, David touched on the following characteristics of new technology – its increasing portability, the unstoppable growth of social media and virtual communities, and that TL use no longer has to happen in real-time face-to-face interaction. He suggested that we should consider designing our own tools so they are suited to our own purposes, and that our role is to show learners how they can use Web 2.0 to learn. He left us with the following thought-provoking challenge ‘Can we harness the multidimensional features of Web 2.0 and the rapid developments in mobile communication technologies to support the development of language learner autonomy understood as the co-construction of learner agency through the medium of interactive TL discourse?’

There were 5 x 15 minute sessions in which speakers gave a description or explanation on different topics. They were:
• Supporting students’ agency – Katia Helm
• A pragmatic approach to pragmatics – Christian Ludwig
• Ways of using wikis, apps and voice recording – Veronica Dal-Bianco
• Using technology to create a personalised classroom – Vicky Allen
• Blogging to develop learner autonomy – Michelle Perchot de la Monthe Tamala

The 6 poster presenters were given three minutes each to introduce their work. Ample time was then provided for participants to view posters and talk directly to the presenters. The presentations were:
• Using new media to foster learner autonomy by sharing, co-operating and assessing – Sanja Wagner
• How the I-pad can support language learner autonomy – Dorte Asmussen
• Kaleidescope (an online tool for helping students reflect) – Leena Karlsson & Felicity Kjisik
• Video-on-demand and learner autonomy – Xiaoli Jiang
• Using Moodle – Andrei Tatassov
• The use of computers and tablets in the developing world – Martin Lamb

Jo Maynard’s closing keynote outlined practical ideas for the use of technology tools which facilitate interaction, reflection and experimentation with language. She gave examples from chat rooms, discussion forums, social networks, and pointed out that in the not-too-distant future all language learning and teaching will inevitably be exploiting technology tools, albeit to various degrees in different contexts.

What a luxury it was to spend a day in the company of professionals who share the same passions. And, it was great to leave with a plethora of possibilities more solidly and critically grounded in the theories of language learner autonomy. Professionally, the challenge is to explore further how these tools can develop learner autonomy in a more principled manner, and then to help our learners harness the possibilities on offer.

I’m looking forward to reading the next issue of the SIG Newsletter, Independence.

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