Learner Autonomy

In the LOA context, ensuring that students think about and understand their own learning and progress is important because learners who take more responsibility for their learning tend to make more progress. In fact, one could argue that all three LOA features discussed previously - the use of assessment criteria as learning tools, collection of learning evidence, and feedback - are stepping stones to autonomous, self-regulated learning. And learner autonomy is embodied in all LOA frameworks.

The second LOA principle, formulated by Carless (2007), commends the development of self-regulated student learning through active involvement in assessment with the aim of understanding learning goals, assessment criteria, and standards better: “Assessment should [actively] involve students in engaging with criteria, quality, their own and/or peers’ performance” (pp. 59-60). This can be achieved, Carless (ibid.) claims, through engaging students in drafting criteria, using quality exemplar output, peer feedback, and peer- and self-assessment. Likewise, the learning dimension of Turner and Purpura (2016) recognizes self-regulation that makes learners responsible for their own learning as an important element for successful LOA. They define self-regulation as the use of metacognitive strategies to set goals, plan, organize, self-monitor, and evaluate one’s learning (ibid., p. 266). Jones and Saville (2016) also acknowledge the key role of feedback as one of the means for reinforcing autonomous learning within the LOA cycle.

It was very striking how several of the teacher-researchers integrated principles of LOA into their classroom AR projects with the aim of enhancing learner autonomy. In fact, Burns (2018) noted that the process of collecting and analyzing data raised the teachers’ awareness of the importance of negotiating the learning process with the learners and the teacher’s role in both facilitating the learning process and providing expertise when necessary.

Enhancing Learner Autonomy through Collaborative Learning, Peer-, and Self-Assessment

Campbell and Thorpe (2017) designed their AR project with three goals: to improve student motivation, stimulate collaborative learning, and encourage independent learning. They introduced group work inside and outside the classroom, using a multi-modal approach with videos, smartphones, and storyboards to develop both collaboration and communicative language use. Both teachers and students were involved in the feedback loop, and students were also scaffolded where appropriate with criteria for self- and peer-assessment. The researchers found that the project improved speaking, in particular, measured by end-of-course role play and discussion activities, as the project focused predominantly on oral skill development. They also found high levels of satisfaction, positive attitudes towards group work, and, importantly, a sense of ownership of the project.

Mangion and Stokes’s (2017) project aimed to develop genre awareness in their B1/B2 students. They used an online shared space in Google Docs to put their learners in control of a collaborative writing project, in which students co-wrote and revised a class writing task. The online folder was used to store the co-written documents and record any revisions and editing history, thus providing evidence and records of student decision-making in the evolving text. Peer feedback and student reflections were recorded and analyzed to monitor progress. The researchers noted good levels of student engagement and found that the project provided opportunities for students to reflect and assess their own performance:

The immediacy of the feedback received during the process of writing was also noted by students as a particular advantage, with comments such as “I can correct my mistakes in class itself”, showing how valuable the timing of feedback was to students.

(p. 11, our emphasis)

The researchers found that all students were comfortable with peer review and feedback, and that quiet students, in particular, appreciated the opportunity to communicate in an online learning space. Finally, although active collaboration was present at all proficiency levels, they noted that less proficient learners worked more actively in small, rather than large, groups.

During this AR project, the researchers, too, became part of the virtuous cycle of learning and self-assessment. They reflected on teacher elicitation techniques and set goals to ensure the platform encouraged learning-oriented questioning, which opened up rather than closed down classroom discourse:

perhaps more planning of the micro-interactions of the classroom could ensure that teacher feedback during Joint Construction encourages rather than limits students’ responses ... It would be interesting to see how the integration of technology can be used to disrupt or augment common teacher-dominated pedagogic exchanges such as “Initiation- Response-Feedback” or “Initiation-Response-Evaluation”.

(p. 11, our emphasis)

This was an interesting example of how technology-supported LOA principles (e.g., peer review) encouraged reflection for both researchers and learners.

Using Peer Review to Encourage Learner Autonomy

Fleming and Barnhoorn (2017) found that the current system of peer review for writing they were using was not feeding back effectively into the learning cycle. They found low levels of motivation among their students (IELTS 5.5) and that their perceptions of peer feedback were that it was less authoritative and useful than teacher feedback. The researchers decided to experiment with an online platform and train students to give peer feedback on the rhetorical aspects of writing in students’ first drafts. In this way they hoped to increase learner autonomy in writing skill development and student confidence in the usefulness of peer review.

Before they used the online platform, students were familiarized with the scoring rubric for the structural and cohesive elements of essay writing. The researchers modeled the use of a checklist used for clarity of understanding and confidence-building. The checklist had the dual purpose of familiarizing students with the criteria while they were assessing their peers (Lee, 2007). Sharing criteria is considered to be a cornerstone of LOA in that it focuses students’ attention on criterial aspects of performance rather than the grade. It develops parallel assessment literacy (Kiely, 2016), increases learner autonomy, and instils positive attitudes to lifelong learning (Oscarson, 1989). In this way, the criteria point the way forward to the next stage of learning and allow learners to set realistic learning goals. The students reported good levels of comfort when sharing their work, as well as more positive perceptions of the usefulness of peer feedback. Furthermore, the feedback had fed forward into the writing process. All students reported that they had acted upon comments and suggestions from peers and revised their essays.

Using Achievable Short-Term Goals to Improve Metacognition and Self-Efficacy

LOA strategies may be particularly relevant for students on short-term courses who need to be able to continue their learning independently once their period of guided learning is over. Croucher’s (2015) AR project tackled this challenge with students on short, mixed-level courses. She found that students were only able to set learning goals at a very broad level, so her intervention focused on helping them set clearly defined, achievable, and measurable short-term goals and revisit them at the end of their course as a means of reflecting on their learning progress. By focusing on goal-setting, she aimed to give them both a sense of control and responsibility in their learning in order to increase self-efficacy so they could leave the course with a sense of achievement. The learning objectives in this study, then, were to improve metacognition and self-efficacy (and, by extension, independent learning skills), rather than simply demonstrate achievement of linguistic goals. At the beginning of their General English course, students received guidance (in the form of prompting and examples) which helped them set specific learning goals (which were aligned with course objectives). In particular, they were asked to identify a maximum of three areas for improvement and prioritize them with goal number one being their highest priority and goal number three being their lowest priority. They were also asked to selfrate their perceived ability in the areas chosen for improvement using a 10-point numerical scale. Following their self-rating, they were subsequently asked to indicate the level (i.e., scale number) they would hope to reach in each area on completion of their course, thus setting themselves a target. To keep better track of their progress and reflect on it, students were also asked to keep a journal. At the end of their course, students were reminded of their goals and accompanying targets, set upon their arrival. They were then asked to score their level again on departure on the same 10-point scale, to see if they felt they had achieved their targets. They were also asked how satisfied they were with their progress. Her findings showed improvement in students’ goal-setting and a high level of satisfaction with their own learning, which did not necessarily reflect the goals achieved. As methods for students measuring their own progress, Croucher recommends a learning journal and a numerical self- assessment scale, cautioning that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

 
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