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Normalizing Autonomous Mobile Technology Use in the Language Learning Classroom

Technology can promote learner autonomy, or the capacity to control one’s own learning, insofar as it provides a means. Yet that capacity is not complete without authorization and sufficient ability, nor is capacity itself synonymous with its exercise. Furthermore, learner autonomy encompasses the entire range of learning decisions, including determination of objectives, definition of scope and sequence, selection of methods and techniques, setting of locations and schedules, and evaluation of outcomes (Holec, 1981). As such, in this sense, intentionally or unintentionally, autonomy may also be limited.

Illustrating this point, the present study arose in response to previous end-of-course student survey data indicating dissatisfaction in oral communication classes with underuse of mandatorily purchased tablet computers. As the course in question embodied a dogme approach to project-based learning by means of a process-oriented syllabus, promoting learner autonomy with respect to individual goal setting, strategy use, and self-monitoring was already integral to its implementation. Moreover, the learners had received extensive explicit training on the use of the new tablet technology. Thus, the aim of this study was devise and test a way of bridging this unintended gap and extending learner autonomy to the domain of technology use as well.

The approach taken here is an adaptation and synthesis of principles of Task-Based Language Teaching (Ellis, 2003) and the learner autonomy development framework of Scharle & Szabó (2000). Twenty high intermediate first-year Japanese learners in a subsequent offering of the same oral communication course were led through stages to raise their awareness, change their attitudes, and finally adopt new roles in employing their tablet computers to complete sequences of tasks for which technology use gradually became inessential but still beneficial or natural. Complementary data were obtained from three main sources: daily teacher class observation notes, weekly student work logs, and monthly student interviews. These data were then triangulated to discern patterns of learner development across stages and to provide a basis for evaluating the overall intervention. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of broader implications for learner motivation and self-directed learning in general.


Paul Lyddon    
English Language Institute
Kanda University of International Studies

Paul A. Lyddon is Associate Professor of English and Assistant Director of the English Language Institute at Kanda University of International Studies, in Chiba, Japan, where he teaches academic English proficiency courses and oversees the assessment program. He has a PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching from the University of Arizona.


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