Implementing Learner Independence as an Institutional Goal: Teacher and Student Interpretations of Autonomy in Learning English
Ostrowska, Sabina Anna
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis explores how learner independence was implemented as a curricular goal at a tertiary level Preparatory Programme (PP) in the United Arab Emirates. This exploratory-interpretive case study shows how students and teachers at the English programme responded to an Independent Learning Log (ILL) and how they interpreted learner autonomy with respect to the ILL. The study analyzes how various interpretations of autonomy affected the students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards the ILL. The interviews and the surveys used in this study were conducted between 20122014. The data was examined using Critical Discourse Analysis and was coded with NVivo software. As a result of the data analysis, the researcher identified themes related to student and teacher roles in the promotion of autonomy, learner representations in TESOL, and issues of control and agency, in the language classroom and out-of-class. The findings suggest that, in the teachers’ discourse, students are assigned passive roles and are often represented as lacking, deficient, and in need of control. Furthermore, the teachers are represented as the agents and controllers of education. These findings are supported by other studies from different cultural settings. This suggests that the US and THEM divide is not unique to the context of this study, but, rather, that it reflects a broader issue that is characteristic of TESOL discourse. In the discussion section, the researcher demonstrates how the themes identified in this study draw on a Social Order perspective in education. It is argued that this conceptual model remains ingrained in teachers’ and students’ group consciousness as the default model for learning. We conclude that learner independence as an educational goal is incompatible with this way in which students and teachers conceptualise education. In order for autonomy to become a feasible educational goal, we need to re-think how we organise language learning and what roles teachers and students assign each other. Overall, this case study reveals the problems that educators may face when promoting autonomy in a language programme. An understanding of these issues may help future language programmes develop better strategies towards fostering learner autonomy at an institutional level.
EdD in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages