Can learner autonomy be assessed? Christine O'Leary Sheffield Hallam University UK Outline Introduction Definitions of learner of autonomy Assessing learner autonomy- benefits and issues Evaluating the development of autonomy in Languagesprevious studies Assessing learner autonomy in practice: examples from final year students on the Languages degree programme Conclusion References Discussion Introduction Assessment shapes how students view the curriculum and make decisions about what they learn and how they learn it (Boud, 2002; Ramsden, 2003). Biggs(2003) recommends aligning the type of assessment with the approach to teaching and learning for the learning to be effective. If we regard learner autonomy as an educational goal per se, should we attempt to assess it and if so, how? Definitions of learner autonomy Learner autonomy is defined as learners' ability to take charge or control of their own learning (Holec, 1981; Little, 1990; Benson, 2001& 2006). Little (2000: 69) defines autonomy in language learning as " Autonomy in language learning depends on the development and exercise of a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision making and independent action; autonomous learners assume responsibility for determining the purpose, content, rhythm and method of their learning, monitoring its progress and evaluating its outcomes. " Learner autonomy is about interdependent as well as independent learning (Kohonen, 1992; William and Burden (1997; Benson, 2001; O'Rourke & Schwienhorst, 2003). Assessing learner autonomy-issues The measurement (and therefore, assessment) of autonomy is problematic because autonomy is a multidimentional construct (Little,1991; Nunan, 1997; Benson, 2001). " Although we may be able to identify and list behaviours that demonstrate control over learning[..], we have little evidence to suggest that autonomy consists of any particular combination of these behaviours" (Benson, 2001: 51) Autonomous behaviour can take different forms depending on age, stage of learning, perceived learning needs and even the learning context (Little, 1991; Benson, 2001) Benson (2001) argues that autonomous behaviour is essentially self-initiated rather than generated in response to a task which requires either explicitly or implicitly the observed behaviours. Assessing Learner autonomy- the benefits Autonomy is a capacity which the student may or may not choose to exercise. If you don't bring it into an assessment programme, the majority of students will not see its importance (a view shared by colleagues such as Debbie Corder from Auckland Australia- Auto-L discussion March/ April 2005). Assessment influences the decisions student make about how as well as what they learn (Boud, 2002; Ramsden, 2003) so assessing autonomy may be essential for its development in an institutional context. Evaluating the development of autonomy in Languages- previous studies Lai's 2001 study which details the successful development of two rating scales relating to process control (task level using listening journal) and self-direction. Champagne et al (2001)'s action research study looking at performance (c-test to measure attainment in language proficiency) and process through qualitative analysis of portfolio entries/observations and interviews. The study highlighted the need for learners to participate in self-assessment, and for assessment of process to be an integral part of the programme. O'Leary (2006) study using Benson (2001)'s 3 key psychological categories of autonomy to analyse students' selfevaluation reports. The study concluded that the nature of the assessment activity clearly plays a key role in the development of autonomy. Assessing learner autonomy in practice ULS French Stage 6- Assessment Programme Language undergraduates 1. 2. 3. Portfolio including group translation and interpreting tasks & associated self/peer evaluation, activities selected by the learners based on needs and a reflective piece of writing (20%) Time constrained translation (40%) Interpreting tasks (40%) Assessing learner autonomy in practice- examples Portfolio marking criteria: Planning ability to assess learning needs, define objectives and plan work accordingly Reflection ability to reflect on and assess progress made. The extent to which feedback given to peers is detailed and constructive Assessing learner autonomy in practice (2) Portfolio marking criteria (continued) Performance: The standard of the tasks (group and free choice activities) included in the portfolio Progression: Evidence of development and progress (e.g. acting on feedback through resubmission of work) Assessing learner autonomy in practice: extract from student work Planning- Timing " These are the dates I propose to have each task done by. I have specifically left the interpretations exercises until last because I want to get as much practice as possible (..) I am less confident in this area." Needs analysis " I still have problems using the correct gender for many words and although this should not be a problem for the translation task (..), this would be a problem when it comes to interpreting" Assessing learner autonomy in practice: Extract from students work (continued) Defining objectives " In order to improve my interpretation skills, I am going to choose tasks that will enable me to practise my note taking techniques" Reflection "Of all three translations completed, I found the group translation most useful...... The main reasons for this is because I was in a group of three whereby each group member contributed significantly to the final version. Each point discussed was debated enthusiastically and each view was well justified by all group members" Assessing learner autonomy in practice: Extract from students work (continued) Assessing progress made " I found that I almost forgot important grammatical structures on the spot. I knew that I had said something wrong once I had said it .." Feedback to peers " Once again in the third paragraph which Sarah interpreted I only found a couple of things to question.I was unsure if saying " nous attendons" which literally means " we are waiting" gives the correct message that" they are expecting". However it was a good attempt to get around the word if she did not know what expecting was in French." Conclusion The portfolio work encourages the students to develop and use their capacity for autonomy in order to demonstrate it. The effectiveness of such an approach depends on curriculum design, particularly with regards to aspects of learner development such as metacognitive knowledge. The opportunity to make choices also plays a key role. It is not clear how much the Languages undergraduates exercise their autonomy in the other modules they study. This would be worth exploring in future studies. References Benson, P (2001). Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. Harlow, England: Longman. Benson, P (2006) Autonomy in Language Teaching and Learning. In Language Teaching and Learning 40, 21-40. Cambridge University Press. Biggs, J. (2003) Teaching for Quality Learning in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University Press. Boud, D (2002) Assessment and learning: Contradictory or complementary? In: P.Knight (ed) Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. London: Kogan Page, pp. 35-48 Breen, M.P. and Mann, S. (1997). Shooting arrows at the sun: perspectives on a pedagogy for autonomy. In P. Benson and P. Voller (eds.) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning: 132-49. London: Longman. Champagne et al (2001). The assessment of learner autonomy and language learning. In Dam (ed) Learner Autonomy: new insights. Aila review 15, 45-55. References (continued) Holec. H (1981) Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning. Oxford:Pergamon. Kohonen, V. (1992) Experiential language learning: second language learning as cooperative learner education. In Nunan (ed) Collaborative Language Learning and Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 14-39. Lai, J (2001). Towards an analytic approach to assessing learner autonomy. In Dam (ed) Learner Autonomy: new insights. Aila review 15, 34-44 Little, D. (1990). Autonomy in language learning. In Ian Gathercole (ed.) Autonomy in Language Learning. London: CILT: 7-15 Little, D. (1991). Learner Autonomy. 1: Definitions, Issues and Problems. Dublin: Authentik . References (continued) Little, D.(2000) Autonomy and autonomous learners. In Byram (ed), 69-72 Nunan, D (1997). Designing and adapting materials to encourage learner autonomy. In Benson & Voller (eds), 192-203. O' Rourke, B & Schwienherst (2003), Talking text: reflections on reflection in computer-based mediated communication. In little et al (eds), 47-62. Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer. Williams M and. Burden R. (1997). Psychology for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. Questions/ comments?