Saturday, April 26, 2008

Carol Everhard's take on 2 sessions in the LASIG Programme

Carol Everhard’s take on two presentations in the LASIG Programme

Andy Barfield’s Presentation

I had really been looking forward to Andy’s presentation as I am a particular fan of collocations. I have always encouraged students at an advanced level to take note of collocations as I believe that words in isolation are of no use to anybody. I confess that I was really curious to find out how Andy would link their study and use to autonomy in language learning.
While Andy had some pretty enlightening facts to reveal from his study and research of his students in Japan and their reactions to collocations, this was something that the audience had to discover and uncover for themselves as Andy chose to use a workshop format for his presentation. The tasks we had to complete involved reading various sets of student’s notes and then exchanging and comparing information with members of the group to which we had assigned ourselves.
Essentially, what we discovered from the colourful handouts that Andy distributed amongst us was the very worthwhile strategies which his students adopted in dealing with collocations, as well as their very positive attitude towards collocations and their progress with them. This information had been gathered in four different formats, namely, 1) retrospective mindmaps; 2) interview logs; 3) notes and extended reflections and 4) interview extracts.
We all found the data very interesting and some very interesting interaction and discussion developed within our groups. Indeed, if we had a medal to award for the most popular speaker of the LASIG Programme Day, then it would go to Andy, who drew an audience of close on 60 people, who were all most appreciative!
Congratulations are in order, but I would temper this with the comment that IATEFL designates 60-minute slots to workshops in the conference programme and this subject definitely deserved an hour of conference time! Well done Andy!

Mitsuko Matsuo’s Presentation

It so happened that I had the pleasure of meeting Mitsuko a few days before her presentation. This meeting and the time we spent together at the Antiques Fair down by the Quayside in Exeter and the purchases I had seen Mitsuko ponder over there had aroused my curiosity. We had not spoken much about our personal lives, so when I saw her enthusiastically buying little toy figurines and witnessed her admiration of some very fine old children’s picturebooks, I had imagined that they might be destined for some young appreciative English-speaking relatives. But I might have guessed….. Once a teacher, always a teacher! Do we ever really totally switch off from our roles of Teacher and as Facilitators of Learning?
The reasons behind Mitsuko’s purchases were revealed as Mitsuko’s presentation unfolded. The students that Mitsuko deals with at Showa Women’s University in Tokyo, Japan are students of Early Childhood Education. Mitsuko outlined for us the broad subject areas from which students select their project topics. Mitsuko had obviously done a lot of background research and had not just chosen Project Work because students enjoyed it or learned something from it. She discussed the role of the teacher in Project Work to be that of 1) facilitating, 2) monitoring, 3) clarifying and 4) providing information. The arguments in favour of Project Work apart from it being fun and an opportunity to practice English were, according to Wicks “a chance to do something meaningful with the language” and were thus motivating, while Tomel et al claim that it “offers many solutions to the problems faced in the university classroom, including increasing the amount of input students receive, making the content more applicable to the students, and encouraging them to be creative and imaginative.”
Mitsuko had brought some examples of her students’ handiwork with her all the way from Japan – colourful posters, illustrated stories, beautifully-made hand-puppets and much more. She also had some interesting data and statistics to show us concerning the reactions of her students to this way of working and this together with the examples of work clearly illustrated Kagan’s 4 Basic Principles of Cooperative Learning:-
1) positive interdependence
2) individual accountability
3) equal participation
4) simultaneous interaction
What came across from this whole presentation was the clear symbiotic relationship that exists between Mitsuko and her students. They are inspired by her everlasting youthful enthusiasm and the same quality in her students is what seems to inspire Mitsuko. Of course, there will always be students who see Project Work just as a task to be done, but it does seem to enable others to make quantum leaps and is therefore well worth pursuing. Thankyou Mitsuko!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Open Forum: Teacher education for learner autonomy: What can and should be done

In this session, Leni Dam began by picking up some of the issues highlighted in her talk at the pre-conference event. Lienhard Legenhausen chaired the session and Frank Lacey, Andy Barfield and Anja Burkert were members of the panel. In small groups we brainstormed ideas for improving teacher training so that teachers are open to promoting autonomy in their classrooms.

Here are the points that we noted down on the flip charts (but didn’t have the chance to discuss):

1. Providing opportunities for teachers to actually experience learning in an autonomy-oriented environment [learning a new language / loop input training].

2. Create a paradigm shift by informing, giving examples, experiences of benefits of learner autonomy. Address and recognize external constraints. Define “capacity” of learner autonomy-oriented teachers.

3. Ongoing autonomous teacher-training using a self-assessment (questionnaire) approach.

4. The role of the teacher outside class time. Diaries, e-discussion, blogs etc. between teachers and students.

5. The principles of learner autonomy applied in any form of teacher education in order to be sustainable (goal setting / partnership between teachers, ;earners, parents and others / reflectivity / caring pedagogy / self-peer assessment / minimum resources available.

6. Try it out in class, but gradually and with (more) expert guidance.

7. Video classes before, during and after to record / monitor classroom interaction and behaviour.

8. Find sources for project sponsorship to create materials / pay for training and an appropriate environment.

9. Self-access centres for teacher education with a suitable infrastructure.

10. Teachers sharing problems and successes with colleagues.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The ILC iceberg: Insights from the crew

The ILC iceberg: Insights from the crew

Janet Olearski

(Presentation on Wednesday 9th April 2008)

Unusually, Janet’s talk began with a 1-minute test:

You’re a student – what’s your favourite movie?
You work in an ILC – what’s your busiest month?
If the ILC is an iceberg, what s above the surface and what’s below the surface?

See if you can answer the test by the end of this entry!

Janet started by giving us the context of her situation and explaining how she began the process of setting up the Independent Learning Centres at the Petroleum Institute in the United Arab Emirates. The Institute now boasts two ILCs: one for women and one for men. The women’s ILC opened in 2007, and shares space with the library. Students are aged 18+ and study for petroleum-industry related degrees. Work that students do in the ILC is attached to the foundational English course, which all students must pass in order to progress in their studies. The students are highly motivated with no discipline problems, which Janet attributed to the fact that the students have ownership of the centre.

Her baseline study involved visiting other ILCs in the region, and she commented on how helpful it had been to see these other centres, and also to have Dr Barbara Sinclair visit in a consultancy role.

In this baseline study, Janet often noticed that other ILCs were empty and, not only were frequently operated from within a library but were also overseen by the library. Commonly, they were staffed by teachers with release time from classes, or by library personnel with no teaching background. Janet also became aware that there were lots of unused materials or inappropriate materials in others centres, that were simply not student-friendly.

As a consequence of this baseline study, Janet developed four quick-fix guidelines:

1. Find a way to keep the ILC busy
2. Make sure the materials are relevant
3. Stay independent from the library
4. Recruit committed teaching staff

Unfortunately, Janet was unable to recruit teachers to work in the centre full-time, and had to make do with administrative assistants.
She decided that a staff development programme was needed, in order to help her achieve the quick fix guidelines, and to ensure smooth liaisons with other departments. Typically, Janet felt, several presuppositions were made about the ILC by staff in other departments. For example, often the ILC is regarded as a library. However, in an ILC there is a pleasant buzz as learners engage in communicative activities, whereas in a library students are “shooshed”. Other common presuppositions include the misunderstanding that anyone can work in an ILC (Janet commented on how she gets CVs from all kinds of applicants pushed under her door), and that working in an ILC is a touchy-feely kind of job. As Janet pointed out, the reality is that ILC assistants direct learners towards specific materials, whereas library staff may often direct students towards more general, less useful materials. Overall, Janet was often left with the feeling that faculty frequently have misconceptions about the ILC, and that the ILC was seen as a poor cousin of the main library, so she decided that she needed to do something to make ILCs valued more.

Janet helped us to visualise the undervaluing of the roles of the ILC staff by using the analogy of an iceberg. On the surface of the ILC iceberg, the main tasks of ILC staff are helping students, counselling students, and motivating students. However, all we have to do is look under the surface, to realise that we must add to these preparing the budget, choosing materials, ordering furniture, ordering books, monitoring spending, paying for materials, cataloguing, security tagging, chasing lost materials, maintaining the software, maintaining the hardware, communicating with the students, maintaining order, tidying, organising, anticipating student’s needs, understanding how materials work, knowing what motivates students, and understanding how students learn best. And this is by no means an exhaustive list!

In order to help the ILC staff develop the skills needed to fulfil these roles, and to achieve her goal of making the ILC more valued, Janet set up the ILC Staff Development Programme. This consisted of

1. Attending weekly staff meetings
2. Carrying out classroom observations
3. Attending faculty professional development sessions
4. Trialling of student materials
5. Compiling a staff development portfolio
6. Carrying out staff development tasks

Janet elaborated on how the staff carried out each of these tasks. For example, with the trialling of student materials (4), the staff try the materials which are provided for students, which gives them an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of these materials from the students’ perspective. The staff development portfolio (5) included notes and reflections from materials trials and classroom observations, as well as a daily log of how they used their time in the ILC and how their time was divided between administrative work and working with students. Janet also explained that the staff are encouraged to include innovative ideas for the development of the ILC in the portfolio.

One of the most interesting aspects of the staff development programme was the staff development tasks (6). An example of this was for staff to look at the list of DVDs available in the ILC at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, work out which of these were available in the ILC in their Institute, and to decide which DVDs on the list from the Chinese U would not be permitted in the Petroleum Institute ILC, and why. The first follow up task was for staff to give recommendations and reasons for new DVDs to have in the centre. The second follow-up task was for ILC staff to survey students about what their favourite movies are and why. Janet expressed a certain amount of surprise at the discovery. Favourite movies included:

James Bond
The Godfather Trilogy
Lord of the Rings
Fast and furious

Janet pointed out that ILCs are not video stores, and not only should DVDs be appropriate to the context, but the ILC staff should also provide some guidance to learner watching the movie not in their native language.

The final example of a staff development task outlined in the presentation was that of statistics. Janet explained that statistics are required to justify the existence of the ILC with the management of the Institute. Staff were required to research the patron counter statistics for two semesters and to compare them with those for the library attendance. The results fluctuated: some months the library was more popular, some months the ILC was (but overall July was the busiest month for the ILC). Nevertheless, for Janet, this underscored to her the need to pro-actively encourage students to use the ILC. The physical result of this was that more project rooms for group work and flexible working were opened within the centre.

In summary, the main tenets of the staff development programme were noticing, evaluation, and the application or implementation of new ideas and changes. The main insights from Captain Janet and her crew were that:

The results of surveys and questionnaires given to students are not always reliable, therefore ILC personnel need to notice what is happening inside their ILC.
The organisation of the Petroleum Institute ILC changes on a daily basis.
Training in autonomous learning should be happening in the classroom as well as in the ILC.

Most of what Janet spoke about resonated strongly with me, and the experiences that I had whilst working in the SALC at Kanda University of International Studies. Marina Mozzon-McPherson has developed the training course for language learning advisors at the University of Hull, together with the accompanying academic text, but no such training course or text exists for administrators within SACs or ILCs, and Library Studies courses have a limited applicability. After attending Janet’s presentation, I couldn’t help but feel that such a course, text, or handbook would be worthwhile.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Richard Pemberton - Self-Access

To start, Richard Pemberton gave some background about how he had come to the area of self access and autonomy, and how his ideas had developed. He then looked at the experiences of others, and from these extracted some guidelines or principles. Finally, he considered the place of self-access centres now, and the challenges for the future.
He is currently at Nottingham University, but “Richard’s Tale”, to use his Canterbury Tales metaphor, begins at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong in the early ‘90s. He admitted that in his own classroom teaching he was teacher-centred but was interested in self instruction and communicative teaching. How, he asked himself, was he to give space to the learner.
Leslie Dickinson’s (1987) book changed him, the thing he remembered most from the book being “give them a choice of materials”. He couldn’t see beyond that. It was important to individualise, but this did not answer the question, “where is this going?” In Hong Kong in the early ‘90s he got a lot of support and collaboration from HASALD.
The focus was initially on setting up and using SACs, as they were seen as the way to promote autonomy, rather than on promoting autonomy in other ways.
Richard was involved in setting up the SAC at HKUST in ’93. He showed us a plan of the centre and pointed out the small seminar room (since redesigned) which shows that there was less understanding of the need for space for speaking face to face.
A landmark was the ’94 conference “Taking Control”, where Riley, Esch, Little, Lai, Nunan, and Sinclair where present. Richard was struck by David Nunan’s belief that it is not necessary to have a SAC to lead students to autonomy. Also at the conference was Naoko Aoki, a leading light in the Learner Development SIG in Japan, and she also focussed on autonomy not SACs.
In the HKUST SAC Richard found that, though the students liked choice, a high degree of structure was needed. He had students doing projects within their taught courses, the rationale being that the students had to attend classes (though he recognised that there was a certain tension here!).
The SAC now has VELA (, an online database to help find materials for specific purposes. Teachers in SACs may be inexperienced and not know what to suggest to the students. With VELA students select what they want to do by choosing search criteria. VELA gives them an initial plan as a starting point, but it does not do everything for them as they will have to develop their plans as they go on.
(See “Independence” 42 for Richard’s article on how he started off in self-access.)
Richard then looked at “Tales” from SAC coordinators around the world:

Lucy Cooker (who set up the SALC at Kanda University of International Studies, Japan, opened 2001)
Richard highlighted the fact that the plan of her SAC showed that it has more provision of meeting rooms for students to interact, reflecting the increased awareness of the importance of group learning. Other features were the optional SALC-based modules, and the initial learning to learn provision before doing actual language content.

Humberto Cervera, Centro de Autoacceso at the Autonomous University of Yucatan, Mexico from 1993.
The centre functions as a practice centre where students are directed by teachers, and it has the same materials as used in classes. The institution’s aim was to promote individual styles and objectives, but in fact followed the curriculum.
(See “Independence” 43 for more on his Tale)

Janaina Cardoso, Manager, Senac Rio Language Centre, Brazil.
She questions the concept of self-access being necessarily linked to a physical space when these days the Internet is there and available 24 hours a day. She emphasises teacher development courses (Project Allwright, 2005).

Bruce Morrison, Head of English Language Centre, Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
He stresses autonomy-focussed counselling. He also rewards students, whereas Richard avoided this by putting his projects in class. Morrison also reasons that as the students want to be taught he should let them be taught, and in fact teaching goes on in the seminar rooms in his centre.

Anna Gorevanova, SOLC (Supported Open Learning Centre), British Council Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
She stresses personalised study plans, flexible schedules, counselling, friendly environment, face to face contact, and self-assessment.
(You can see the video of Anna’s IATEFL presentation of the SOLC online here:

Alex Ding, Team Leader in New Technologies and English for Academic Purposes and Coordinator of the Virtual Self-Access Centre at CELE, Nottingham University (
Alex is going to set up a SAC, but it will be limited to an area of 45 sq metres (i.e. 9 x 5 metres). He aims to compensate for this by having a virtual presence with online advising, links etc, and by encouraging collaborative autonomy.

Richard next looked at the principles for systems supporting learner autonomy which have emerged from the experiences of those running SACs. The first set was from Esch (1996), who emphasises qualities of: choice, flexibility, adaptability / modifiability, reflective / negotiability and shareability.

Lucy holds that SACs should not be compulsory, should involve students in their running, should be fun, and the SAC should be warm and welcoming so learners choose to be there. She sees learner training as crucial, and considers choice and flexibility to be integral, and she believes that use of the SAC should be voluntary and optional. (See “Independence” 43 for Lucy’s own article “Some Self-Access Principles”)
Lucy’s points to consider when setting up a centre are:
· Effective SALL is not dependent on the size of the centre
· A strong philosophy is more important than a large budget
· SALL is not a labour-saving system
· Not all materials are suitable for self-access
· Learning training is very likely to be important

Anna Gorevanova’s principles, and the key features of the SOLC, Tashkent, are:
· Customised packages, (i.e. counsellors help learners develop a personal study plan)
· Flexible schedules
· Learner support (counselling)
· Friendly / supportive learning environment
· Self-assessment and reflection

Richard next looked at key problems / challenges when setting up a SAC. For example, Alex Ding holds that the individuals involved in running a SAC need to have a philosophy, and need to make overt their own beliefs about autonomy. Without this there will inevitably be a conflicting approach and there will be battles between team members. He also maintains that the vision must be translated into a structure, and that the SAC needs to be incorporated into the teaching and learning of all tutors and students.

Richard then looked at problems / challenges encountered after set up, the reasons why a SAC may fail, using Humberto’s experiences:
· A culture accustomed to teacher centred and test driven mode of learning
· The lack of previous consultation with the teaching staff and with the students
· Insufficient systemic and ongoing teacher training and development for both the staff and the learners in all the areas of concern in the centre
· Ineffective means of informing possible users about the systems
· Incompatible attitudes of some staff and learners towards the principles of self-access language learning
· An inflexible system controlling the registration and progress of the students

And from Lucy’s experience:
· Allocating time for SALL
· Getting teaching staff and university management “on-board”
· Recruiting learning advisors
· Implementing an effective labelling and database system – no standardisation
· Finding appropriate materials
· Dealing with copyright issues
· Assessing and evaluating learners’ work and the learning experience

Richard then considered the future of SACs. He mentioned an article in Clarity’s newsletter, Loud and Clear, 24, entitled “The Slow Death of the Self-Access Centre”
(available online at and he quoted Barbara Sinclair, who wrote that the field of SALL is “littered with the corpses of heroic individuals who have fought to convince their institutions that it is important to develop greater independence” (Sinclair, 2006).
He maintains, though, that SACs do still have a place and are worth the trouble of setting up and running because there is still a need for face to face advice and collaboration. Furthermore, not all can afford the technology whch SACs can make available or cannot afford the higher quality of technology needed, for example, to make video conferencing effective.

He sees challenges that still need to be met, for example, why are SACs still for the committed minority? And, why are institutional managers still not convinced of the need for SACs?

DICKINSON, L. (1987). Self-instruction in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

ESCH, E. (1996). “Promoting learner autonomy; criteria for the selection of appropriate methods”. In R. PEMBERTON, E. S. L. LI, W. W. F. OR, and H. D. PIERSON (eds.). Taking Control: Autonomy in Language Learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press

SINCLAIR, B. (2006). “Self-access language learning: conceptualisations, practice and future directions”. In: D. DIXON, H. BABA, P. COZENS, and M. THOMAS (eds.). Independent Learning Schemes: A Practical Approach. Dubai: TESOL Arabia Publications

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Multiliterate autonomous learner. Presented by Vance Stevens

Vance has links to his slides and audio recording and other interesting things here: so you can experience the presentation for yourself.
I got a number of things out of his talk (in addition to the names of some really cool new social networking tools). I will write something about some of the key points that he was making.

We learned the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants (2001). Digital natives are people who grew up with the internet and never knew a world without it. The participants in Vance’s talk were digital immigrants, in danger of being out of touch with the world our students inhabit.
There is a need for teachers to be autonomous learners (of technology) so that they model and inspire their learners to also be autonomous. He cited Leni’s talk and also supported the quote from Edelhoff (1984). We need to teach through modeling and demonstrating and learn by practice and reflection (Downes, 2007) and our students will do likewise.
We learned about the concept of connectivism; the theory of learning through being connected to one another. Our knowledge is the sum of what is in the network. Learning how to access it is the key.
Blogs and social networking can play an important role in learning and digital immigrants do not always realize this. Vance pointed out that schools often cut students off from their social (online) network by blocking sites or not allowing internet access in class. He mentioned the recent example at Ryerson College where a student was punished with 150 counts of plagiarism for forming a Facebook study group as an example of an institution which does not understand the nature of social networking and appeared to actively discourage autonomy. Vance thinks that blogs are a model application and are by nature a tool for reflection. I wrote something about this recently too (see references below).

I admit, when Vance began his talk by asking questions like “has anyone heard of Twitter?” (no) “Do you know what RSS is?” (no) “Are you familiar with Twemes” (no) I got a bit nervous. But as ever, Vance tied his cutting-edge knowledge of the latest technology nicely back to the literature and, of course, ultimately, the students. I came away thinking of ways to relate to the digital natives that I teach by making the most of social networking sites.

You can read Vance’s full article in Independence (42) and a follow-up by Dafne Gonzalez and Rubena St. Louis in issue 43. Http://


Downes, S. (2007). Personal learning the web 2.0 way. Talk at WiAOC 2007.

Edelhoff, C. (1984). Purposes and needs for teacher training” in van Ek and J. Trim (eds.) Across the threshold: readings from the modern languages projects of the Council of Europe. Oxford: Pergamon.

Mynard, J. (2007a). A blog as a tool for reflection for English language learners. Asian EFL Journal: Professional teaching articles, 24.

Mynard, J. (2007b). Blogging at conferences: A personal reflection. Independence (42), p12.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9, 5.

Teacher education for learner autonomy, presented by Leni Dam

The teacher education worm is a very well-travelled worm and I suspect that this is not yet the end of its journey. Leni began her presentation by showing us the path it took. For practical reasons, she divided the concept of teacher education for learner autonomy into two groups, inital teacher education (ITT) and in-service teacher training (INSET).

The beginning of the journey
- Leni Dam, Denmark - keeper of the worm

Initial teacher training (ITT)
- Anja Burkert, Graz, Austria – a ‘student’
- June Miliander, Karlstad, Sweden – a ‘trainer’
- Jose Luis Vera, La Laguna, Tenerife – a ’trainer’

In-service teacher training (INSET)
- Leni Dam, Karlslunde, Denmark – a ‘trainer’
- Frank Lacey, Greve, Denmark – a ‘student’

When sending the worm out into the world, Leni’s starting point was this quote (even though her own learning had not been geared to the principles of learner autonomy).

" …teachers will hardly be prepared or able to administer autonomous learning
processes in their students if their own learning is not geared to the same principles."
Edelhoff (1984).

During the presentation, Leni drew on the stories told by the other contributors in order to raise issues for teacher education. I have a copy of Leni’s Powerpoint slides which are nicely annotated and this will provide a much better summary of the presentation than this blog (I will ask Leni’s permission to make them available to you via the LASIG website).

I think the key messages that came out of the presentation were (1) promoting autonomy in the language classroom works and (2) teacher education workshops and initial training should mirror what happens in the language classroom. For example, the aims and expectations should be made clear by the teacher initially, the starting point should be what participants bring with them to the learning environment (identity, experience, knowledge and expectations), and activities should resemble those undertaken in an autonomous language classroom.

Leni ended her presentation by mentioning the importance of supporting self-esteem of practicing teachers as well as teacher students so that the are able to face change – including changing themselves.

You can read articles by Leni Dam and Frank Lacey in issue 42 of Independence. Articles by Anja Burkert and June Miliander are in issue 43 and Jose Luis Vera’s article will appear in issue 44 this summer.


Edelhoff, C. (1984). Purposes and needs for teacher training” in van Ek and J. Trim (eds.) Across the threshold: readings from the modern languages projects of the Council of Europe. Oxford: Pergamon.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Welcome to IATEFL Exeter 2008!

Welcome to the IATEFL Learner Autonomy 2008 blog!

On Monday 7th April we kick off the annual conference with a learner autonomy-related pre-conference event.

Invited speakers are:

Leni Dam
Lienhard Legenhausen
Adrian Holliday
Richard Pemberton
Vance Stevens

Do check this blog in the weeks following the conference for presentation summaries and questions raised over course of the conference.