Distance education and language learner autonomy in South Brazil

Nayara Nunes Salbego, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil

Click the video frame above to view the presentation on Youtube. To ask the presenter a question about her presentation, please add a comment at the bottom of this page between October 6 and October 10. Presenters will check for and reply to questions at the end of each symposium day.

Abstract

With the increasing number of Distance Education (DE) programs in Brazil, the traditional roles of teachers and students have been changing. Throughout school life, there is a high level of centralization around the figure of the teacher and so little attention has been devoted to the contributions that learners may make formal education, as a result of their own personal experiences. In DE, teachers do not seem to hold a central position in the students’ learning processes, whereas the students seem to be required to gain more responsibility. As a consequence, the concept of autonomy has become important for their learning. Understanding autonomy is a way to help students learn how to decide about their own strategies and learning processes. For that reason, this study aimed to analyze students’ perceptions on how autonomy initiatives fostered the development of the four skills in English (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) throughout the distance English teacher education program offered by Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (2009–2013). It investigated (a) what autonomy initiatives helped students develop their language skills in the program; and (b) how students perceived their own autonomous initiatives for the development of language skills in English. For the data collection, 21 students from the DE program answered an online questionnaire regarding the concept of autonomy and their language skills development in the program; 20 wrote a reflective report on the same topic; and 4 were interviewed regarding their answers in both the questionnaire and reflective report. Researchers such as Holec (1981); Dickinson (1992, 1994); Cotterall (1995); Dias (1994); Finch (2002); White (1999, 2003, 2004, 2006); Moreira (1994); and Paiva (2005, 2006, 2011), who theorized about language learner autonomy, enlightened the discussions and data analysis. A qualitative analysis of the results showed that students perceived autonomous initiatives as necessary and positive concerning the development of the four skills in the program. Students presented different characteristics and actions of autonomous learners. In their perceptions, such characteristics and actions fostered their language development. Tutors also saw students benefiting from their attitude in taking responsibility for their own learning processes.

Presenter
Ms. Nayara Nunes Salbego

Masters in English Language Teaching and Learning
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil
nayara.salbego@yahoo.com.br

8 thoughts on “Distance education and language learner autonomy in South Brazil”

  1. Excellent presentation! You mention there is interaction with peers and the teachers, and you state how learners see the role of the teacher in their autonomy of learning. How do teachers see their role? Thanks.

    1. Dear Silvia,
      I interviewed tutors (Master Degree Students with a Degree in English), which are like teachers in Brazil, specifically in distance education programs. They are supposed to help students in doing their activities and understanding tasks proposed by the teachers (University Professors). The tutors found the students very autonomous since they would resort to them only regarding deadlines and technological questions about the virtual environment.
      Thank you for all your special comment and question. I really appreciate it.

  2. Hi, Nayara.

    This is an interesting project!
    I definitely agree with you regarding the importance of autonomy in L2. I would like to ask you about the participants’ level of proficiency (e.g., are they all advanced?), and whether you think level of proficiency would affect autonomy.

    I also would like to ask whether you had an opportunity to verify the effects of autonomy on learners’ performance in the English program (e.g., learners who self-reported being more autonomous were more successful in the course).
    Thank you.

    Best,
    Denise Osborne.

  3. Dear Silvia,
    I interviewed tutors (Master Degree Students with a Degree in English), which are like teachers in Brazil, specifically in distance education programs. They are supposed to help students in doing their activities and understanding tasks proposed by the teachers (University Professors). The tutors found the students very autonomous since they would resort to them only regarding deadlines and technological questions about the virtual environment.

    Dear Denise,
    I did not have time to check learners level of proficiency in relation to their autonomous perception. However, one interesting result was that basic level students (beginners in English) graduated just like students who were already proficient when they started the program. This result also compares to face-to-face English teacher training programs in Brazil. Of course the levels of proficiency are always different, but what is nice is that it is possible to accompany students with higher levels of proficiency and get to the end of the program. I believe that beginners who graduate in programs like these learn much more of the language than the ones who were already proficient.

    Thank you for all your special comments and questions. I really appreciate it.

  4. Thank you for your presentation. What role do you think the digital media played in the tasks and the learners’ experiences of them? Did this have an impact on their own sense of their autonomy?

  5. According to students’ responses in the questonnaires, the digital media engouraged them to be more autonomous. Learners stated that they had to find ways of exploring learning materials and activities on their own, by finding out how they could learn better. The fact that the digital media was displayed in the virtual learning environment with instructions guided them, but they were the ones to find the best ways to carry out the activites proposed and to study the supporting material to do so. It was possible to conclude that distance education promoted language learning autonomy in the distance teacher education program analysed.

  6. Thank you for your presentation, Nayara. I believe it is very pertinent to understand how DE affects students’ learning and development in an L2, especially with the growth of these programs in the past years.

    As you mentioned in the previous comment, the means for learning afforded by digital media encourage students’ autonomy and are beneficial for their success in the program. However, I wonder how teachers could also foster autonomy in a regular, face-to-face classroom. Do you think that if instructors took a hybrid approach to learning – in which technology-mediated tasks were intertwined with everyday traditional classroom activities – they could achieve a similar result? Which elements of DE could be applied to traditional classrooms?

    Obrigada,

    Beatriz Carneiro

  7. Dear Beatriz,
    From what I have experienced in teaching so far, I strongly believe that technology fosters not only autonomy, but also motivation. When it comes to language learning, students seem to be more comfortable interacting through computer-mediated communication tools. Teachers can profit from technological tools in order to engage students in learning.
    Thank you for your comments and questions!

Comments are closed.

a hybrid symposium on research and practice

%d bloggers like this: