A. Results from questionnaire
The questionnaire copies were given to 24 students (out of 27 students in total) present in the last session. All of the questionnaire copies were returned for analysis, and one of them was false because the student did not give clear indication of his/her choices to some questions. Attached please find the questionnaire questions in Appendix 1.
The bar chart below presents an overview of the questionnaire results. All students agreed that they cooperated with group members well and took full responsibility for learning. They also found peer sharing and peer comments useful for improving the quality of the learning tasks. They strongly agreed that they had enough support from the course lecturer. While 87% of the students declared that they benefited from being given sufficient time and space, 13% of them did not share the same view. Most students (91%) reported that they benefited from being given choices and lecturer’s commons on Blackboard, while 9% of them indicated that they did not have the same opinion. It seemed that 4% of the students were still struggling with becoming independent learners as Questions 1, 7 & 11 indicated.
(Q1: I was able to make decisions about my own learning in this course.
Q7: When I had a problem with my learning in this course, I took the initiative to find a way to solve it.
Q11: I have become a more autonomous learner through this course.)
B. Findings from focus group interviews
Three focus group interviews involving 14 students were conducted to get students’ feedback on the practice of the concerned pedagogical strategy. Attached please find the interview questions in Appendix 2. The first two interviews were conducted during the course. Two groups (a total of eight students) participated in interviews. The third one was conducted at the end of course. Six students from different groups participated in it. Questions were framed in four aspects: students’ expectation of the course, their understanding of the concept of learner autonomy, practice of the strategy implementation, and peer/teacher support in practice. Students’ responses to those questions are outlined below:
At the very beginning of the course, students expected to learn grammar and improve their language skills (e.g. writing, speaking, reading skills) in the traditional way. Some did not have specific expectations, and some took this course as a chance to speak to native speakers and learn more about cultures.
Some students claimed that their expectations were fulfilled, while some felt insecure, especially about how to write a whole academic essay. Some reported that though their expectations were not fulfilled, it was a nice surprise. The course helped them to improve formal writing like definition, communication skills and critical thinking. Meanwhile, some students were concerned that only introducing the different learning styles seemed to be a bit shallow as the course content, which was also because they did not know how to deepen the topic. Some students hoped that they could have more chances of practising listening and speaking. When they were asked why they did not consider the tasks of presentation, group discussion and online listening as listening and speaking practice. One student commented:
“You might say that, but that’s not really the case. …”
Some students further explained their expectation of practising listening and speaking in class:
“I would like to listen to various speeches, perhaps different accents.”
“I hope the teacher could introduce how to choose some words to make presentation more attractive and some other presentation skills.”
Most students liked the teaching approaches in this course, since it used different methods, such as videos, interesting quiz without pressure of being assessed. It helped them to learn how to think and learn independently. They were happy with the flexible learning hours and places. However, some students seemed confused by the teacher’s instructions and expected clearer guidelines and more instructions about the tasks they should complete in class.
To be an independent learner, students believed that they should have more freedom to learn, decide on the topics themselves, go to the library to find relevant books to read, match their own interests. They could learn more effectively via learning by themselves. They should try first by themselves, not waiting for the teacher’s instructions. They wanted to know the guideline first and then did it themselves.
As independent learners, they felt they should fulfil all the tasks, show improvement and passion in class, be willing to participate in class and responsible for themselves, and try everything by themselves first before consulting the teacher. Some admitted that there was still some room to improve, as they were only motivated in some tasks that interested them, not all. One student explained her confusion about understanding the purpose of the course and its link to learner autonomy:
“I wonder if this [developing learner autonomy] is not really the main purpose of this course. If I could just stay at home to do my paper, the meaning of studying in class seems meaningless. … I feel confused sometimes in classroom. So I wonder if this is not the purpose of this course. We need to be an independent student in the university and study different subject for ourselves. But this course, I am quite confused, how could this course achieve this purpose?”
However, another student tried to clarify the purpose of this course:
“I think I know what this course wants to do. It actually helps us to know about ourselves so that we could be an independent learner. Actually, we are all independent learners. But we don’t know much about ourselves. … So this course tries to help you to know what kind of learners you are and know more about ourselves, and adopt the right learning approaches. ”
Some students felt that it did not help them much even though they knew what types of learners they were.
Students did not think that the learning tasks were very difficult, but time could be a problem especially in November when they had assignments for other subjects. The beginning of the semester could be tough when they did not get the whole picture of the course yet. Some were afraid of being laughed at and some worried that they could not find the required materials. IT problem was another concern. Some students thought the topic was not very helpful and too broad. One student explained the reason for his unhappiness with certain learning task:
“The tasks are not really difficult, but they are annoying sometimes, because there are a lot of minor things that you have to do. For example, one assignment has three parts: you have to write the draft; you have to ask for others’ comments; you have to read the comments and revise the draft. … I know why the teacher does in this way. I think it is meaningful, but we have lots of assignments in other courses. Because this course is not a credit-bearing course, then we think, oh, it is just too much. We then focus more on other courses. …”
Some students explained that the fact that the tutor had given them a lot of time in class for them to prepare for the project made it much easier for them to handle the project.
Students liked peer comments and find them useful and encouraging. Making comments also helped them to learn collaboratively and improve their writing techniques. Some students said commenting was more challenging than doing the work itself since one had to read and analyse others’ work. Since it was required, students paid more attention to it and thus the quality of commenting was good.
Students were aware of the various sources available for them in this Institute, such as peers, teachers, books, Internet, library, etc. They usually asked peers first if they encountered problems. Some students were afraid of asking the teacher some silly questions. If the problem remained, they would approach the teacher since she was open to questions and very helpful.
Teacher support was sufficient for students and they would like to try to do research themselves first. Some suggested it would be good if the teacher could provide a book list because it was sometime very difficult to select books while so many books were available but not all of them were relevant. Some suggested that the teacher should give more multi-media sources or interesting websites. Some expected more speaking practices in the course, not too much on written work.
Summary of the findings
To conclude, it seemed there was a gap between students’ expectation and the teacher’s. Most students were satisfied with the unexpected practices in the course, while some struggled especially when they got confused and were not interested in the tasks. Most students obtained certain understandings of learner autonomy and were motivated to be independent learners while some still struggled with understanding and behaving as independent learners. Students did not have many difficulties to complete the multi-modal project due to the easy topic, flexible/plenty time given by the teacher, sufficient support from the teacher and peers. One factor that might demotivate students’ learning was that this course did not bear any credits.