1. What was the pedagogical strategy that you intended to implement in your course to promote autonomy in your students? Why did you choose this strategy? How could this strategy potentially benefit you as well as your target students?
The strategy was ‘involving learners in assessment for learning: interactive assessment’. Assessment for Learning in our context is the overriding idea that assessment is not solely a tool to measure and judge but to be used as effective pedagogy to ensure learning is taking place, assessment and improvement paths are transparent, and our learners are actively involved in assessment processes and decisions. It promoted autonomy because it gave the students a voice during online assignments, gave them the role of decision maker when giving peer feedback, and gave them the responsibility of creating their own assessment project.
This strategy was chosen because it seemed important that these particular students had an understanding that
– assessment and assignment is not about gaining marks or credits,
– is not always teacher-led,
– peers are more important in evaluating work as learning takes place by more than one party,
– assessment has to be interactive for learning to take place, i.e. discussion, decisions, feedback, evaluation, presentation is everyone’s responsibility
These particular students may be going on to be language or other subject teachers; therefore, it is of great benefit to them to be aware of a paradigm shift in assessment practices, particularly in the Hong Kong educational context of over-emphasis on summative achievement.
On most occasions, I am the observer, the facilitator, watching learning taking place through LMS online discussions, group presentations, and group project process. This created more time to feedback and feed into the course in a way that Assessment-for-Learning principles encourage.
2. Did you explain to your students as to why you wanted to implement this strategy in your course? If so, in what way did you do it? If not, why not?
On the first day of the course, the students discussed Autonomy and Independent Language Learning and brainstormed what this meant to them. I linked this to their assignment and assessment processes. It was made very clear in their course notes what their roles were, their peers roles were and what my role as instructor was. I was careful to explain this from the outset and to explain my aims for the assignments and assessment as we worked through the course. They also filled in a questionnaire about Autonomy, Student Autonomy, and the role of assessment in their lives now and in the future. This questionnaire was carried out as soon as they came into the classroom on the first day of the course, so that their first and real thoughts were captured, and they had some idea of what the course was trying to achieve.
3. How did you monitor the implementation of this strategy in your course? Were there any particular incidents or student comments/responses that struck you as to whether the implementation of this strategy was effective or not? If so, what were they?
I was able to see what was happening via the LMS, through informal discussions with some students and general observation.
The quality of the online work and discussion showed me that the strategy was fairly successful. Some students in particular seemed to run with the strategy. However, I was also aware that some students were not so happy that the course was based on pass/fail rather than fine grades and that their efforts were going into other courses rather than this one because of the lack of credits for their GPA, and the general lack of support for CLE English Enhancement courses institute-wide.
4. Did you encounter any difficulties when implementing this strategy? If so, what were they? Was it possible for you to do anything to improve the situation? If so, what did you do? If not, why not?
This course had not been piloted and was a brand new course with little input from other instructors in the creation. On the one hand, it gave me complete freedom. On the other hand, it was more like a lonely experiment at times. Main difficulties were during the project assessment towards the end of the course when the students were given the freedom and space to work on their presentation. I felt as if I wasn’t really helping. It was hard to let them get on with it – to give them total freedom. I felt like I wasn’t being a ‘good’ teacher to them! Some groups on the project assessment had personal problems between them when some members of their group did not turn up for their meetings or share their work with them. They struggled with this but I felt it was really part of the learning process and being responsible for their learning, i.e. becoming more autonomous.
It was also very time-consuming to read all their assignment entries on the LMS and make, albeit minimal comments to each of the 27 students. I felt, although they were peer evaluating and commenting, they would expect me to make some kind of encouraging comments and I thought they needed to be aware that I was monitoring their learning and that this was an important component of the course and their learning outcomes. I also wondered if other teachers who might be the instructor of this course in the future would put the time into this essential but time-consuming aspect of the course. On reflection, I might simplify the online assignment components and parts or even reduce it to two assignments rather than three.
5. If you were to implement this strategy again to promote autonomy in your future students, would you do anything differently? Why or why not?
Some students struggled on uploading their work on the LMS. I had given them online instructions and workshops to attend so they could learn how to use Blackboard efficiently. I saw this as taking control of their own learning but on reflection, some of the students could probably have been given some more help with this. I could have given more help with this from the outset. It is important to give them the tools to be more independent.
I would come up with a more structured way to implement the group project sessions so that the students could learn how to utilize their time better. Perhaps discuss time management and responsibility issues openly. I think I could have made the decisions to give them the time to work on the project and the freedom to choose where they did this more explicit and discussed this with them in a more interactive way.
6. What suggestions would you give to teachers who are interested in using this strategy to promote autonomy in his/her students?
To keep in mind the following principles which was the theory behind the strategy. These are from an amalgam of different sources (ARG, 2002, Wiliam, 2005). Assessment for learning and interactive assessment ensures:
• effective planning of assessment for learning in the curriculum;
• key AfL elements are central to best 2nd LL teaching and learning practices;
• learners are informed of all AfL intentions and become owners of the process;
• learners are involved in the choice of their own learning;
• individual learning styles are taken into account;
• all learners are resources and evaluators, for themselves, their peers and their teacher;
• collaboration and learning together;
• feedback to move forwards in short and long term-learning;
• a sense of motivation for learning rather than for getting grades;
• a directed path for continual improvement, growth and independent learning.
Implementation of these principles, in turn, can help promote learner autonomy and understanding that assessment is for learning.