It is a pleasure to introduce this new post, written by Jo Mynard and Scott Shelton-Strong (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan). Jo and Scott describe an on-going research project which investigates the extent to which autonomy-supportive conditions exist for fostering English language use in a large self-access learning centre in a university in Japan. Their project will be presented at the IATEFL LASIG showcase, to be held on Tuesday 2 April 2019 (53rd IATEFL Conference, Liverpool 2019).
Although both of us have been interested in the field of language learner autonomy for many years, we are still finding new and exciting ways to think about autonomy and the support we give our students. We had the opportunity to see a plenary talk by Richard Ryan on self-determination theory at the Psychology of Language Learning Conference in Tokyo last June (http://www.pll3-tokyo2018.com). Professor Ryan’s talk and other presentations at the same conference inspired us to explore the field of autonomy from a different perspective. Self-determination theory (SDT) draws on robust research which has been applied to a wide range of fields. The term autonomy is interpreted differently within SDT and our team of colleagues in Japan have been exploring how the two fields can influence each other in order to help us understand more about our learners and how to best support them. As learning advisors and researchers, we are involved in several projects at our university, but the one we will talk about at IATEFL 2019 in Liverpool is the largest project so far. In fact, there were 17 researchers involved with this, including student researchers. Our team are presenting and publishing parts of the project as we go along.
In our presentation at the Learner Autonomy showcase in Liverpool, we will describe a research project designed to investigate the extent to which autonomy-supportive conditions exist for fostering English language use in a large self-access learning centre (“the SALC”) in our university in Japan (http://kuis8.com). In order to investigate these conditions, it is necessary to evaluate an environment from multiple perspectives, and although this is an ongoing process that is likely to take several years, we begin by exploring the views of the student users, and also the team of learning advisors (LAs) who work full time in the SALC.
The research framework we have chosen to use to help us evaluate the SALC is based on a SDT perspective (Deci & Ryan, 1987). SDT is a broad framework for the study of human motivation and well-being and within this framework, there are six sub-theories. One of these is Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) which focuses on the areas of autonomy, competence and relatedness. We use BPNT to investigate the extent to which our SALC services and design provide support for these needs. We do this because, according to SDT, when support for these universal needs is present, this is thought to lead to support for autonomous motivation, and is needed in order to encourage greater engagement of our learners in the various learning environments which make up our SALC.
The research team investigated factors that might contribute to the basic psychological needs – autonomy, relatedness and competence – such as how comfortable students felt about using English, whether the environment was conducive in promoting English language use, and how the environment may or may not contribute to a sense of self-determination about language learning (Asta & Mynard, 2018; Yarwood, Lorentzen, Wallingford, & Wongsarnpigoon, 2019). Research methods included interviews with 108 student users of the SALC, and results of detailed evaluations of key sections of the SALC undertaken by the LAs (Mynard & Shelton-Strong, 2019). Results indicated that many of the features of the SALC were autonomy supportive in general, but some areas for improving the autonomy-supportive nature of the SALC were highlighted, which will lead to further research or action research interventions in the coming months.
Asta, E., & Mynard, J. (2018). Exploring basic psychological needs in a language learning center. Part 1: Conducting student interviews. Relay Journal, 1(2), 382-404. Retrieved from https://kuis.kandagaigo.ac.jp/relayjournal/issues/sep18/asta_mynard/
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1987). The support of autonomy and the control of behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1024-1037. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1684
Mynard, J., & Shelton-Strong, S. J. (2019). Evaluating a self-access centre: A self-determination theory perspective. Paper presented at the 53rd International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language annual conference, Liverpool, UK 2-5 April, 2019.
Yarwood, A., Lorentzen, A., Wallingford, A., & Wongsarnpigoon, I. (2019). Exploring basic psychological needs in a language learning center. Part 2: The autonomy-supportive nature and limitations of a SALC. Relay Journal, 2(1). Retrieved from https://kuis.kandagaigo.ac.jp/relayjournal/issues/jan19/yarwood_et_al/
Jo Mynard is a Professor, Director of the Self-Access Learning Center, and Director of the Research Institute for Learner Autonomy Education at Kanda University of International studies in Japan. She has an M.Phil. in Applied Linguistics from Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland and an Ed.D. in TEFL from the University of Exeter, UK. Her research interests include learner autonomy, advising, self-access and affect in language learning.
Scott Shelton-Strong is a Learning Advisor in the Self-Access Learning Center and a member of the Research Institute for Learner Autonomy Education at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. He earned his MA TESOL (with distinction) from the University of Nottingham, UK. Among his research interests are learner autonomy, advising and reflective dialogue, the psychology of language learning, and self-determination theory applied to advising and self-access learning.
Contribute to the post
Thank you Jo and Scott for contributing to the blog with this very interesting and thought-provoking post!
We’d like to encourage the readers to share their own thoughts and/or experience, before and after the conference.
For example, do you have any examples of autonomy-supportive environments in your own cultural context?
What do you think of self-determination theory and its significance for language learner autonomy?