Distance education and language learner autonomy in South Brazil

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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pSQN5WNKXE&w=470&h=365]

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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.

Ms. Nayara Nunes Salbego

Masters in English Language Teaching and Learning
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil