TECHNOLOGY PROJECT BASED LEARNING TO ENHANCE LEARNER AUTONOMY

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In section 2.2 the researcher will first discuss constructivist view of learning. The relationship between the constructivist view of learning and the technology will also be discussed. Next, the definition of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Technology Project-Based Learning (TPBL) will be given in section 2.3. The researcher will also outline the criteria of PBL in section 2.3.1. The final overview of PBL will be presented in section 2.3.2. Section 2.3.3 will highlight the benefits of PBL and also TPBL. Section 2.4 will focus on learners' autonomy, touching on the needs of enhancing learners' autonomy. Section 2.5 will discuss authentic learning environment in connection with PBL. Section 2.6 will explore the integration of technology in PBL. Finally, section 2.7 concludes with a proposal for the theoretical framework and the identification of the key research questions.

2.2 The Constructivist Learning Theory

Constructivist learning theory has a long history established from renowned scholars like Piaget (1972), Vygotsky (1978) and Dewey (1998). It is often chosen to be implemented in class as it involves students' active participation where they will have the opportunity to experience by doing, enhancing their critical skills and creativity. Constructivism is also a learning theory that helps students to interact with one another which gives recognition that the students are communal beings (Moursund; 2003). This section thus will discuss constructivist learning theory based on these points derived by the various readings made: 1) knowledge is established from active social interaction and collaboration with more knowledgeable people or tools, 2) the process of acquiring knowledge is important by giving learners meaningful experiences, 3) learners construct knowledge based on their previous experiences.

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Vygotsky (1978) believed that there are two levels in the development of human intelligence: the actual development level and the Zone of Proximal Development. The actual development level according to him is the knowledge that has already been established. Learners in this level can solve the problems posed to them independently. The Zone of Proximal Development on the other hand "is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky; 1978 p. 86). Vygotsky (1978) and Moursund (2003) believed that social interaction for example collaboration and cooperation is fundamental in cognitive development as learners can learn from one another. It means that when learners actively collaborate with people or tools such as technologies who/that have more knowledge about a topic or concept they will be able to solve problems beyond their actual cognitive level. However, learning is also a personal thing as every learner is different and learns differently with different background knowledge and experience (Moursund; 2003). One way of acknowledging learners' differences is through the use of TPBL. Chen and McGrath (2004) believed that the constructivist approach combined with the proper use of technology can help students to improve their passive and traditional learning style. Perhaps this is true considering the fact that today's technology offers its users a plethora of information and animation as well as unlimited access to communication through various channel such as e-mail, short messaging service, teleconferencing and online chatting which can help to serve the differences among the learners.

The idea of constructivist learner's active involvement in the learning process is also supported by Cavana (2009) who said that an essential factor of constructivist learning is "action". Learners in the constructivist learning environment are not passive, as knowledge attainment involves an active process (Cavana, 2009). Clearly, in a constructivist classroom, it is the learners who are working actively to help themselves learning and understanding the subjects. In a research done by Tudge (2003) on the effect of peer collaboration, he found out that children learn about adult real life, 'behaviour', and 'technologies' when they work actively together with their peers. His research supports Vygotsky's idea mentioned earlier in this paragraph that learners learned better when they work actively with people who are more knowledgeable.

Learning should focus on the process of acquiring the knowledge (which involves the students actively) instead of just on the outcome of the lesson (Vygotsky, 1978). Dewey (1998) argued that even though the philosophy of education is to impart knowledge to the learners, preparing them for future adult life, there is still a gap between what the textbooks and the teachers could offer and the real world outside. Children in the traditional classroom according to him only receive what the textbooks have and what the adult teachers have in their head. Dewey suggested that in order to change from the traditional approach, education should place importance on learners' individuality and create a close relationship between "the processes of actual experience and education" (Dewey, 1998, p.7). "Every experience should do something to prepare a person for later experiences for a deeper and more expensive quality. That is the very meaning of growth, continuity, construction of experience" (Dewey; 1998 p.47). Dewey's idea that stresses more on the process of acquiring knowledge that involves meaningful experiences and dynamic involvement from the learners supports constructivist learning theory where it is the learners who interact with the environment, construct their knowledge and conceptualise their thoughts.

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The constructivist approach also places importance on the learners' previous experience as well as building new ones. Experience is important to the individual's understanding and their ability to use the data (Thomas & Jonassen; 1992). Thus, in learning, the learner is not just acquiring new information, but using both new and old experiences and interprets them into a new understanding. No doubt, the experience that the learners have in school is different from what they face in the real world. That is why the constructivists believe that "cognitive experiences" should be placed in "authentic activities" (Thomas & Jonassen; 1992). This means that teachers are encouraged to implement activities where the students can actively involve themselves in the lesson, building experiences using real life activities.

Hence, in an attempt to employ a constructivist learning activity, TPBL is one approach that combines active learning (students direct their own learning), varied experiences (students learn by doing), interaction and collaboration (students interact with their friends to plan, organize and implement strategies), as well as authentic situations (students focus on real life topics). Being the focus of this thesis, the definition and concept of PBL and TPBL is further explained in the next few sections.

2.3 Project-based learning (PBL) and Technology Project based learning (TPBL) - Definitions

Although the actual focus of this thesis is TPBL, the researcher will first discuss PBL as TPBL originates from the PBL umbrella. TPBL contains all of PBL's criteria, only with the integration of technology.

PBL is not a new approach in the teaching practice. It is a method that breaks away from traditional classroom teaching that practices teacher-centered lessons. PBL is an activity that is designed to encourage students to be more independent towards their own learning. Students involved in PBL are exposed to real life issues where they work either individually or in groups over a period of time to solve problems. The main idea of PBL is that students will be interested in solving real world problem that challenges their thoughts and provokes application of new knowledge. Many PBL researchers emphasized that students involved in PBL will acquire the skills they need in the workplace (David; 2008). This is because PBL gives opportunity to the students to collaborate in groups, investigate a meaningful problem which requires them to look for information and solutions.

There are several definitions of PBL:

Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz (2003) stated that Buck Institute For Education defines PBL as "a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks".

Educational Technology Division (2006) defines it as a way of teaching that is different than the traditional style. It deduced that PBL activities should be done over a period of time, involving cross subjects reference, focusing on the students who deal with real life issues. It challenges students to be explorative, and able to synthesize information in a meaningful manner.

Wurdinger, Haar, Hugg and Bezon (2007) defines PBL as "a teaching method where teachers guide students through a problem-solving process which includes identifying a problem, developing a plan, testing the plan against reality, and reflecting on the plan while in the process of designing and completing a project".

Integrated Electronics Corporation (INTEL) (2004) which plays a big role in promoting technology into PBL gives this definition: "Project-based learning is an instructional model that involves students in investigations of compelling problems that culminate in authentic products. Projects that make for stronger classroom learning opportunities can vary widely in subject matter and scope, and can be delivered at a wide range of grade levels. Nonetheless, they tend to share defining features. Projects grow out of challenging questions that cannot be answered by rote learning. Projects put students in an active role-problem solver, decision maker, investigator, documentarian. Projects serve specific, significant educational goals; they are not diversions or adds-on to the "real" curriculum."

Based on these definitions, it can be summed up that these are a few things that make up PBL:

It involves students actively.

It allows students to be the director of their own learning.

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It teaches students various skills which include technological skill, reading skill, information seeking skill and communication skill.

It exposes students to real life situations, and

It requires students to produce something to be shared with others.

Based on these findings, the researcher's definition of TPBL therefore is the integration of technology into PBL. Technology mentioned here for the purpose of this research includes the various computer programmes, internet facilities including the World Wide Web, e-mail, chat as well as the video and audio media. TPBL has the same characteristics as PBL but focuses more on the implementation of technology throughout the process of completing the project. The products of TPBL are also expected to be technological based. To understand the PBL concept better, it is pertinent for us to acknowledge the criteria that make PBL a different approach compared to traditional teaching practices.

2.3.1 Project Based Learning - The criteria

PBL is a unique method that distinguishes itself from other approaches. It is applied based on certain criteria that make it special. There are six important criteria of PBL that have been identified:

The first criterion is that PBL projects are central to the curriculum (Thomas; 2000, Boss & Krauss; 2007). According to them, the projects assigned to the students are the curriculum itself. It is not something used to supplement the lesson. Students involved in PBL should be learning the content of the curriculum through the projects and not treating the project like an enrichment activity.

The second criterion is that PBL projects focus on 'driving questions' that challenges learners to solve the problem posed to them (Thomas, 2000). 'Driving questions' are questions that lead learners towards a solution or product. It requires the learners to be engaged in multiple and complex activities before they can come to the solution or the final product. The content for the project can be intersected with more than one topics, but what is more important is that the learners are pulled by a 'driving question' involving real world issues that will motivate them to wanting to know the content.

The third PBL criterion is that it must encourage the students to posses the need to know or the need to create something new (Thomas; 2000, Markham, T, Larmer, J., & Ravitz, J.; 2003). PBL will require students either to find solutions, solve problems, make decisions or even construct models. However, projects cannot be considered PBL unless students learn to transform and construct new knowledge (Thomas; 2000). That means if students are involved in projects (for example creating a mini zoo or planting a vegetable garden) that do not require them to discover new knowledge, it cannot be considered as a PBL.

The fourth criterion of PBL is its ability to encourage learner's autonomy (Thomas; 2000). In PBL, students are given the power to manage their own learning. They will learn to work independently, communicate, collaborate, gather and synthesize information, as well as practicing their problem solving skill. Learners need to master various skills and tools on their own in order to manage themselves, find the solutions and complete the project (Markham, T, Larmer, J., & Ravitz, J.; 2003).

The fifth criterion is that PBL is realistic (Thomas; 2000, Boss & Krauss; 2007) as students are required to work on authentic topics, issues or problems, produce a product that is real and useful, communicate with real people in collaboration of the project and present it in front of real audience. PBL focuses on exposing students with real life issues where the solutions suggested by the students can be implemented in the real world.

The final criterion of PBL is that it encourages the integration of technology (Boss & Krauss; 2007) which is also identified by the researcher as TPBL. The integration of technology is important in PBL as through the use of technology, learners will be able to develop themselves towards becoming 21st century learners. Technology in PBL also will enable real life, long distance and borderless communication between the learners, helping them to search for more information and thus enhancing their skills and knowledge.

In order to further understand the PBL concept, the next section will further discuss PBL in a more detailed manner providing examples and explanation to the definition of PBL.

2.3.2 Project Based Learning: A final overview

The Educational Technology Division (2006) had lined out a simple diagram for us to understand what PBL is all about (See Figure 1). PBL on the whole is product and task oriented. Students involved in PBL are expected to come out with products such as planning products, construction products, training products, media products, technology products, presentation products as well as written products. The products done by the students can be extended to the general public if applicable. This is because students have the capability to create products that are significant enough to be shared with the public especially products that concern the environment.

The method of conducting PBL is very systematic. Teachers and students involved in PBL need to have a 'driving question' to start off with the project and plan their project properly according to a schedule. Teachers on the other hand will act as facilitators and monitor the students' progress. The assessment and evaluation done in PBL is not typical and it is more complex as students involved in the projects did not learn the exact topic at the same time. "Authentic assessment" is proposed to be used with the students involved in PBL (National Foundation for the Improvement of Education; 2000). In an "authentic assessment" the teacher will evaluate the students' products and performances as well as encouraging peer assessment. Students in PBL will learn to criticize and evaluate each other's work. This can be done by preparing a simple evaluation forms with rubrics for the students.

There are a lot of skills that the students can learn when they are actively involved in PBL (Educational Technology Division; 2006). PBL incorporates various skills that enables the students to undergo the whole experience themselves, building their thoughts, knowledge as well identity. Students involved in PBL will learn Resource Skills, Interpersonal Skills, Informational Skills, System Skills, Technology Skills and overall improvement of Personal Qualities.

Finally, students involved in PBL will become more active and autonomous when they are engaged in PBL (Educational Technology Division; 2006). The students will work independently searching for information that concerns their topic. They will have to explore the variety of information channel and decide on the best one. When they are given a 'driving question', they will have to find a solution to the problem, sometimes by coming out with a product and finally share it with others. PBL on the whole is a complete cognitive process that encourages active participation from the learners.

- Planning Products

- Construction Products

- Training products

- Media Products

- Technology Products

- Presentation Products

- Written Products

Systematic Teaching and Learning Methods

- Question

- Plan

- Monitor

- Assess

- Evaluate

Product and task oriented

Engaged Learning

- Searching

- Active Exploration

- Solving

- Creating

- Sharing

Project-based Learning Definition

Authentic Assessments

Skills-based

- Resource Skills

- Interpersonal Skills

- Informational Skills

- System Skills

- Technology Skills

- Basic Skills

- Listening

- Thinking

- Personal Qualities

- Use Rubrics

- Process oriented

- End Product

- Conform to standards

- Both formative and summative

Figure 1: Project Based Learning Definition

Source: Project-Based Learning Handbook - "Education the Millennial Learner", Educational Technology Division, Ministry of Education (2006).

2.3.3 The benefits of Project Based Learning

PBL offers a wide range of benefits to the students. Students learning in the PBL class are more likely to remember what they have learned and are more prepared compared to students learning in a traditional classroom using textbooks (The George Lucas Educational Foundation; 2007). Students also developed their organizational, research and communication skills as they were in the process of completing their work (The George Lucas Educational Foundation; 2007).

PBL is the type of project that aims to develop students' higher order thinking skills. Chen and McGrath (2004) proposed that the application of PBL and technology in lessons can improve students' understanding of the subject and have the ability to use the knowledge. PBL helps students to process knowledge more in depth and they will also learn thinking skills (Chen and McGrath; 2004) which is very valuable in their life.

Students involved in PBL are often given an issue or problem to solve. In order to solve the problem and find the solution, the students need to do a lot of research. The more they find out about the problem and solution, the more interested and motivated they will be to solve the problem. The vast amount of reading they do will definitely help them to master the subject matter better (Wurdinger, Haar, Hugg and Bezon; 2007). Students involved in PBL feel that they are working in the real environment thus they "take on the role and behavior of those working in a particular discipline" (Intel; 2004).

According to Markham, Larmer, & Ravitz (2003) 'student autonomy' is one of the advantages of PBL. Students involved in PBL will enhance their knowledge through active engagement in the projects and this will also lead to "higher-level cognitive development". They also reported that teachers involved in PBL claimed that "PBL is a rigorous, relevant, and engaging instructional model that supports authentic inquiry and autonomous learning for students". Listed below are the benefits of PBL as reported by the teachers:

"Overcomes the dichotomy between knowledge and thinking, helping students to both ''know'' and ''do.''

Supports students in learning and practicing skills in problem solving, communication, and self-management.

Encourages the development of habits of mind associated with lifelong learning, civic responsibility, and personal or career success.

Integrates curriculum areas, thematic instruction, and community issues.

Assesses performance on content and skills using criteria similar to those in the work world, thus encouraging accountability, goal setting, and improved performance.

Creates positive communication and collaborative relationships among diverse groups of students.

Meets the needs of learners with varying skill levels and learning styles.

Engages and motivates bored or indifferent students."

Markham, T, Larmer, J., &Ravitz, J. (2003)

The Ministry of Education Malaysia realised the significant contributions of PBL and TPBL in aiding the students to become competent with the 21st century skills and encourage them to be autonomous learners (Educational Technology Division; 2006). PBL according to the Educational Technology Division (2006) "helps students develop skills for living in a knowledge-based and highly technological society". Based on this belief, the Ministry of Education had since then encouraged the implementation of PBL and TPBL in today's education.

It has not been easy for the researcher to find a conclusive and reliable report on the implementation of PBL or TPBL in Malaysian Schools. Although there are some unrecognized sources available from the internet, it is vital for the researcher to locate information from more recognized sources. A report from Sabah Educational Technology Division (2007) stated that in 2007, seven schools in Sabah were chosen to undergo PBL. The students chosen were the form four students and the teachers were the Science teachers. The students were assigned to choose their topic from the Form Four Science Scheme of Work. The students were expected to make field trips, interviews and research. The projects were carried out for two months. Being new with PBL, the Sabah Educational Technology Division admitted that other than the PBL Handbook by the Ministry, they also have to rely on the information found on the Internet (such as from Edutopia, Buck Institute for Education, and PBL online) to assist them in carrying out the PBL. The students were required to present their finding as well as their product as part of the assessment for a competition. Most schools integrated technology into their projects. The study revealed that the PBL had increased the students' interest as well as knowledge. All of them learned new skills such as communication skill apart from being able to improve their proficiency in English when doing the project. Students also managed to improve their ICT skills in the process of completing the projects and became familiar with programmes like Microsoft word, Power Point and Adobe Photoshop. PBL also according to the report enabled the students to learn about the topic in depth. Other than improvement in ICT skills, the students also improved their English. In addition to that, students improved their communication skills when they work collaboratively. Students also build higher self-esteem and became more confident as they have to present their projects to others. The report also revealed that the students learned to become the managers of their own learning as they plan for the project, making them more critical, creative and open-minded. Finally, the report stated that the students can learn better when they are involved in the real learning experience instead of learning just theories.

As mentioned above, one of the benefits of PBL and TPBL is learners' autonomy. Since the focus of this thesis is on the implementation of TPBL and learners' autonomy, the researcher feels that there is a need to explore autonomy in the next section.

2.4 Learner Autonomy

Developing autonomous learners is the key in the teaching practices nowadays. Autonomous learners are independent learners who are able to make decision, responsible towards their own learning in terms of the content, the objective as well as the pace and the evaluation style (Macaro; 1997). Learners therefore can be considered autonomous when they are able to learn actively, applying knowledge and skills even without teacher's guidance.

Being autonomous does not mean that the teachers are insignificant. This is because, in order to promote autonomous learning, teachers need to understand that each student is different individual with different needs and learning styles. The teachers also need to keep in mind that autonomous learners are not produced over night. The students need a consistent and gradual application of learner-centered lessons to help them becoming independent learners. Dewey (1998) stated that "education value is not abstract, it must fit the needs of the learner" (Dewey; 1998; p.45). Based on this quotation, teachers have an important responsibility in identifying the need of the learners before they are able to apply any suitable strategies that can enhance learners' autonomy.

Apart from identifying the needs of the learners, teachers also must consider the need of incorporating 21st century skills in the activities that they plan to do with the students. This is because one of the main challenges of today's education is to produce students who are able to be life-long learners. In order to survive in the 21st century, teachers need to expose the students with 21st century skills as outlined in Figure 2 below:

SKILLS

Life skills

Leadership, Ethics, Accountability, Adaptability, Productivity, Personal Responsibility, People Skills, Self-direction, Social Responsibility

Global Awareness

Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurship Literacy, Civic Literacy, Health and Wellness Awareness

ICT Literacy & Thinking/ Learning Skills

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills, Creativity and Innovation Skills, Communication Skills, Collaboration Skills, Contextual Learning, Information and Media Literacy.

Core Subjects

English Reading and Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Foreign Languages, Civics & Government, Economic, Art, History, Geography

Figure 2: 21st Century Skills

TPBL embraces the students with most of the 21st century skills when they are involved with projects in an authentic situation. Students in TPBL will be able to improve their technology skills and at the same time master the subject of their project. They will also be able to comprehend thoughts and ideas, learn to manage problems, become more autonomous, take accountability of themselves, correspond and team up with others, plan, prioritize and produce products of excellent quality, all using real world tools (McGrath, 2004).

2.5 Authentic learning Environment

PBL and TPBL is said to be providing learners with an authentic learning environment. Herrington & Herrington (2006) stated that an authentic learning environment focuses more on the "cognitive authenticity" rather than "physical authenticity". There are several criteria of authentic learning environment:

"Learning is centered on authentic tasks that are of interest to the learners.

Students are engaged in exploration and inquiry.

Learning, most often, is interdisciplinary.

Learning is closely connected to the world beyond the walls of the classroom.

Students become engaged in complex tasks and higher-order thinking skills, such as analyzing, synthesizing, designing, manipulating and evaluating information.

Students produce a product that can be shared with an audience outside the classroom.

Learning is student driven with teachers, parents, and outside experts all assisting/coaching in the learning process.

Learners employ scaffolding techniques.

Students have opportunities for social discourse".

(Mims; 2003)

2.6 Integration of technology in PBL

The rapid development of technology has influenced the education in many ways. With the demand from the fast-paced world and the emergence of k-economy, there is no way the students can be excluded from using technology in their learning process. One of the obvious changes that many government is doing is to revamp the education policies and teaching methodologies and to incorporate more usage of Information Technology in the classrooms to ensure the production of human capital who are able to compete in the modern economic structure through lifelong learning (Benson; 2005). Students therefore are pressured to cope with the changing policies and the technology. In order to help smooth the ride, teachers must integrate their lesson with technology. Integration here does not refer to the teacher solely using the technology. It means the active involvement of the students in using technology in the lesson.

Moursund (2003) claimed that the use of technology in PBL has three new dimensions. Firstly, technology can help the students in doing the project such as during the production as well as "presentation" or "performance". Secondly, technology also can be part of the project itself (for example when the students create a website for their project). Finally, technology in PBL helps both teachers and students to learn from and facilitate each other.

Moursund (2003) also asserted that the integration of technology into PBL benefited the students in such ways that the students will…

have the opportunity to learn in an "authentic, challenging, multidisciplinary environment".

learn "to design, carry out, an evaluate a project that requires sustained effort over a significant period of time".

learn more about the topics that they are focusing on as they find more information about the topic.

improve their IT skills and knowledge when they incorporated IT with PBL.

learn to work independently (either in groups or individually) with minimum help and direction from others.

be more confident of themselves and have more responsibility towards their own work as well as themselves.

The use of technology in PBL also provides an authentic learning environment to the students as they access the online data, interact with people outside their school boundaries and collaborate with others all over the world through networking (Intel; NA).

McGhee and Dexter (2002), in addition did a study at the Future High School in Napa, California. Technology plays a very important role in the school and the students use the computers on a daily basis. Computers and Internet are used extensively in research as well as in developing projects in various subjects. Students are required to create a range of products as well as solving problems relating to the real world. In their findings, they found out that the teachers admitted that the use of technology has promoted students' autonomy and greater sense of responsibility in them.

With the evidence from previous researchers, the researcher is highly motivated to proceed with this study as it is obvious that technology can be integrated into learning to support autonomous learning. The action taken by the researcher is actually in line with the Ninth Malaysia Plan that aims "to increase the teaching and utilization of ICT in schools and to enhance teaching skills" (Malaysia Government; 2006). It means that with the implementation of TPBL, the researcher is actually realizing the government's aim of producing learners who are competent with the use of ICT, responsible enough for their own learning as well as able to compete in the 21st century with all the skills they learned in doing their project. In addition to that, the researcher also supports the Ministry of Education's plan to expand the national education system by encouraging science and technology and also promoting lifelong learning within the students as stated in the National Education Blueprint (Ministry of Education; 2006).

2.7 Conclusion

The aim of this research is to explore the relationship between the implementation of TPBL and learners' autonomy. In order to meet the aim of the research, a theoretical framework is developed based on the literature review developed prior to this research. The framework is presented in Figure 3 below:

The research aim: Autonomous learners

Learners

PBL

Autonomous learners

Technology

The role of the learners, technology and learning environment expected to enhance learners' autonomy

Figure 3: The use of TPBL to enhance learners' autonomy: A theoretical framework.

This theoretical framework represents the integration of technology together with the PBL, as well as the roles of the learners in doing the projects to meet the aim of this research, that is learners' autonomy. The constructivist theory is also applied in this research where relevant.

From this theoretical framework, the following research questions were generated:

What are the challenges faced by the students in doing and completing their projects?

How do the students perceive themselves as autonomous learners?

What is the value of technology in helping to empower/ stimulate the autonomous language learners?