Using Technology Based Learning to improve learners autonomy

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In the 21st century, the country is facing new challenges due to globalization, liberalization, internationalization and the development of Information and Communication Technology (Ministry of Education; 2006). In order to survive in the 21st century, students need to be equipped with the digital age technological skills. Over the years, modern technologies specifically the computers and the internet had changed how teachers teach and how students learn. As a result, computers and internet facilities have become the major focus of the Malaysian government in improving the schools and narrowing the gap between rural and urban schools (Ministry of Education; 2006). In the Ministry of Education's effort to develop human capital, they also aim to produce students who are competent in science and technology, innovative, creative and marketable (Ministry of Education; 2006). The teaching and learning method will be varied, focusing more on student-centered learning, for example by doing more experiments, discussions, visits, simulations, problem solving, use of resources outside classroom and use of ICT (Ministry of Education; 2006). All the student-centered activities mentioned in the National Education Blueprint could be exercised in Technology Project-based Learning (TPBL).

Project-based Learning (PBL) is a teaching technique that is different from what is being exercised in the typical classroom nowadays. PBL requires students to interact with real world practices. This provides opportunities for the students to understand things and learn real knowledge. The use of technology combined with PBL helps students to develop skills to face the future society that is based on information and technology.

Much has been said about the connection between the use of technology in education and learners' autonomy. Marco and Pueyo (2006) claimed that there is an obvious interdependence between technology and learners' autonomy. The internet allows the learners to be independent as they can assess the information anywhere they want using either their laptops or phones. The power of assessing the information that they have makes being autonomous is a 'norm' (Blake; 2008). Technology also could play a big role for the students in mastering the target language especially when they do not have the opportunity to travel abroad by increasing their contact with the target language (Blake; 2008).

However, "[t]echnology alone is inadequate as an educational tool in a specifically designed educational tasks" (Gitsaki and Taylor; 1999). The implementation of technology-based projects makes students become active learners as they are involved in searching, synthesizing, transforming and sharing the information found (Gitsaki and Taylor; 1999). By involving themselves in real-world tasks and projects and also being exposed to authentic English on the Internet, the learners will be able to improve their computer and language skills (Gitsaki and Taylor; 1999).

Autonomy in general refers to one's "freedom and ability to manage one's own affair, which entails the right to make decisions as well" (Scharle & Szabo; 2000). Learners' autonomy refers to the learners' ability to be in-charged of or be independent of their own learning (Holec, 1981). In relating computer technology with learners' autonomy, it does not mean that learners work independently with computer, the focus here is more of developing the learners' ability to find, select, transform and share the information found. Scharle and Szabo (2000) concluded that in order to be autonomous learners, they should be responsible and take part actively when making decision about their study. This is what the researcher plans to achieve by implementing this study with the students.

1.1Background to the study

This thesis is focusing on the relationship between the implementation of TPBL in school and learners' autonomy, in particular their ability to take charge of their own learning. The researcher has always been interested in using ICT in the lesson. The researcher realized that there are so many things the students can benefit from the computers and the internet. The researcher believes that the students could become life-long learners when they are taught to be more independent of their own learning.

Many educators believe that the best way to learn is by having students construct their own knowledge instead of just memorizing the facts (Gagnon & Collay; 2006). Constructivist Learning Theory refers to the assumption that human develops knowledge by engaging themselves with the personal and social construction of knowledge (Gagnon & Collay; 2006). In constructivist theory, students are believed to be able to construct meaning actively through the different experiences they encounter on their own (NTD Resource Centre; NA). Students who learn in a constructivist classroom thus need to collaborate with each other to get a productive and quality outcome.

As mentioned in the introduction, students of the 21st century are struggling to keep pace with the advancement of technology. Students of today will grow up becoming multitasking individuals and it is the school's responsibility to help bridge the gap between the school and the fast changing world. Schools need to exercise 21st century learning to help close the gap between the knowledge and skills that the students learn today and the knowledge and skills that they need in the 21st century.

There are six elements of 21st century learning as outlined by the Partnership for the 21st Century Skills:

Emphasize core subjects - This includes 'English, Mathematics, Science, Foreign Languages, Civics, Governments, Economics, Arts, History and Geography.' These subjects must expand beyond the basic needs of academic content and must be taught at a higher level of competency.

Emphasize learning skills - This includes 'Information and Communication skills, Thinking and Problem-solving Skills, and Interpersonal and Self-directional Skills. These skills need to be taught to the students to ensure that they will continue learning and developing themselves even after they have finished their formal education.

Use 21st century tools to develop learning skills - Students need to learn to use the ICT tools to be more productive in their everyday life.

Teach and learn in a 21st century context - Students learn and understand better when their learning is relevant to real-life situations using examples, applications and experiences that they lean in their life in and outside their school.

Teach and learn 21st century content - This includes Global Awareness, Financial, Economic, Business and Civic literacy.

Use 21st century assessment that measure 21st century skills - The assessment need to be sophisticated enough that it can measure not only a few of the students' skills, but also other skills. The assessment system also must incorporate the use of Information Technology.

(Partnership for 21st Century Skills; NA)

This study therefore intends to combine all the learning strategies mentioned above to accomplish its aim of producing autonomous learners.

1.2 Statement of the problem

According to Sabah Educational Technology Division (2007), the learning climate in schools now is very rigid and controlled by learning schedule. Most of the time learning is occurring in classroom. This led to the knowledge acquired by students over theory only. This is true considering that in Malaysia, the learning process is controlled by the Ministry of Education whereby the content of the subject matter is selected and arranged by them. Teachers become the agent to disseminate the knowledge and students' roles are to receive the knowledge and demonstrate their understanding usually through examinations. TPBL is hoped to be able to break this traditional belief.

Another problem is that every student has his or her own style of learning and level. It is almost impossible for teachers to meet each student's needs and demands in every lesson. Thus, implementing TPBL that includes different learning styles choose by the students will help to solve this problem.

According to Chen and McGrath (2004), students often find it difficult to apply the knowledge that they have learned in traditional classroom into real world. It is a common practice in Malaysia to see that most teachers teach for the examination. Students also on the other hand study for the sake of getting excellent result in the examination. What they have learned will be forgotten the moment they step out of school. Learning that takes place in the traditional classroom often requires students to understand and memorize facts. Very seldom the students get the chance to experience getting the information themselves as most of the time it was the teachers who provide all the information.

As quoted in The Star online (11.8.2008), Datuk Dr. S. Subramaniam, the Human Resource Minister claimed that the Malaysian graduates today lacks creative and critical thinking skills. The researcher believes that the students lack creative and critical skills because they do not have the opportunity to show their creativity in a meaningful way. That is why students need exposure to realistic projects. It is through realistic learning, that students can see their life and the world at a different angle. Students also will learn to apply the knowledge that they have learned in a useful and meaningful context.

1.3 Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between the use of TPBL in English lessons and the improvement of students' autonomy.

The objectives of this study are:

To identify the challenges faced by learners in completing their project using ICT.

To investigate learners' ability to take charge of their own learning when

TPBL is applied.

To explore how technology can be used as a resource or tool to enhance learners' autonomy in English lessons.

1.4 Research questions

This study will attempt to answer the following questions:

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?

The first research question inclusive of the learners' strategies in completing the TPBL. The research will look at the participants' emotions and feelings, at the same time it will investigate their learning strategies, which include their planning, computer and multimedia literacy skills, and their higher order thinking skills. The second research question deals directly with learners learning autonomy. The goal is to investigate learners' understanding of being autonomous learners. The research will look at learners' drive and motivation and their capability of managing their own learning. The third research question looks at the value of technology in helping the learners to be autonomous learners.

1.5 Significance of the study

A lot of studies had been done focusing on TPBL abroad. However, in Malaysia itself, the researcher finds it difficult to locate any source of study or research on the implementation of TPBL and its relationship to learner's autonomy. Having this in mind, the researcher is determined to carry out a research on the effectiveness of TPBL in promoting students' autonomy in Malaysia. Perhaps it is technology that holds the key to the students in becoming autonomous learners.

1.6 Limitations and delimitations

The small sample size is one limitation to the study. Therefore, the result of the study cannot be generalized to represent all form three students in Malaysia. Another limitation is the availability to the computer laboratory. Although the students and teachers are allowed to use the facility, the teacher needs to do advance booking to ensure that the students are able to use the laboratory. However, to encourage autonomous learning, students are allowed to continue their projects at home using their personal computers and internet access. Another limitation is that through this technology project based learning, the teacher will not have the total lesson time to deal with grammar in-depth or teach it in isolation. The teacher will then have to continuously checking the students' work and progress and guide them with language skills such as reading skills like skimming, scanning and information selecting, writing skills and also ICT skills. Even though with all the limitations presented above, the researcher believes that this study will be beneficial to the students as well as to the educational research field.

1.7 Definition of terms

"Projects are complex tasks, based on challenging questions or problems, that involve students in design, problem solving, decision making, or investigating activities; give students the opportunity to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time; and culminate in realistic products or presentations" (Jones, Rasmussen, & Moffitt, 1997; Thomas, Mergendoller, & Michaelson, 1999 in Thomas & Mergendoller (2000)). TPBL on the other hand is the project that uses technology with the combination of text, graphics, animation, pictures, video and sound on the computer with connection to the internet.

There are various definitions given to define autonomous learning. Among the common ones are "independent learning, flexible learning and student-centered learning" (Macaro; 1997). "Learner autonomy is the ability to take charge of one's own learning"; in other words: "to have and to hold the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning:

Determining the objective

Defining the contents and progressions

Selecting methods and techniques to be used

Monitoring the procedure of acquisition (rhythm, time, place etc)

Evaluating what has been acquired".

(Holec; 1981).

Autonomy is defined as "the freedom and ability to manage one's own affair, which entails the right to make decisions as well" (Scharle & Szabo; 2000). In order to encourage autonomy, teachers need to build a sense of responsibility, and encourage learners to take directive of their own learning.

"[C]onstructivist learning theory focuses on the development of individual personal meaning, group shared meaning and the collective construction of knowledge" (Gagnon & Collay; 2001). In other words, in a constructivist classroom, the learner will work collaboratively with others to achieve the goal of mastering the knowledge. Every learner has their own role in a constructivist classroom. Constructivism focuses on students being actively engaged in "doing," rather than passively engaged in "receiving" knowledge. ISTE | Project-Based Learning

Constructivism focuses on students being actively engaged in "doing," rather than passively engaged in "receiving" knowledge. Project-based learning can be ...

www.iste.org/content/..._/project-based_learning.htm -

Project-based learning can be viewed as one approach to creating learning environments in which students construct personal knowledge.

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