Hafner and Miller’s (2011) article on fostering learner autonomy is based on a project-based pedagogical practice in the course English for Science Students. The pedagogy draws on students’ informal learning experience with the internet and the multimedia into the structured classroom teaching. Over the course, students worked in groups to create a video report of their discipline-specific experiment. Students need to (1) do background research and develop hypothesis of the experiment, (2) carry out the experiment and document the results; (3) present findings in the form of a multimodal scientific documentary and a written individual report.
To achieve this, students need to have the skills for doing research on the internet, experimenting, camera operation, and significantly, video making. To support the students through the completion of the project, teachers provided scaffolding such as hosting workshops for critical reading, video making, as well as for trouble shooting. Technology-wise, the following tools are utilized: learning management system for course administration, course weblog for weekly discussion, DV camera and editing software for video making, resources website with video editing software, and a Youtube channel for sharing videos.
Evaluation of the pedagogy is carried out with an in-depth qualitative interpretive approach. Data were collected through questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and students’ weekly comments on the course weblog. The findings centered on the six dimensions: motivation, authenticity, independent learning, teamwork, peer-teaching, and reflection on learning. Generally speaking, students found the project novel and challenging, but they were highly motivated and actively adopted a wide variety of resources of learning in order to complete their projects. They showed a sense of independence in their learning and autonomously resort to any available resource to their own advantage, such as using search engines to find video editing software by themselves even when a website with those software is provided by the teacher, and learning and collaborating with teammates who possess different strengths- on technology, language, etc.
In my opinion, though the course is designed for learning English for science, the project-based pedagogy enriched the content of language teaching by embedding language learning in the context of carrying out a group task of video making that meets the needs of the 21st century university students. Although the article does not show detailed analysis of the students’ language learning progress from a linguistic perspective, I trust that the opportunities the task provides for students, such as to read English texts, discuss and share in English and writing the script as well as making the soundtrack for the videos, is very valuable for students because it allows students to learn autonomously and find out the most suitable way for their own unique language learning, which is very difficult for classroom teachers to cater for. However, it would be still better if teachers teach students the strategies for reading and writing in the second language, and provide feedback on their language productions, such the helping them to revise their scripts, provide explicit instructions on the features of scientific discourse and features of oral presentations, etc.
Another reason that I appreciate this teaching method is that it encourages working face to face in groups with members coming from the same discipline. The wide use of personal computer and Internet seems to have a tendency for learning with new literacies to encourage physically isolated learning at home, while virtually staying connected on the Internet. Just as Celine pointed out in her blog (http://enilec07.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/collaborative-digital-video-project-and-learner-autonomy/) commenting on the small number of views the students’ videos actually received from the Internet, though the openness of the Internet creates the potential of reaching out to the world, what actually happens (how much attention each individual receives after s/he posts on the Internet) may not be so exhilarating. Likewise, individual learning with the computer and Internet may not always to a smooth and satisfactory process. By working alone on the web, students may get confused but cannot get timely assistance, get frustrated without timely support. Group work in shooting the video, which was reported by the students to be the most enjoyable part of the course and made them laugh, encourages real-time collaborated learning and experimenting, and promotes teamwork and friendship. And, it’s just so much fun!
One potential problem I discovered is the students’ intuitive use of the Internet. Although a website with video editing software is provided in the course, students intuitively googled what they needed. While it may work well, it is not the most efficient approach in the students’ case. This is similar to the fact that students may have their own intuitive methods of learning a foreign language, their methods may not work very well. They may spend much more time on google searching for software that are new to them than if they just go to the website provided by the teacher, especially if they don’t know the names of the software. In this case, I think it might be a good idea to raise students’ awareness of the strategies for searching information on the internet.