My PhD Thesis

CALL and the development of learner autonomy – an activity theoretical study

Françoise Blin
The Open University (UK), 2005

Thesis Abstract

The renewed interest of the last twenty years in learner autonomy among language professionals has been linked to technological developments in education. Yet, while the concepts and principles associated with learner autonomy underpin a broad range of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) applications and research projects, current research paradigms in CALL do not provide adequate tools and models to investigate in depth the development and exercise of learner autonomy in technology-rich language learning environments.

This thesis proposes a conceptual framework, rooted in activity theory and substantiated by empirical evidence, for describing and analysing the development and exercise of learner autonomy in technology-rich language learning environments. Through a particular focus on systemic tensions occurring as the activity unfolds, the dynamics between collective activity and individual actions are explored in the case of two real-life language courses. Bringing together the activity theoretical arguments and the empirical findings, it is proposed that:

1) The language curriculum promoting learner autonomy is object-centred;

2) Emerging systemic tensions are key factors potentially promoting or preventing the development and exercise of learner autonomy in language learning activities. The most important systemic tensions for the development of learner autonomy in technology-rich language learning environments reside in the tool-object characteristics of language and technology and within the organisation of the division of labour;

3) The capacity to resolve contradictions is an observable attribute of learner autonomy. The potential for the development and exercise of learner autonomy is enhanced by the activity system capacity to resolve its systemic tensions in expansive ways, i.e. through the creation and adoption of new tools and procedures by the participants.

Keywords: CALL, Learner Autonomy, Activity Theory

Thesis outline

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Research background
1.2 Scope of the thesis
1.3 Thesis outline

CHAPTER 2: LEARNER AUTONOMY AND CALL: A LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Self-access as a context for the exercise of learner autonomy
2.2 Towards a definition of learner autonomy in language learning
2.3 CALL and learner autonomy
2.4 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 3: ACTIVITY THEORY PERSPECTIVES ON CALL AND LEARNER AUTONOMY
3.1 Vygotsky’s legacy
3.2 Engeström’s formulation of activity theory
3.3 Towards an activity theoretical perspective on CALL and learner autonomy
3.4 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 4: ACTIVITY THEORY BASED METHODOLOGIES: EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
4.1 The challenge of activity theory based educational research
4.2 Implications for this thesis
4.3 Research design
4.4 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 5: EMPIRICAL ANALYSES: CONTEXT AND METHODS
5.1 Syllabi overview
5.2 Modelling the activity systems
5.3 Empirical analyses: methods
5.4 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 6 EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS 1: FOCUS ON INDEPENDENCE
6.1 Analysing and modelling the activity system from the students’ viewpoint
6.2 Contradictions and the development of learner autonomy
6.3 Revisiting the learner autonomy profiles
6.4 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 7: EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS 2: FOCUS ON INTERDEPENDENCE
7.1 Analysing the activity system
7.2 Contradictions and the transformation of the activity
7.3 Summary and conclusion

CHAPTER 8: CONCLUSIONS
8.1 Research questions revisited
8.2 Strengths and limitations of the thesis
8.3 Directions for future work

If you really want to read it…

You can download my thesis in pdf format (3Mb). Please quote as:

Blin, F. (2005). CALL and the development of learner autonomy – an activity theoretical study. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, UK.

Hard copies are available from the British Library and the Open University Library in Milton Keynes.