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Wednesday, July 3 • 4:15pm - 4:55pm
Learning to learn: Autonomy tours for autonomous science learners

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Inadequate articulation between secondary and higher education can be problematic for many, but particularly so for students from poor quality educational contexts. This ’articulation gap’ can manifest through disparities in content, conceptual understanding, skills, literacies, and language and learning practices. The focus in this study is on student ‘learning practices’, a term which has social connotations and infers underpinning values as opposed to the more a-contextual ’study skills’. It is recognised that the transitional journey from being a relatively successful but passive and rote learner at school, to an active, self-directed learner who develops deep understanding at university, can be profoundly difficult for many. To support and guide students in this transition, Introduction to Science Concepts and Methods (ISCM), a South African higher education science access course, has introduced a number of interventions under the banner of a reflective learning portfolio (RLP). These interventions form the object of this study, and the question being addressed is whether and how they enable development of appropriate student learning practices. Since the ‘learning practice’ interventions were usually contextualised using content knowledge, the LCT Autonomy -dimension, which shows how diverse knowledge practices can be brought together, is used as an analytical tool.

Task handouts and written answers of 44 students formed the main source of data to identify target content and purpose and to trace autonomy pathways taken by each tutorial intervention. Somewhat unusually, science content was allocated as weaker positional autonomy - as student attributes or learning practices formed the ‘content’ in this analysis, representing stronger positional autonomy.

Each intervention could be classified as one of three task-types. The first, self-reflective tasks in which students considered who they were as learners and how they could achieve their goals, resulted mainly in stay trips in the sovereign code. The second, modelling appropriate learning practices such as consolidating a lecture, tended to result in one-way trips to the exotic code, with some students returning to the sovereign code. The third guided student reflection on learning practices and effect on performance. One intervention in this task-type is the focus of this presentation.

Marked tests were returned during a tutorial and students were required to consider (a) how they learned for a particular question, (b) the effectiveness of their learning based on marks they achieved, (c) how they could learn differently if needed, and (d) content knowledge that would earn full marks. During the tutorial session students worked through the reflective part of the handout on their learning practices individually, but discussions amongst students and the two facilitators focused on science content appropriate for answering the test questions. The target content for this intervention, representing stronger positional autonomy, was individual student learning practices associated with a particular test. The target purpose, representing stronger relational autonomy, was to guide students in reflection on effectiveness of learning practices to enable improvement. Depending on levels of engagement students went on complex tours between all four codes, sometimes but not always ending back in the sovereign code.

Follow-up interviews with 14 students indicated two key issues. Firstly, reflective engagement on own learning practices was best achieved when autonomy tours were complex and involved more than two codes. Secondly, students generally needed more guidance and support to return effectively to the sovereign code in many tasks. Subsequent interventions this year have taken these findings into account.

Generally, LCT autonomy codes are used to examine how diverse knowledge practices can be brought together to support knowledge building. This study was unusual in that the primary ‘knowledge’ practice was a learning practice which exhibits weaker epistemic relations, with knowledge being directly related to practice. The secondary ‘knowledge’ practice was science, which exhibits stronger epistemic relations. Despite this, this study has shown that it is productive to integrate such disparate knowledge practices (i.e. learning practices and science) to enable effective learner development. However, it also indicates innovative effort is required to ensure ‘round-trip’ autonomy tours if integrative knowledge building for learner development is to take place.


Wednesday July 3, 2019 4:15pm - 4:55pm SAST
Room B46