Monday, October 8, 2007

The i's have it: from curriculum to self-access centre

Ben Fenton-Smith and Lucy Cooker, Kanda University of International Studies

Ben and Lucy definitely know how to fill a room! I imagine that most people were there for the same reasons as me - to learn 2 things:

What are the i’s?
How does KUIS do it?

By “it” I mean have a program full of motivated learners competent in English.

Ben took us back in time 20 years to when Kanda University was created. At the time it was called an “experiment”. The fact that it was a new university meant that it was free from the traditions and constraints of an established institutions.

In come the 3 i’s: individualization, interaction and interdependence.

Individualization is the hope that each learner will become a planner of his or her own learning. This assumes that there are mechanisms in place to accommodate different paths and rates of learning and also that there are good materials from which the student can choose.

Interaction assumes that the motivation for acquiring language is essentially social (i.e. to communicate). By providing opportunities for interaction, they provide opportunities for acquisition.

Interdependence is the movement away from teach-centeredness, instead students rely on each other to complete tasks and projects. Students understand that learning is an ongoing process and working together creates increased motivation.

Ben gave an overview of some of the changes in the way educators were viewing learning in the 1980s and 1990s and told us that self-access at KUIS was discussed in 1995.

Lucy took over at this point and gave us a quick history of the SALC (Self-Access Learning Centre). The first SALC looked quite different from the state of the art centre that exists today, but the principles were sound (the new centre opened a few years later). It mirrors the philosophy adopted for the language program and it too is designed to enhance communication. In fact, the location and architecture of the SALC is carefully designed so that it is clear that learning is not confined to the classroom. There are classrooms within the SALC with glass walls so the space seems to merge. The SALC is the heart of the English Language Institute and students want to be where the action is. It seems like they can’t keep away. Faculty offices are also located in the SALC and the faculty play a very active role in everything from creating materials, to working in the writing centre, to teaching SALC modules to hanging out on sofas ready to engage in “free conversation” with students who happen to drop in for a chat. This is quite different from other self-access centers I have visited where the teacher’s roles are clearly defined as either teaching English in a classroom, OR working in the self-access centre. I have even heard teachers talking about sending struggling students to the SAC without really knowing what happens to them when they get there! At KUIS, everyone understands that the English language program and the SALC operate hand in hand. It’s really wonderful to see a self-access centre that has got it right.

To read more about the SALC, read Lucy Cooker’s article in the latest edition of Independence (41) – the IATEFL learner Autonomy SIG publication that comes out three times a year. It is free to LASIG members (join IATEFL and choose LASIG for free).

There is a quick summary of Lucy’s article on the LASIG website

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