Autonomy and Motivation in Higher Education: Rethinking the Culture of Teaching and Learning

Autonomy and Motivation in Higher Education: Rethinking the Culture of Teaching and Learning

Jonathan J. Felix (RMIT University, Vietnam)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9775-9.ch009

Abstract

Learner autonomy and motivation have been recognized by academics, researchers, and practitioners as both critical and problematic elements of linguistics and language learning, among other disciplines in higher education. The ongoing challenge lies at the heart of students exercising a critical sense of agency over their acquisition of disciplinary knowledge, educational experience, and applied practice. However, rather than being understood as a socially constructed action or outcome within limited frames of reference, learner autonomy and motivation may be viewed expansively as culture. Drawing on Raymond Williams's theory of culture and John Law's sociological concept of symmetry, this work attempts to explore how learner autonomy and motivation might be fostered and sustained, in an attempt to rethink how learner agency might be positioned as a normative practice.
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Introduction

The ongoing challenge with learner autonomy and motivation in higher education lies in the way students endorse this fundamental quality in the pursuit of disciplinary knowledge, educational experience, and applied practice. Given both the scholarly interest and documented obstacles faced by educators in this area of study (Collins, 2014; Dang, 2014; Murray, Gao, & Lamb, 2011; Murray, 2013), it is worth rethinking the notion of learner autonomy and motivation in higher education altogether, particularly in light of the previous frames of reference for investigating this area. Specifically, this chapter explores the concept of learner autonomy and motivation, through the transdisciplinary field of inquiry known as Cultural Studies (Hall, 2007). As such, the discipline-specific term agency will be defined and sometimes used in place of the phrase ‘learner autonomy and motivation’ in order to provide a more nuanced understanding of the topic for discussion where best suited.

Agency as Culture

As a discipline and mode of inquiry, Cultural Studies can be used to explore the concepts of learner autonomy and motivation as ordinary. This work will attempt to present a preliminary articulation of the concept of learner autonomy and motivation, by means of a developmental idea termed Agency as Culture, within the context of higher education teaching and learning. In doing this, Raymond Williams’ notion of ‘Culture as Ordinary’(Williams, 2002), and John Law’s sociological concept of symmetry (Nealon & Giroux, 2012) will be employed to consider how agency might be fostered, sustained, and positioned as a normative expectation and experience by learners and practitioners in higher education. The importance of learner autonomy and motivation is crucial as it directly affects the depth of thinking, quality of learning, and corresponding actions and outputs of students who are expected to operate with increasing degrees of independence, competence and expertise in their course of studies at higher education institutions. This chapter will present the purposeful unification of both the ideas of autonomy and motivation as two aspects of a singular characteristic or quality, without necessary conflating them. This approach has also been taken by academics who have also noted the unity between autonomy and motivation (Murray, Gao, & Lamb, 2011, p. 5;125; Murray, 2013, p. 119). Examples of relevant challenges in teaching and learning will be drawn primarily from the higher education landscape in Vietnam, and other related contexts.

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