Teacher Roles and Autonomous Language Learners: A Case Study of a Cyber English Writing Course

Open Access
Chiu, Chi-Yen
Graduate Program:
Applied Linguistics
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 07, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Sandra J. Savignon, Committee Chair
  • Scott, Payne, Committee Member
  • Lisa A Reed, Committee Member
  • Jamie Myers, Committee Member
  • second language acquisition
  • second language writing
  • computer-mediated communication
  • learner autonomy
  • teacher roles
In this study, I re-conceptualize the concept of learner autonomy and propose a working definition of an autonomous language learner as one who uses language to learn and communicate, thereby demonstrating a capacity to take control of his or her learning. Over the last two decades, increasing attention has been drawn to the importance of autonomy to language learning. Teachers of autonomous language learners are portrayed as helper, facilitator, resource, consultant, counselor, coordinator, and adviser. Nonetheless, there is a lack of research to investigate the reactions of language learners in response to teacher roles said to promote autonomy. This study aimed at investigating the relationship of teacher roles and learner autonomy in a cyber pedagogical context, a context where the teacher as well as the learners were L2 users of English with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds and experiences. Data consisted of 362 email messages generated in a twenty-month period of the cyber English class. A computational content analysis was used to identify the teaching and counseling roles of the teacher in 90 email messages, spreading equally among the beginning, middle and end phases of the instructional period. The results showed that the teacher’s teaching roles became less active as the course progressed whereas the counseling roles remained active throughout the instructional period. Data analysis also calls into question the universality of established categories of teacher roles, suggesting that cultural context and experience need to be taken into consideration. Linked to the content analysis, a follow-up discourse analysis investigated the ensuing learner-teacher interactions to explore how the learners reacted to the teaching and counseling roles of the teacher. The results suggested that teaching roles did not provide opportunities for promoting learner autonomy, but counseling roles created a supportive learning environment for the learners to develop autonomy in language learning. The results of the discourse analysis also provided evidence that supported the working definition with particular emphasis on the connection between communication and autonomy in language learning.