Melody & Joy

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Advances in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)(what is ICTs? Click here) have witnessed the emergence of new literacies in online contexts. The features of the new practices are as follows:

  1. Representation, which includes visual and hypertexual modes;
  2. Increased interaction and communication.

Individuals have opportunities to produce, share and interact through digital media. Most importantly, ICTs facilitate autonomous learning, for “globalized online spaces”, where people can share and discuss artifacts, are available for everyone.

Learner autonomy is the ability to take control over one’s learning fully (Miller, 2009). It can take the form of out-of-class learning where learners are in control of all aspects, and it can also take the form of classroom learning that is student-centered, teacher-assisted, collaborative, independent at different points as well as reflective. Hafner and Miller (2011) pointed out that the capacity and willingness to act independently is a crucial goal for language education. In order to achieve the goal, a student-autonomy-based pedagogy should be adopted.

Digital storytelling, as a student-autonomy-based approach, combines traditional literacies with new literacies, including the use of multimodal forms of representation with images, videos, and audio (Hafner&Miller, 2011). It is an integrated task that requires research skills, technology skills, problem-solving skills as well as evaluation skills. Teachers in this case should help students focus on language skills instead of technology use. Hafner&Miller (2011) think such projects also provide students with an opportunity to interact with one another in order to create a multimodal artifact. In addition, it facilitates the inflection of their learning.

They introduced a digital video project (what is this project? Click here )in order to examine to what extent the approach fostered learner autonomy. In the study, students who attended an EST course in an English-medium university in Hong Kong were selected to implement the digital video project. With upper-intermediate standard of English proficiency, they were asked to work in groups to

  1. Conduct background research and put forward a hypothesis
  2. Do an experiment, documenting procedures and results
  3. Present their findings to their classmates

In order to support students throughout the digital video project process, Hafner and Miller (2011) designed a technological learning environment which included a variety of technological tools, including:

  1. Learning management system for course administration;
  2. Course weblog for weekly reflective discussions on coursework;
  3. DV cameras and editing software for video production;
  4. YouTube channel for sharing videos.

In this paper, Hafner and Miller (2011) consider how the digital video project and the associated technological learning environment promoted learner autonomy, encouraging students to take responsibility for, monitor and reflect on their learning. The main themes appearing from the data are:

  1. The digital video project task is highly motivational for students;
  2. Students think the digital project task is a meaningful and authentic task;
  3. While constructing the digital videos, students reported two types of independent learning: practicing and using English independently, and searching for information related to the video content or the use of technological tools;
  4. One of the important features of project-based learning is the opportunity for teamwork. Students also described how they manage their own and team member’s roles in the project;
  5. The digital video project task created a social context for learners in terms of providing sufficient opportunities for peer teaching, either teaching English or technology skills;
  6. In terms of peer feedback, the students interact weekly on the course weblog. This is similar to interactions on the online discussion forum, which provided students the opportunity to reflect on their learning.


Hafner and Miller (2011) described how the undergraduate science students went about completing the digital video project for language learning. They noticed how students took advantage of the affordances of the technological learning environment in order to exercise high degrees of autonomy. They argue that the reason why students invested in the digital video project is because: first, the students were engaged in a challenging task using multimodal text, media, and online environments; second, students could share their videos to the wider public. Hafner and Miller (2011) also suggest that language educators may use online spaces to design activities for autonomous learning in a formal context. Meanwhile, the educators should be aware that when a syllabus is designed to promote learner autonomy, the focus is on a student-centered approach (Gardner & Miller, 1999).


  1. Do you think that adopting a digital video project like this one has the potential to foster learner autonomy? Why or why not?
  2. Would you draw upon this approach to engage your students in L2 learning?
  3. What advice would you have for teachers who are interested in using such an approach to L2 learning?

55 thoughts on “Fostering Learner Autonomy with a Digital Video Project

  1. I think the digital video project does foster learners’ autonomy. Through presenting their study process by means of video, they are greatly motivated. And in the process of the project, teachers is very important, they act as the very important role of the organizer and coordinator.

    • Hey, Cecile. I think when you say students are largely motivated by videos, it means the vivid images and audio materials presented in the video could stimulate their interest compared to the cramming teaching on the blackboard or on the PPT in the classroom. And I agree that teacher plays an important role to design a successful project for students.

    • Hi, I agree with Caroline that images and audio materials presented in the video stimulate students more than traditional teaching methods.
      I have done a video project before. I think it not only urged me to practice oral English, but also taught me how to cooperate in the teamwork. As a teacher, I will prefer to use video project in my teaching.

    • Yes, I think it is very significant for teachers knowing better technological skills before teaching students.

  2. Thanks for the helpful summary, Joy and Melody. I think this kind of activity could be very motivational for students, provided they have the video editing skills and support of classmates and teachers who are proficient at doing such projects. In my own experience I have found that peer interaction improves with such projects as students do not depend a lot on me for step-by-step guidance. Many students seem to be familiar with this from past experiences like uploading photos and maintaining blogs and Facebook pages. I think they can see the relevance of using video from their daily lives and so it is a natural extension to do this in class.

  3. Good job Joy and Melody. This kind of multimodal composition is quite attractive. Have you guys ever thought about a issue that many students may not interested in developing technical skills. Many of them prefer to write in a tradition way. What would you do when you face that kind of problem?

    • The world transformation brings multimodality to our daily life, therefore, the learning and teaching pedagogy should be changed accordingly, from alphabetical literacy to multi-literacies. Literacy educators are responsible for integrating the new technologies into the curriculum, so as to prepare students for the literacy future they deserve. So I think it is better to explain the importance of acquiring the technical skills.

    • wow, Mia, I think you are very creative, you always could think about many things that we may not consider before. Yes, I think many students today, half of them may prefer the traditional way of writing, and half of them may prefer the creative way.

  4. The digital video project task is difinitely an effective way to imporve students’ independent learning in learner autonomy and collaborative learning for team work. Take maintaining out blog project as an example, during which time we have multiple interactions with out peer classmates and professors by commenting and posting our opinions. Therefore, teacher should use this way and plan it in details to benefit the students.

    • I agree with you Caroline. Students benefit a lot from the peer interaction, especially this kind of collaborative task which exercise learners’ autonomy.

    • Yes. And students will contribute to the project based on their own strength and interests, which will motivate them a lot.

  5. I agree with the affordances of using PBL to facilitate learning. It helps learners to be more independent in learning.

    • Yeah~the projects are student-centered, instead of teacher-led, provide students with autonomy to learn independently.

  6. Autonomy is the new appeal made by the new literacy development and indicates the advantages of it. Such tack-based projects never fail to make students learn, search and do research autonomously. The multimodal tasks lead to multitasking learning without the need of specific instructions. The teachers’ roles in such tasks should be considered carefully to ensure sufficient support but no intervene of thoughts. The projects mentioned in you essay also provide students good opportunity to combine their major with language learning, which can prepare for the future ESP usage.

    • Exactly, in this case teacher should let students control the progress, and just observe how do they finish the task together. Students will not only motivated by the form of the task, but also their roles in the task.

  7. Learning autonomously in language learning does not mean learning independently as an individual, since language learning requires lots of interactions with others. Learning with peers is a very effective and help way for learners to interact with one another and learn from each other. But project-based approach may have a problem, which is the use of first language. If a group of learners share the same L1, it is quite possible that they use their L1 to communicate in some situations instead of L2 (just like what we were doing in class:p). Therefore, the use of L1 can be a sever problem for teachers to think about when they want to apply these kinds of activities in their class.

    • The game we played last time has clear structure, attractive design, and nice use of visual materials. We did work collaboratively to catch the “bad guy”, during which we learned some words, situation conversation and also we communicated through second language consciously. It is true that we did code-switching during the process. To address the problem, from my point of view, a leader can be selected in each group to monitor the process and avoid first language use.

    • Exactly, just like last class when we were playing the game, we used L1 to communicate with our group member for most of the time. In this case, I think teacher could assign some tasks that require less communication on how to operate a specific technology, but focus on the main aim, which is highly related to their course. In this way the student will use L2 to exchange their ideas about the course, rather than the technology.

      I hope I make myself clear.

    • The use of L1 on projects is an interesting issue. We know that the more autonomy students have, the more likely they are to resort to their L1, if there is a shared L1 among them. First, I think one needs to recognize that there may be times when it can serve an important social function, for example, providing students with a resource that they can use ion socially demanding circumstances, such as when they have a major disagreement. It also poses an interesting challenge though – how can teachers design projects that encourage the maximum engagement with L2? What strategies could teachers use? Interested to hear your thoughts.

    • Yes, Dear Scarlett, I think your point“Learning autonomously in language learning does not mean learning independently as an individual“ is very significant. Even students may be interested in language learning, they may couldn’t study language independently. So it is very important for teachers to be the controller.

  8. I think there are some key issues we should consider before carry out such kind of project.
    1. Learners’ own level of proficiency in language and interest in technology supported learning. I think when a teacher design a learning project, he/she should always takes students’ condition into consideration. Are students accustomed to digital learning? Are they able to produce an outcome?
    2. Teachers’ knowledge of technology. When students come across problems, especially technical problems, they will usually seek help from teachers. Teachers should have the ability to help students.
    3. Access to the equipment. I think this kind of project is not suitable for secondary or even lower level learners. They first may not understand the point of doing this, and may have not much time. Secondly, they may live in campus, do they have access to camera or DVD?

    • Your questions are really constructive for us to consider. Due to the chinese context, lots of things are not so ideal. We have to consider what is feasible for Chinese teachers.

    • Good suggestions. It is true that many teachers have less knowledge or experience in using technology. Some even have no access to those technical skills, especially in some less developed area. So how should we deal with this kind of problem?

  9. I think this kind of digital video project can foster learner autonomy because students are provided more opportunities and motivated to learn after class, which can minimize the limitation of classroom teaching. Another concern is that this approach should be well designed by teachers to meet the goal of the whole course.

    • Students love hanging out and making a video on their own rather than being “stuck” in the classroom.

  10. I think this project is good for promoting learner autonomy. During the process, students are learning to look for information themselves. One thing I found important is the technological learning environment created by the teacher for the students. It seems to require teachers to be well-trained first. Or the project may fail. Just because students enjoy great learner autonomy does not mean instruction, supervision and management are not important~

    • Yes, teachers need to be equipped with certain technical knowledge, so do students. If the video is very technologically demanding, workshops on making videos may be in need.

  11. I think the idea that digital video project combines traditional literacies with new literacies is a good point. As an integrated task, digital storytelling not only requires basic academic knowledge, but also technology skills, evaluation skills and so on. Personally, I believe it is an effective approach to enhance learner autonomy.

    • Both the content of storytelling and the form of video -making are attractive to students. They can develop their different skills by doing this project. I agree that the integrated task should focus both on teaching language and training digital technical skills.

  12. This is one of my favorite approaches! I have done two similar projects in university, one is to make a commercial video and the other is to remake an episode of an American sitcom. Students play different roles in doing the subject. Those good at shooting and editing the video can offer technical support, those good at directing can be a director of course, and those that love acting can be an actor. I am sure the multiple identities create desirable learner autonomy and benefit language learning. As for advice, I will say, to combine a video project with a more traditional way of learning, for example, to write a report about the project.

    • I also did a similar project before. That was a mini task that students were required to make a short video to introduce a topic. We were responsible for the whole project, brainstorming ideas, designing, making, editing and presenting the video, etc. I think to some extent the sense of responsibility increase our autonomy to do this job. We wanted to share a good video with others, and this encouraged us to learn more by ourselves.

    • Very interesting feedback – thanks for those comments. It’s important to realize that, as you say, when students are working in teams they will take on different kinds of responsibilities, including technical roles, scripting roles and so on. For English language instruction, I have a rule that everyone in the team has to present on the video: i.e. no-one is allowed to ‘avoid’ practising their English.

  13. Hi, Tracey I’m interested in the remaking American sitcom project, I think the students will be highly motivated in this kind of project. And I would agree with combine the video project with traditional approach, which is, write a report, also let students to reflect their roles in the group and evaluate their progress.

  14. I have done quite a bit of video production with students and it really is a great project for them to do. They become little directors, producers, script writers and actors very quickly. They get very interested in the project very easily and after the initial teaching of the concepts and focus of the project, the teacher’s role changes to more of a facilitator. It is great for creating autonomous learning. Just cut them loose and see what they come back with. Hopefully the camera will still be in one piece.

    • Ha, that’s a good point. For a teacher, to carry out such project as video making is challenging, as well as for students. Teachers shift their roles and students are more independent than they were in class. They have the potential to do a lot of seemingly impossible things, the only thing that teachers need to do is to give appropriate instructions and trust.

  15. I am sure that students will be very active in making the video. In this process, students are motivated to finish the project because of intrinsic motivation, like personal satifaction. They are willing to spend more time on the project because they want to share the video with others, instead of fulfilling teachers’ assignment. Unlike traditional tasks which make students passive and even stressful, this kind of digital video project can surely promote students autonomy and enthusiasm.

    • I agree with you Anica. When students find it interesting, they will apply this kind of skill to other learning projects or daily life, which will benefit them in the long run.

  16. Thank you so much for your article. I think this way could e regarded as the task-based learning approach. Let the students involved in a video editing project is very efficient, which could foster their interests, also let them learn more skills about video editing. If they have something they want to show to us, they could put it in the video, which also make homework colorful, not so boring. So the teacher doesn’t need to ask students:”Where is your homework?” I really love this kind of teaching method. Thank you again.

    • I am also really interested in developing a video project in the situation of the task-based learning classroom. If a video project can be separate into some small-scaled tasks, like actor’s lines designing and writing, students will definitely acquire different language knowledge and skills.

  17. I do agree with the view that the project-based approach motivates students’ autonomy especially when the students can choose the topic by themselves. Based on that, I’ll adopt it as a great method in teaching language. However, I think there are some requirements for the teachers and students. Firstly, it is essential for students master the skills to edit videos or other technical problems. Secondly, teachers should make some rules to control their language use during complicating the task. Lastly, I assume that students should be encouraged to choose their own interesting field to work on and creativity and innovation are also important during the task.

    • Yes, Lizzy, the three problems you just mentioned need to be taken into consideration. Especially the technical skills required in this task. In order to make students finish the project successfully, appropriate instruction is needed.

  18. I think that this kind of vedio project can be an improve of students’ motivation of learning. It is quite new and they may feel good about their achievement when they finish the project. One thing is that this kind of project requires a higher ability for the teachers because they need to guide their student so they need manage to do it first. It is really a cool way of learning.

    • I think there is no doubt that teachers have to know the technological issues and other potential problems of such projects before using them in class. There is also a greater time investment for teachers since they may need to help students with editing outside of class hours.

  19. Using video as a project is a absolutely innovative way of teaching and learning. Lots of affordances have been discussed in the above comments. I am here pointing out the problems teachers may face. Teachers have to manage every group member do their job. Teachers could set rules or let students sign a behavior contract and use peer rating throughout the process of doing the project. We have to try our best to make sure no ‘hitchhikers’ exist.

  20. I think we should consider some potential problems associated with video making. As making videos is really time-consuming, how can we ensure our students focus on the language instead of the forms of expression or the visual elements?

    • Hi Amber, I guess maybe the learning process happen naturally as they cooperate and negotiate with each other, consulting teachers, and deciding on which image they should use. All these interactions can involve the communication in target language. By the way, teacher should function as a reminder to push students to communicate in target language. For time consuming aspects, I do agree with you. At the beginning, to learn how to use costs a lot of time. However, once students acquired the skill of editing a video, they can make a video within half an hour which is really efficient. This is according to my own experience. The process of editing does not cost much time as long as one is familiar with the function , the focus of video making is on how to organize semiotic signs, visual images, subtitles, etc all of which involve L2 language communication. Of course, this is the ideal state. There is always some students who are not on the right track which happens a lot even in conventional classroom teaching.

  21. “Teachers in this case should help students focus on language skills instead of technology use.” That’s an impotant point to emphasize here. How to make sure that the whole video making thing focuses on language skills rather than technology use? Sometimes, students may spend much more time in figuring out how to manipulate those technical stuff, thereby neglecting the language skills which are supposed to be practiced in the process.

    • I agree with you Elaine. For language class, language skills is the biggest thing. Technique skills can be facilitator, but shouldn’t be put too much emphasis. But sometimes, the technique skills can be a lifelong treasure for students. So, if the project is well designed, the technical things deserve to be focused.

  22. As a teacher, I once edited a video for the class meeting. Students were really excited when they found that I could make a video for them, with their names on the video and the praising words for them. At that moment, I could feel that they admired me more than before. And if a teacher is admired by students, no matter in what aspect, it will bring the teacher convenience to teach as students will accept no matter what the teacher say. So, that can be attributed to the teacher’s own personality and charm for students. My students think I am the sam with them, young, nice, hardworking and easy to talk to, different from experienced teachers. That’s a good thing. So, the important thing is, use your competence in all respects, including editing a video, to inspire and stimulate your students. They will like you more than before.

  23. In my mind, I think it is the technical tools that can motivate students’ interest in language learning, but just as any other comprehensive learning tools, it may disperse students’ concentration to many parts (language, tech, culture…), so the teacher needs to manage the process of students’ language production according to the aim the teacher wants ( entire language exposure or a combination of all effects).

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