Conference Reports: ‘Implementing Learner Autonomy in the 21st Century’, Zirve University, Gaziantep, Turkey, 1-3 June 2010

by (1) Hidayet Tok and (2) Reza Vahdani Sanavi

(Published in Learner Autonomy in Language Learning, August, 2010)

Download the PDF version here

1) Report by Hidayet Tok, Head of Foreign Language School, Zirve University

Zirve University, a promising new higher education institution in Gaziantep, Turkey, hosted its First International Foreign Language Teaching Conference in early June 2010. This was the first conference to be officially supported by the AILA Research Network on Learner Autonomy. The conference brought together some key figures in the field of learner autonomy / independent learning who are active in the AILA Research Network on Learner Autonomy and/or who meet periodically at the Independent Learning Association Conference (ILAC). These scholars were Leni Dam, Barbara Sinclair, Garold Murray, Lienhard Legenhausen, Richard Smith, Terry Lamb,  David Gardner, and Birsen Tütüniş from Turkey. The conference also brought together language educators from around the world who want to promote learner autonomy and create learning environments that facilitate independent language learning. The conference provided a forum for them to present and discuss both theoretical and practical aspects of innovations in the field of learner autonomy, with a special focus on the needs of the 21st century.

To the conference came nearly 200 participants from 20 countries (Australia, Canada, Egypt, England, France, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Northern Cyprus, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Cyprus, Singapore, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates). There were also some non-speaker participants from Gambia, Hong Kong, Iran, Nigeria, Singapore, and Turkey.

The conference was organized by Dr Hidayet Tok and Mehmet Boyno. For further details, please access the conference web-site at:

The proceedings of the conference will be published on the conference web-site early in 2011.

2) Report by Reza Vahdani Sanavi, Islamic Azad University – Roudehen Branch, Iran

I don’t know whether what I am writing can be considered a report or not. However, I felt I should describe what I experienced at the Zirve University conference on ‘Implementing Learner Autonomy in the 21st Century’.

When Mehmet Boyno first told me about the conference by email and asked me to circulate the details among my colleagues in Iran, I did not have the remotest idea that this event would leave such a memorable vestige in my soul that I believe I will preserve for years to come.

After the welcoming remarks and the opening speech, we embarked on one of the, to me, most pleasantly informative conferences I have ever been to.

The conference was held from June 1st to 3rd in Gaziantep, Turkey. Overall, the conference included eight plenary sessions by Birsen Tütüniş, Leni Dam, Barbara Sinclair, Garold Murray, Lienhard Legehausen, Richard Smith, Terry Lamb, and David Gardner, and further workshops by the plenary speakers and others including Evelyn Rothstein, Miguel Bengoa, Meltem Bizim, and Ian White. These were in addition to the 95 parallel sessions and three poster presentations dispersed throughout the three-day conference by colleagues from many countries in the world.

Almost all the presentations focused on the topic of how to foster autonomy and create a learning-centered environment rather than a teacher-fronted one. The topics covered mostly dealt with the concerns teachers might face when dealing with autonomy. One major concern was the term “learner autonomy” itself, which can lead to the presence of a butterfly in many teachers’ stomachs. They believe that learner autonomy could mean shrinking teachers’ responsibilities and, thus, be a threat to their profession.The reassuring remarks from Richard Smith gave the audience considerable confidence that a teacher’s role is important and can even get more colorful than that in teacher-centered classes.

How to get started was another major topic covered, for example in Leni Dam’s plenary. She even went the extra mile to tell the attendees in her workshop how to form groups and what criteria to adopt for forming groups in such classes. Yet another major issue was the assessment of/for autonomy which was addressed by Terry Lamb. As Terry put it, not only does assessment carried out from an autonomy perspective lead to enhanced learning but also it could and should invoke an increased level of autonomy. This idea was also further developed by Lucy Cooker, who suggested useful criteria for developing an assessment tool to measure learner autonomy.

All in all, Birsen Tütüniş’s talk on how to change attitudes and beliefs, Leni Dam’s speech on how to get started, Richard Smith’s on autonomy and teacher development, Terry Lamb’s on assessment of/for autonomy, Barbara Sinclair’s on how to help learners develop greater independence, Lienhard Legenhausen’s on grammar teachability, Garold Murray’s on self-access learning, and David Gardner’s on how to manage a SAC, and the respective workshops on similar issues, were uniquely and wonderfully informative.

What was fascinating about this conference for me was not only the amount of information shared but also the number of “magnificent” and “wonderful” people we met, as Evelyn Rothstein put it, whose writing strategies and “planning wheel” proposed in her workshop were excellent ideas for use in writing classes. “Autonomy people are kind”, as Lienhard said, and, I would like to add, approachable and obliging. What I took with me as a souvenir from the conference was something spiritual not physical. I learnt how I should share things with people and how to spend time for people who might need our professional help at whatever level we are serving in an EFL/ESL context. Consequently, the conference inspired me to share the ideas that bounced around there and to form a group in Iran to work on autonomy. Already there are twelve of us in this autonomy-oriented group wishing to work on autonomy to enhance our knowledge in this realm.

Last and foremost, thanks are in order for those who made our stay in Turkey a lifelong pleasant memory, from the organizers of the conference to those anonymous students giving out handouts, and the technical support staff, from the registration desk people to the coffee man, all of whose smiles and generous helpfulness will always remain with me for years to come. All the cultural events around the conference like the visit to Turkish people’s home were also incredible. Thank you, Mehmet. Thank you, Hidayet. Thank you all.

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