ReNLA at the AILA Congress (Beijing 2011): Conference Report

(Published in Learner Autonomy in Language Learning (,

August 2011)

Text by Garold Murray, Richard Smith and Lucy Cooker; Photos by Naomi Fujishima

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The Research Network on Learner Autonomy in Language Learning (ReNLA) was very active at the AILA 16th World Congress in Beijing, organizing a dinner for members, a symposium and a business meeting, and contributing to discussions about the role of ReNs in AILA more generally.

Conference dinner

On Wednesday evening, August 24th, following the first full day of the conference, 23 members gathered for the ReNLA dinner in a restaurant well-known locally for its roasted duck. These dinners, which have become a ReNLA tradition at AILA congresses, provide an opportunity for members participating in the ReN symposium to become acquainted before the event and to meet researchers with similar interests from various parts of the world. We are very grateful to Dr. Xiaoli Jiang for selecting the restaurant and to her graduate student Ms. Guo (Jodie) Zhang for her excellent organizational skills which ensured the success of the evening.

More photos from the dinner on Flickr

ReNLA symposium

There was a good attendance at the ReNLA symposium on Friday morning (August 26th), with between 30 and 50 attending at any one time. The 2½ hour symposium ran well to time, and gave ten researchers from seven different countries in various parts of the world an opportunity to present findings from projects related to Social dimensions of learner autonomy. Two of the researchers participating in the symposium, Tin Tan Dang of La Trobe University, Australia, and Diego Mideros, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad, were first-time presenters at AILA and proud recipients of the AILA Solidarity Award. Garold and Richard are currently working on ensuring that a publication arises out of the symposium

Photos from the Symposium on Flickr

Business meeting

A half-hour ReNLA business meeting followed the symposium. Christine O’Leary took notes for the minutes, and these will be uploaded to the ‘Archive’ section of the website in due course. During open discussion, the main topic members present wished to raise seemed to be the email discussion list, AUTO-L. There was some discussion surrounding the notion that perhaps discussion groups may have outlived their usefulness and that we should be exploring more technologically advanced means of sharing ideas such as FaceBook, but as someone was quick to point out, this is blocked in China. There were no volunteers to take on the task of exploring alternatives, so this will be an issue for the next convenors to pursue. There was also a question about the role of the ReNs in AILA (what exactly they ‘mean’ to AILA) which we hope to address in a future issue of LALL.

The idea of ReNLA ‘supporting’ other conferences was commended as a good initiative and the suggestion was later made that there could also be ReNLA-supported symposia on autonomy-related research within regular ‘general’ conferences in different countries. Perhaps members could consider organizing such symposia and contact ReNLA convenors for support and publicity.

Restriction on ReN lifetime lifted

Just prior to the AILA Congress, the ‘governing body’ of AILA had an hour-long discussion of issues pertaining to Research Networks such as ours, and decided that there should no longer be a limit of six years on their lifetime. We can therefore continue to apply to AILA every three years for renewal. This positive outcome came about after some persistent lobbying in which our ReN took the lead, and which involved finding out how AILA works as an organization, enlisting other ReNs’ support, sending a statement to all representatives on the governing body, and – not least – individual ReNLA members lobbying representatives on the governing body from their own country. We heard from some Executive Board members that there was general recognition during discussions of how active and productive the ReN (previously, Scientific Commission) on Learner Autonomy has been. We can now celebrate 18 years of continuous existence – and look forward hopefully to many more years to come!

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