Case Study Proposal: The Affordances of Digital Tools for the Self-Directed Learner


The Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) defines self-directed learning as ‘teaching students how to learn for themselves . . . [where] learners take responsibility to set goals, access resources and choose strategies for learning’ (2016, para. 2). To support the shift towards a culture of self-directed learning (SDL), high school students are provided with many opportunities for SDL experiences such as three 70-minute blocks of non-contract time in school each week. McLoughlin & Lee (2010) suggest learning technologies in conjunction with appropriate strategies afford greater agency to the student by allowing autonomy, a key characteristic of SDL (Du Toit-Brits & Van Zyl, 2017) through, for example, the promotion of social and participatory learning experiences and the use of rich digital media. WAB is technology-rich school where students and faculty have access to a wide range of digital tools and systems, many of which could or have already been purposely configured to support self-directed learning experiences.

Research Question

How, and to what extent, can digital tools support self-directed learning experiences in a high school?

Expected Outcomes

  1. Insight into the characteristics and attitudes of a self-directed learner (Du Toit-Brits & Van Zyl, 2017).
  2. An understanding of the types of digital tools, in conjunction with appropriate strategies, that support self directed learning experiences (McLoughlin & Lee, 2010; Robertson, 2011; Song & Hill, 2007) leading to the creation of a SDL Digital Tools & Strategies Map.
  3. Exploration of what and how digital tools currently support students involved in SDL at WAB.
  4. Insight into the challenges and barriers faced by students in using digital tools to support SDL in general and specifically at WAB (Lee, Tsai, Chai, & Koh, 2014).
  5. Recommendations to promote the use of digital tools at WAB, and potentially for high schools in general, to support self-directed learning that may include new tools, coaching and training for teachers and students, repurposing existing tools, training guides.

Proposed Research Plan

Dates Tasks Resources
Aug 11 Submit case study proposal submission

Continue literature review/scan to define self-directed learning and the general features, skills and/or characteristics.

Journals, blogs
Aug 20 Continue literature review/scan

Formulate draft of SDL definition and skills for SDL

Discuss with WAB curriculum leaders (f2f) and with PLN (online)

Refine SDL definition and skills.

Participatory research may include: use of Twitter for discussion, posting of blog post for feedback from PLN, face-to-face interviews.
Aug 27 Create SDL Digital Tool & Strategies Map: Use secondary research and consult with PLN to create map of types of digital tools and strategies to support skills for SDL

Compile list of digital tools at WAB that support SDL Digital Tool & Strategies Map.

Consult literature and PLN for SDL Digital Tool & Strategies Map.

At WAB: Interview(s) with eLearning team, IT support and other experts

Sep 3 Conduct interviews with 3-4 students to confirm/test WAB digital tool kit and to add further suggestions from students.

Analyse data to create a survey

Students TBD
Sep 10 – 17 Disseminate survey to student group and collect data Student group TBD

O365 forms

Sep 24 CHINA STUDIES WEEK – No students on campus
Oct 1 – 11 Analyse data, write up findings and after discussions with experts, determine the recommendations

Final edit and proofing of report

Oct 11 Submit Case Study Report


Du Toit-Brits, C., & Van Zyl, C.-M. (2017). Self-directed learning characteristics: making learning personal, empowering and successful. Africa Education Review, 1–20.

Lee, K., Tsai, P.-S., Chai, C. S., & Koh, J. H. L. (2014). Students’ perceptions of self-directed learning and collaborative learning with and without technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 30(5), 425–437.

McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). Personalised and self-regulated learning in the Web2.0 era: International exemplars of innovative pedagogy using social software. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(1), 28–43.

Robertson, J. (2011). The educational affordances of blogs for self-directed learning. Computers and Education, 57(2), 1628–1644.

Song, L., & Hill, J. R. (2007). A Conceptual Model for Understanding Self-Directed Learning in Online Environments. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6(1), 27–42.

Western Academy of Beijing (Ed.). (2016). Targets. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from

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Making sense: digging deeper, classifying & visualising

I’m on my last subject in my MEd Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation at Charles Sturt University. This week in the readings, the online discussions and the colloquium with Bruce Dixon, I came across a range of terms, concepts and practices that initially seemed unfamiliar to me. It was like these were jigsaw pieces that seemed to have strayed from other puzzles. So I’ve been doing some digging to try to fit these pieces into this dynamic and evolving mental map of my learning and find that many of these were known to me albeit in other guises or ‘unnamed’. Here are some examples:

Socratic Circles Augmented with Technology

The readings touch the use of Twitter in socratic circles, using the tool as a shared platform for ‘back channel’ device for wider commentary. This was certainly something we experienced with in Monday’s colloquium where there was a lot of commentary and questions posed; however, one point to note was from @hunch_box ( about the potential distraction of the back channel in that we may lose our focus on the discussion.

Backchanneling is hard for me, I can only focus on one thing at once. I think research supports this on multitasking?

With socratic circles, the learning experience comes from the inner circle and the discussion in the outer circle moves the class forward through the stages of reflection, self-assessment and goal setting (Copeland, 2005, p. 77). As we experienced in our colloquium, a shift occurs when technology is introduced. Of course this experience was not set up as a traditional socratic seminar; however, we can note that the outer circle discussion was in real time and simultaneous with the inner circle discussion and the inner circle was a mix of slides, oral debate/comments and questions and comments added to the chat. Therefore the chat tool, a key tool for the outer circle, allowed the communication to be synchronous and visible to all participants with far more agility in moving the conversations forward, branching in different directions and, most importantly, perhaps, responding to the needs and questions of the participants. Circling back to the distraction element, if we experienced this in a more traditional setting would the conversation move more quickly? Would we have more or less take-aways? Would our learning experience be more or less richer? This is something I would like to explore with my students in the future.

Visualising Learning

To make connections and make sense of the learning experiences presented to me, I often have to reformat, remix or mash up elements. I wanted to see if there were any central or recurring concepts in our back channel and so took the rtf of the dialogue from the chat of our colloquium with Bruce, removed all the names and any keywords that dealt with the mechanics of the session (for example, sound, thanks, mic) and then put into a word cloud (below). I’m not sure if there is anything significant that stands out in the cloud. Besides the obvious LEARNING, STUDENTS, TEACHERS and SCHOOL, SCAFFOLD prompted me to revisit that non-linear discussion of the challenges of over-scaffolding versus providing new directions for students; likewise, the term FAILURE prompted me to revisit the discussion (just search for FAIL in the rtf and you will see the discussion intermingled with other threads and themes) where the tension was raised between students’ negative perception of failure versus the positive role of failure in the learning process. Overall, for me, sometimes making a conversation visible using a cloud generation tool, such as tagcrowd, can often trigger further thought and connections.

Open Learning
This is a new term for me and was posed in the colloquium and in the discussion forum:

The term ‘open learners’ is replacing the term ‘21st century learners’. What does the term ‘open learners’ mean to you – and is it a useful term?

I am wondering if this is a term that is used widely in Australia or I have missed/ignored it up until now.These are my initial questions:

  1. What is an ‘open learner’?
  2. What are the characteristics of an open learner?
  3. Where did the term come from?
  4. Where is the term being used?
  5. What is the connection (if any) between an open learner and/or open learner models and/or open learning?

Interestingly, others jumped in with some confirming that they too were unclear. Although it’s early days, this certainly is a lively and responsive group and so it’s interesting to note the lack of immediate replies with the exception of a reference to the paper Beyond Learning- as-Usual: Connected Learning among open Learners passed by @lisanash9. Although there was no explicit definition, the initial mini-case study revealed open learning through this example:

Reflective Blogging
The paper from Ross was an interesting but quite challenging read as I struggle with the rich scholarly vocabulary and I want to explore her work further to get a better understanding of the concepts of spectacle and placeholder in reflection. What resonated with me was how she linked tags to wormholes:

Each time I reuse a tag – knowingly or unknowingly – I am producing a link, a wormhole between my experiences and present and someone else’s (which might be a past self) (Ross, 2012, p. 263).

I have had a blog since 2010 but rarely have I used tags effectively although I do revisit posts to see how my thinking has developed or changed over the years. In #inf530, my final assignment (Connectivism in a K-12 Blogging Environment) looked at the role of blogs in a K-12 connectivist learning environment and have since presented this in two k-12 conferences; however, despite the availability of blogs and online environments for learning (in international schools, which is my area of practice), I do think that blogging has a long way to go before we see it as an embedded and sustainable practice with students. As I prepare for the new academic year, I really do want to rethink the approach to blogging with students, by exploring further.

Carfagna, L. (2014). Beyond Learning-As-Usual: Connected Learning Among Open Learners. Irvine, Ca. Retrieved from

Copeland, M. (2005). Socratic circles : fostering critical and creative thinking in middle and high school. Retrieved from

Ross, J. (2012). The spectacle and the placeholder: digital futures for reflective practices in higher education. {…} of the 8th International Conference on {…}, 260–265.

This entry is an slightly edited version of the post in my CSU blog.

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