Self Access Language Learning Centers are well known as an educational facilities designed for student learning that is at least partially, if not fully self-directed. Students have access to resources ranging from photocopied exercises with answer keys to computer software for language learning.
These Centers are an outgrowth of a style of learning that can go by several names: Learner-Centered Approach, Learner Autonomy or self-Directed Learning. These centers exist primarily in Asia, Europe and North America. However, the self-access centers as a support to the languages learning appeared in Mexico in the early nineties and they have been present since then in the agenda of these country universities.
In this text is mentioned on a short way the backgrounds, implications, pedagogy, advantages and disadvantages on the language laboratories, such as some considerations about this.
Based on Maria del Rocío Domínguez Gaona research (2008), Self-access centers came up on late sixties and early seventies as a languages laboratories evolution that consisted on a console which controlled the students cabins.
The prevalent methodology in those laboratories in order to learn a second language was the audio-lingual method, which came out from behaviorism and explained that learning depended on three elements: a stimulus, an answer caused by the stimulus and an effort. In this context is said the laboratories didn´t satisfy the expectative anymore and they started to be scruffy or were become as “libraries” this suggested a kind of self-access center (Gremmo and Riley, 1995:156). With a new approach known as: Communicative approach.
Other situation which originated the appearance of these Self-access centers was the need to increase the range of the languages courses, English mainly, to give an answer to different kinds of needs and proposes ( Benson and Voller, 1997). Joined to this the technology development is consider an activator on the apparition of the self-access centers due the technology was seen as an important support on the language learning and a great promoter of the learning autonomy (Gremmo and Riley, 1995). It was in the eighties when the expansion on the use of technology in teaching and learning of languages was given, marking a new era on this field (Lonergan, 1991).
One of the first self-access centers is the one of El Centro de Investigación y Aplicaciones Pedagógicas de Lenguas (CRAPEL) of Nancy´s University in France in 1974, which emerged as an experiment to the development of self-learning in language learners auspicated by The European Counselor. It is evident that the self-access were spread by the entire world and brought themselves the development of self-learning users.
There are diverse definitions on what is and involves a self-access center. Grander and Miller (1999) define as a language learning system which involves diverse elements such as:
a) Resources: materials, activities, technology, people (assessors, administrators, other students),
b) Administration, which permits coordination and planning on the center work.
c) A control and support system for students,
d) Capacitating for the user and staff,
g) Learning feedback
h) Center evaluation
i) Development and adaptation of self-learning materials
One of the academic goals of many self-access centers is to promote self-learning. This is defined as every single student ability to learn by him/herself. And it will be acquired on a systematic and conscious way (Holec, 1979:3). It is “when the student determines the moment, the space and the rhythm on he will have to carry out his/her formal studies on any subject or topic” (García Rocha, 2005:3) On this type of situations, student responsibility is involved of his own learning and the developing of learning strategies (learn to learn).
These centers appear in Mexico in the 90s as part of a project that developed the British Council and Secretaria de Educación Pública (SEP), involving support for public universities through the FOMES. The project involves several stages. The first stage is the large-scale training on Self-access centers. Their philosophy, the development of autonomous learning and their implementation. The second one involved the universities interested in opening one of these centers and the preparation of a project to justify the opening. The third one involves the implementation of the Centre, preparation of materials, organization of the center, adaptation of spaces, staff and users training.
The self-access centers in Mexico have worked as spaces that offer different types of materials and activities for users to learn languages outside the classroom or as a complement to their foreign language class. Similarly, these centers have functioned as libraries where students investigate topics that teachers ask them, such as grammar or to read any subject they are interested in.
The areas that most centers have now are: audio, video, computing, conversation, writing, reading, advice, materials, and elaboration of materials. Other innovative centers have karaoke and mega-screen area. It is worth mentioning that the opening of these areas depends largely on the size of the center and the resources it has.
Roycan Center, representative and leader on Languages Laboratories and Multimedia Rooms (2012) states that Pedagogy in labs in different from those in common rooms because the Professor is different in the lab and he becomes in a facilitator who observes the Learning Process and guides this one. Once selected and organized the activities, professor’s knowledge and time are directed to monitor individually, give learning advices and, finally, Learning to Learn. However, due to new possibilities in new technologies which are more complex, their effectiveness depends on an appropriate use by the teachers who were educated in these the new technologies.
With Language Laboratory Technology, the professor is not more the main actor because his time is dedicated to help students in order to generate or select new useful material for new situations. The work methodology is based on Emergent Pedagogy, where activities are done in groups or individually and these activities point out which material is more effective in each context and also in every student group according to the needs observed and the obtained outcomes. This concept is related to Learner Centered Approach where professors are not just knowledge transmitters; they facilitate the educative process from the observed needs in a great variety of students.
The Languages Laboratory is a learning area where technology facilities the practice and learning of different languages. The main objective is giving personalized assessment to students in different languages and helping them to improve their performance. It supports the professors in the integration of new technologies which facilitate the learning of a language.
The Self Access Centers came to Mexico several years ago, they have been accepted and evaluated and, in some cases, its importance has been diminished because they are seen as systems which are not satisfied the expectative and they are uncared. Do they have to disappear or they need a new concept?
All in all, it has been seen that learning is more effective when students participate actively in his process, when he is responsible by himself and he learns to take decisions. One of the main targets is that these centers are consolidated and developed with successful no matter the context.
Benson, P. Y Voller, P. (Eds.) (1997). Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. Reino Unido: Longman.
Domínguez G. María del Rocío (2008). Los retos de los centros de autoacceso en México. Ponencia magistral presentada en el VII Encuentro Nacional e Internacional de Centros de Autoacceso: “Innovación educativa y autoaprendizaje”. UABC. Mexicali, B.C. 30 y 31 de Octubre de 2008.
García Rocha, J.A. (2005). Glosario de Términos Básicos en Regulación y Acreditación en Educación Superior Virtual y Transfronteriza. Recuperado el 12 de noviembre de 2007 de www.iesalc.unesco.org.ve/programas/glosarios/IntroGlosarioRegional.pdf
Gardner, D. y Miller, L. (1999). Establishing Self-Access. Reino Unido: Cambridge University Press.
Gremmo, M. y Riley, P. (1995). Autonomy, Self-Direction and Self-Access in Language Teaching and Learning: The History of an Idea. System, 23. Great Britain: Pergamon.
Grounds, P. (2002). Historia de los Centros de Auto-Acceso. Página Electrónica sobre Centros de Auto-Acceso. Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Información recuperada en mayo 2006 de la página http://idiomas.tij.uabc.mx/sacnew/sacindex.html.htm
Holec H. (1979). Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Gran Bretaña: Pergamon Press.
http://www.roycan.com/, consultada el 3 de mayo de 2012
Idiomas.tij.uabc.mx/.../Evento_Academico_Rocio_Dominguez.doc, consultada el 5 de mayo de 2012.
Lonergan, J. (1991). "A decade of development: educational technology and language learning." Language Teaching. January, pp. 1-10. Cambridge University Press.
[a]Profesor Investigador de la Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo