The 'call to adventure', learner agency in the traditional school

ULearn: Breakout Three on 09 Oct 2014 at 11:15 to 11:35

Presentation Type
Research Papers 1-4
  • Collaborate, Innovate and Educate

In this presentation I will share how students in my Level 2 NCEA class and I worked together to bring more agency into the learner experience as well as my teaching practice.  Through this action research project I was challenged by students to rethink my understandings of what agency is, and what this means for students in the daily learning process.  As a group we co-constructed learner agency and found ways to change some of the teaching practices within our traditional school setting, with e-learning being the vehicle for this journey.

The concept of learner agency has been part of ‘bigger picture’ thinking in education for quite some time.  The foundations of agency transpire in the work of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget, as well as critical pedagogical theorists such as Freire and Illich, but has come to light recently through blogs, forums and video sites, perhaps due to the proliferation of e-learning in education.  There is not much in the way of contemporary research concerning the links specifically between agency and e-learning, indicating it is still somewhat of an emerging idea.  In addition, the examples we are given regarding future focussed learning and innovative pedagogical practices, occur in ‘new’ institutions or well resourced schools, with forward thinking senior leaders and malleable staff. This inquiry demonstrates to educators that there are applicable methods that can allow a transformational approach to the socially constructed view of traditional teaching and learning. 

To initiate the action research process the students decided to set up an online learning community to share their views around agency, and to support each other in their learning journey.  This proved to be instrumental in the process and supported many of the activities throughout the year, ranging from motivating the students, to allowing them to choose their own paths in the NCEA standards they studied.  I gathered qualitative feedback through surveys and interviews with students, as well as through the online community, and other anecdotal evidence. I also collected quantitative data from ‘quality of learning’ surveys which have been embedded in the learning this year.  E-learning became a key enabler in the data collection process. The data collection was guided by the following questions:

1) What defining factors contribute to the concept of agency?

2) What does student agency look like in the secondary classroom?

3) How can it be effectively applied in the traditional schooling system?

4) What outcomes are possible if student agency is fostered in learning?

Findings from this project show how bringing agency into traditional classrooms needs to be a collaborative process which starts with hearing students’ ideas and understandings of what agency means to them, and then working with them to find ways to incorporate these ideas into a traditional learning environment.


Lead Presenter

Tim Gander (eFellow 2014)
Gisborne Boys High School
Gisborne / NZ

Tim Gander is HOD Junior PE at Gisborne Boys High School, an authorised Google Education Trainer and is currently completing a MEd in E-Learning through Massey University. He was a finalist for the 'Interface Magazine most Innovative use of ICT' award and has been selected for an e-learning fellowship with CORE Education. He lives at Wainui beach with his family and enjoys any spare moments surfing or fly-fishing.

Breakout Information

Twitter handle
Target levels
  • Lower secondary school
  • Upper secondary
Learning outcomes
This presentation will be particularly useful for educators who want to understand more about what agency means to students, and explore new approaches to learning that work for students, teachers and assessment within traditional school settings.


Location / Room
Princes Gate Hotel, Club Lounge Room