Developing Student Autonomy with ICT

By Michael Hilkemeijer

The development of higher order thinking skills whilst teaching ICT capability is what makes it stand out from just teaching ICT skills and techniques. ICT capability requires the development of higher order thinking skills knowledge and processes, not just the practising of skills and techniques. So it is imperative that you focus your teaching efforts on the higher order thinking skills of students.

The ramifications of you not doing so will mean that there is a danger that context-based technological skills will become the sole focus of teaching activities.

For example, common generic software suitable for developing ICT capabilities such as spreadsheets in mathematics and numeracy lessons, and word processing software used in English/literacy lessons may fail to make a link between the use of technology and their subject aims.

In fact, it is unlikely that either subject knowledge or ICT capability would develop in such a context. It is the higher order thinking skills that are important to success, and metacognitive knowledge is paramount.


Student autonomy in the classroom needs to begin in early childhood education where they are given choices as to what technology they would like to play with and use in learning activities.


Promoting student autonomy in the classroom when using technology

1. Enabling student choice of technology by providing them with the knowledge they need

This involves giving them the right knowledge they need in order to select the appropriate tools and resources for the solution. Students need to recognise when the use of ICT might be appropriate or effective.

A good example of how to develop autonomous learners would be to discuss with students the different software available. It doesn’t mean to go into great detail but share with them what they are, what they are mostly used for, and then go further and explore various key features of them and question students as to where and why these features would be used.

In primary education, students love to show their creative side and if given the chance they would choose a particular software that they would think will demonstrate their creativity the most. For example, if you ask to write a report on something some may choose PowerPoint over MS Word. The latter is the one you want them to use as reports are typically documented and Word has the features and functions to enable this better.

The next step would be to ensure that they actively plan and evaluate the use of ICT in the problem situation. Students typically plan for projects in ICT activities.


2. Intervening at the opportune moments

By intervening you are able to help with the development of the students’, they also have to articulate their thoughts about the opportunities, processes, and strategies which they have experienced. This could be in the form of verbal, written or email and must be interactive.

Students should consolidate their thoughts in the end by reflecting formally on their ICT learning. If we encourage students to reflect on the use of techniques across contexts and situations, they are more likely to generate principles, ideas, and strategies that are widely applicable.

In terms of processes, the particular techniques and the sequence are not fully determined by the goal, and the user needs an understanding of both the goal and the tools available in order to make appropriate choices. Sometimes the choice made will not produce the desired effect, and a different technique will be tried. Reflection on this mistake will lead to learning which improves the user’s ability to make an appropriate choice in the future.

Concepts are developed through verbalisation of activities and by reflection on experience – particularly experience which is carefully structured. As a teacher, it is important that you model the decision-making process to students. If you model the techniques of strategic planning by thinking out loud in front of students, you will demonstrate to them the questions that might arise during the process.  


Secondly, give students the responsibility of planning a task and coach them by asking focusing questions at intervals to guide them towards a viable plan. Finally, involve the students socially in planning, monitoring, evaluating, and reflecting through whole-class teaching. To conclude, I am going to leave you with a lasting thought from a quote I read once, it said:

"A good coach guides the child’s progress through a task by asking questions that focus their attention at critical points, but leaves the child believing that the plan was his or her own."



Student Autonomy

7 Strategies for Autonomy in the Classroom


The independent selection and choice of students in the classroom is an essential part of their learning. Student autonomy is about the freedom that one has in the classroom and your job as a teacher is to ensure that you continue to facilitate this relationship.


To empower students in the class and enable student autonomy to be a positive experience, students must realise that they:

  • Have a voice;
  • Their voice matters;
  • Voice will be heard and that;
  • They make a difference.


Here are 7 practices that you can employ in your classroom today to promote the development of student autonomy today:


Give students a choice – By doing this, you are igniting their independence, curiosity, creativity and this creates critical thinkers. Let them choose the topics, group members, material to read, deadlines and many other things that matter in the classroom.


Ask students for their opinion – Build their confidence by asking them for their opinion. Show them that their opinion matters and is important in the classroom and to you.


Trust that they will make the right decisions – Give them the freedom to try things themselves after intervening. They may surprise you.


Give students responsibilities – many students may exceed your expectations once you have assigned them responsibilities. The students themselves will take charge and will be very proud with the end result.


Provide them with feedback – without feedback, they will not be able to build or own their confidence. Student autonomy will be harder to achieve.


Foster a safe and friendly environment – Your classroom needs to a safe space where students can express themselves and work without judgements.


Speak to them as equals – One of the techniques that I use when I speak to them particularly when they are sitting down is to get down to their level. Speaking to them as equals means giving them the respect and courtesy that you demand as well. Students need to feel empowered and respected for their thoughts and opinions in order them manage meaningfully.


To be effective in the development of student autonomy, these strategies must be taught and modelled by you as a teacher.




Student Autonomy

6 Strategies to Promote student autonomy in the classroom today

Here are some other ways to encourage the development of student autonomy in the classroom today:

1-2-3 then me - this requires them to rely on their own and their peers' understanding of a task. 

Record directions and responses - simple but powerful tools for especially for those students whose reading and writing skills are still developing.

Resource files - a self-help mechanism when the teacher isn't available.

Hint cards - these are similar to resource files but are lesson specific.

Coloured cups - Edutopia says that this is a "this self-monitoring and signaling strategy builds students’ skills in deciding if and when they need teacher help."

Question chips -  this helps the student decide whether their questions about tasks are "must ask the teacher" or "could find out myself."


It is important that for each of these strategies to be effective that they are modeled and taught first. Ensure that you introduce them when needed and use those that suit your subject, students, and style.


Developing student autonomy in the classroom is important if you are to encourage independence. A student's independent choice of ICT techniques, software, or hardware in order to solve a problem will ultimately depend on your ability to provide the key knowledge they need in order to make the choices in the future.




Student autonomy in the classroom

Encouraging Autonomous Learners in Early Childhood

Independence allows us to do what we want and to do it in our own way. Early childhood is a paramount time for children to reach their full potential. As an early childhood educator, you are therefore in the best position to get this started through the environments that you provide and how you nurture it. Promoting autonomy in early childhood education is a lot more than learning how to tie shoe laces.


Understanding what is autonomy in early childhood education, therefore, is significant for you as the early childhood teacher. Autonomy in early childhood education is about allowing young children to have control over themselves and the choices they make.


It is essential that child autonomy in early childhood is encouraged so that young children:

  1. Feel in control.
  2. Boost their self-esteem.
  3. Problem-solve that is good for cognitive growth.


Technology and ICT can be used to help resource an area to support independence. The types of technology in early childhood education that should be left out permanently for children to choose and play with independently include:


  • Everyday technology and/or role play toys.
  • Computer and printer.
  • Webcam and microphone.
  • Developmentally appropriate software.
  • Internet access.
  • Interactive whiteboard.
  • Digital camera.
  • Digital video recorder
  • Talking photo albums.
  • Metal detectors.
  • Programmable toys and remote controls.


While ‘technology’ is a more user-friendly term, the list above refers more to ICTs and as it demonstrates, it is more than just computers. By playing with a range of technology young children can discover the place and purpose of this in their everyday lives.



How to encourage autonomous learning with ICT

Early I discussed the need to encourage autonomy in early childhood education. In this section, I will show you how to achieve this in your early childhood education and care centre or school.


Typically, autonomy in early childhood can be encouraged if you:

  • Offer young children choices – this is the first step to autonomy.
  • Respect their opinions – listening and tuning in to what they are saying. Invite them to elaborate and saying things like “I really want to know more about this” and listening and engaging in the response.
  • Give them responsibility – offer them real responsibilities that matter.


Experts such as Harriot Price (2009) suggests that one of the best ways to encourage autonomy in early childhood education with ICT is in the area of role play. In today’s society, young children are already surrounded by technology and they need to explore and understand ICT in meaningful contexts so that they develop their ICT capability.


Role play areas are prime locations in the classroom where the three ways for the encouragement of autonomy in early childhood can be easily accomplished. Young children can begin to play with pretend technology that will deepen their understanding if you develop them from observing their interest and incorporating everyday technology into the areas. You will provide them with many choices, respect their opinions and allow them to practice being responsible with the things that matter to them such as technology.



What is autonomy in early childhood education

6 ICT Teaching Strategies in Early Childhood to encourage autonomy

What is autonomy in early childhood education?

Autonomy in early childhood education is the same as in other sectors of education. It means being able to give young children full control over themselves and the choices that they make. This includes the preschool technology activities they participate in, how they interact and collaborate with their peers and being independent. Learning to being so is a critical skill for a young child to develop.


Why is autonomy important in early childhood?

Autonomy in early childhood education is important because not only is it a critical skill but it also allows children to feel in control, boosts their self-esteem, and when a child makes their own choices, they are problem-solving and this is an essential part of their cognitive development.


6 Ways to Encourage a Child to be Autonomous with Technology

  • Provide young children with clothes to dress up and role-play characters from computer programs.
  • Have young children imitate the sounds of vehicles they heard in a technology activity.
  • Give young children the opportunity to dramatize a story they previously viewed from a media presentation.
  • Use poems and stories to role-play a variety of events following technology activities.
  • Let young children pretend to be an animal they observed on the computer screen.
  • Bring toys and objects so young children can play and relate to actual objects for the things they observed on the screen.


Here are some examples of autonomy in early childhood education:

  • Deciding when it is appropriate to use a particular ICT for a specific purpose.
  • Planning what routines, ICT techniques and processes to be used.
  • Working independently to solve problems.
  • Evaluating their use of ICT and the outcome of an activity.
  • Explaining and justifying their choices and approaches.
  • Reflecting on their ICT learning and how things could be approached differently next time.


Developing autonomy in early childhood education in relation to ICT use is vital for young children who are growing up in a technological world. As educators, we owe it to them to encourage confidence and competence to grow their independence in ICT. It is important for you to remember then, that independence in ICT is not just about expensive ICT resources. Junk modelling, digital role play and defunct technology are equally valid in developing child autonomy in early childhood today.