My research addresses the assessment of agency for learning. Agency, being the capability of individuals to consciously choose, influence, and structure their actions to achieve a desired outcome (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Gecas, 2003), is a key factor in identifying how learning occurs. Agency development is of the utmost importance for students to be successful in school and throughout their lifespan (e.g. Heckhausen & Schulz, 1998). Despite this potential, little work has been done to empirically understand and practically design learning environments for this purpose.
My dissertation, titled Agency for Learning, explores agency as a measureable ability emergent in learning interactions. I conceptualize agency using Bandura’s social cognitive theory where individuals express agency through intentionality, forethought, self-regulation, and self-reflection (Bandura, 2001, 2006). With this conceptualization, I have created a framework for the empirical study of agency for learning. Using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) to model respondent data from various psychometric instruments from motivation, self-regulated learning, and self-efficacy, I have proposed an empirically grounded model of agency and self-regulation. To investigate this model I have developed and validated the Agency for Learning Questionnaire (AFLQ) using Item Response Theory (IRT) to assess agency within the context of student’s self-regulation, motivation, and self-efficacy in learning environments. Using this newly developed research instrument, I conducted a study of Agency for Learning (AFL) with 850 second-year undergraduate chemistry students. Results from the study indicate that agency mediates the effect of various affective-volitional, environmental-social, and cognitive-behavioural processes on academic achievement.
My research agenda combines several areas that incorporate elements of my professional and academic career: the role of agency in learning, learning environments and social networks, and measurement methods in educational research. The following statement discusses my development in each of these areas, how they contribute to my current work, and my plans for future research.
Agency in Learning
Ideas are expressed through actions caused by an agent. Human beings do not merely react to life conditions, but have the power to act and, therefore, have the power to change the very conditions that mediate their activities (Holtzkamp, 1983; Roth, 2004; Roth & Lee, 2007). This expression of agency accounts for the transition from possible ideas, thoughts, and beliefs, to tangible observable outcomes. Agency is what accounts for the transition of possible actions to actual behaviours (Nachtomy, 2007). This strand of my research is significant because it goes beyond a theoretical attribution of agency to one that enables empirical study. Using a model of AFL this research aims to extend current views of self-regulated learning to enable educational psychologists to identify, measure, and study complex agentic processes within social and learning contexts.
Agency in Learning Environments and Social Networks
As agency has wide-ranging empirical, theoretical, and practical implications for teaching and learning, I endeavour to develop a research program devoted to understanding student agency, self-regulation, self-efficacy, and achievement motivation in classroom instruction for online and face-to-face delivery. As a part of this research program, I have already completed two peer reviewed book chapters titled The Emergence of Agency in Social Networks: Implications for Education and Strategic Membership: The Formation, Growth, and Analysis of Online Communities for the Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies (2009). I also have a third chapter titled Digital Identity Formation and Agency for Learning in Social Media accepted for the forthcoming book Digital Identity and Social Media. This research program is significant to Educational Psychology and the Learning Sciences as it bridges the fields of self-regulated learning, achievement motivation, and lifespan development. Understanding how agency plays a role in both face-to-face and online learning environments will further the understanding of how students learn through social interactions in learning spaces.
Learning within communities evolves from expressions of human agency. Identifying effective environments for learning requires a critical analysis of approaches to instructional design. Learning communities, such as those within social networks, are a result of mediated expressions of agency that challenge the existing authority structure of classroom discourse. Social software provides students with opportunities to manipulate contexts and strategically interact with other students (agents) to achieve a desired outcome. Thus, agency ability links attributes of motivation to courses of action. Expressions of agency through online social networks promote the idea that an individual has authority over their virtual cultural space. This aspect of my research program explores agency ability as a social construction that develops through mediation, the appropriation of cultural tools, and facilitates a novel means of community formation. Social software in education gives students the power (ability) to do what they want in the absence of internal or external constraints, to understand and reflectively evaluate their intentions, reasons, and motives, and to regulate their own behaviour.
Measurement in Educational Research
Of critical importance to all educational research involves creating and validating techniques that assess constructs that lie at the foundation of teaching and learning. Methodological challenges in educational psychology research have been well documented throughout the literature (e.g. Hadwin & Nesbit, 2006). In this area of my research I explore alternative forms of measurement to help illustrate challenges with the validity and reliability of measurement instruments used in educational psychology. The aim of this research is to improve existing instrumentation and encourage the development of new methods of assessing important constructs (e.g. Hadwin, Nesbit, Jamieson-Noel, Code, & Winne, 2007; Nesbit, et al., 2006; Nesbit, et al., 2007). I have already begun research projects that apply Item Response Theory (IRT) to validate and improve measurement in the areas of self-regulated learning (Code, Nesbit, Adesope, & Zhou, 2007), agency for learning (Code, 2010), epistemic beliefs (Code, 2009), and achievement goals (Code, in progress).
Future Research Agenda
My immediate goals for future research involve extending my dissertation research to examine the formal and informal nature of social and educational contexts on the emergence of agency. The interface of implicit and explicit goal directed learning and social interactions have great affects in motivation and self-regulated learning. To explore these topics I will use the Agency for Learning Questionnaire (AFLQ) I developed along with other assessment methods and psychometric instruments to assess student goals, motivation, and self-efficacy in face-to-face and online learning environments. The affordances and popularity of social software tools, such as Facebook and Second Life, offer exciting environments in which to investigate these questions and their relation to learning. I hope to further explore, assess, and refine my empirical framework of agency for learning through these studies. The ultimate goal of this research program is to design and develop principles of teaching that focus on the emergence of agency in social and self-directed learning contexts.
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26.
Bandura, A. (2006). Towards a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 164-180.
Code, J. (2009). Validating the epistemic belief inventory using item response theory. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference.
Code, J. (2010). Agency for learning. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia.
Code, J. (in progress). Validating the revised achievment goal questionnaire (AGQ-R) using item response theory.Unpublished manuscript.
Code, J., Nesbit, J. C., Adesope, O., & Zhou, M. (2007, April). The role of agency in self- and other-regulation. Paper presented at the AERA 2007 Annual Meeting Chicago, Il.
Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023.
Gecas, V. (2003). Self-agency and the life course. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the Life Course. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic Publishing/Plenum Publishers.
Hadwin, A. F., & Nesbit, J. C. (2006). Methodological issues in educational psychology. In P. A. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Pscyhology (pp. 825-847). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hadwin, A. F., Nesbit, J. C., Jamieson-Noel, D., Code, J., & Winne, P. H. (2007). Examining trace data to explore self-regulated learning. Metacognition and Learning, 2(2-3), 107-124.
Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1998). Developmental regulation in adulthood: Selection and compensation via primary and secondary control. In J. Heckhausen & C. Dweck (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulation across the life span (pp. 50-77). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Holtzkamp, K. (1983). Grundlegung der Psychologie [Foundations of Psychology]. Frankfurt, Germany: Campus Verlag.
Nachtomy, O. (2007). Possibility, Agency, and Individuality in Leibniz’s Metaphysics. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
Nesbit, J. C., Winne, P. H., Jamieson-Noel, D., Code, J., Zhou, M., MacAllister, K., et al. (2006). Using cognitive tools to investigate how study activities co-vary with achievement goals. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 35(4), 339-358.
Nesbit, J. C., Winne, P. H., Zhou, M., Xu, Y., Code, J., & Weatherby, M. (2007, August). Technology-based assessments of learning strategies and self-regulation of learning. Paper presented at the EARLI 2007 Conference, Budapest, Hungary.
Roth, W.-M. (2004). Activity theory and education: An introduction. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 11(1), 1-8.
Roth, W.-M., & Lee, Y.-J. (2007). Vygotsky’s neglected legacy: Cultural-historical activity theory. Review of Educational Research, 77(2), 186-232.