New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

How Much Autonomy Do Students Need?

Gertraud Benke, University of Klagenfurt (Austria)


Didactical approaches like inquiry based education is sometimes propagated, because it is assumed to increase student interest by allowing them to engage in self-selected endeavors, i.e. it gives them autonomy (Minner et al. 2010). The self-determination theory of Deci and Ryan poses autonomy as one of three basic needs for intrinsic interest (Deci und Ryan 1987).

Autonomy is framed differently – as an educational goal – in the developmental, psychological literature (Zimmer-Gembeck und Collins 2003); children are to become autonomous adults.

In this theoretical paper, I will explore the notion of autonomy and the perception of autonomy as a central mediating concept. Education needs to support children to be able to perceive autonomy; this perception of autonomy can occur in highly pre-structured environments. Thus, the perception of autonomy is seen as a central dialectical concept, which negotiates the a priori need to feel as the locus of control with the developmental goal to become a self-directing, autonomous adult.  For education, this means that we need to (a) carefully explore ways in which we can support the development of perceiving potentials of autonomous action in a situation, and (b) to further explore in which way seemingly inconsequential aspects in a highly structured learning environment might allow students to feel autonomous. Methods like inquiry based education needs to take into account the learning of navigating the open learning spaces they offer. 


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