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Junior Mary Taylor (Princeton, N.J.) is hoping to make foreign language training more accessible by conducting research on Self-Directed Learning, an educational approach that allows motivated students to learn at their own pace outside the traditional classroom.

A biology major, Taylor is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Yoshihiko Ariizumi, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures. In EXCEL, students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend.

Taylor’s research aims to help schools make up for limited course work in the Japanese language.

“If Self-Directed Learning can be incorporated into Japanese language courses, then students will be able to continue learning Japanese on their own and reach their desired levels of proficiency,” she says.

Taylor conducted a pilot study on three Lafayette students to determine if they are self-directed learners, or individuals with the motivation to work independently and the skills to evaluate learning without the presence of a professor. She is writing a report on the study and is continuing her research.

Taylor says she is learning valuable research and interviewing skills and how to develop ideas through this project.

“I am taking on greater responsibilities and learning how to organize my time to fulfill my obligations,” says Taylor. “The skills I am learning from this EXCEL project will definitely be useful in a future career.”

Ariizumi is encouraging Taylor to present her findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in March.

He and Taylor reviewed a Self-Directed Learning questionnaire developed in the 1970s, updating and adjusting it for use with college students.

“We’re moving ahead steadily and have made great progress,” Ariizumi says, adding that he thinks Taylor’s research “can be a great contribution to the field.”

Taylor is learning the technicalities of developing a questionnaire to measure students’ potential as self-directed learners, a labor-intensive project that involves reading technical papers, conducting interviews, and analyzing data from other studies.

“I usually don’t ask students to do simple, mechanical tasks. I see them as co-researchers, so I asked Mary to present me with her research agenda,” says Ariizumi. “She is more interested in statistical data, so she is going in her own direction.”

Taylor thinks highly of Ariizumi and describes him as “a very intelligent man full of many ideas that really benefit his students.”

“One of his goals is for everyone to reach their highest proficiency and succeed in life,” she adds. “I find these aspirations are very important for every professor to have. I know that without his help and support, I would not have been able to take part in many educational opportunities.”

Taylor adds that she appreciates Lafayette because of opportunities like EXCEL.

“Lafayette College has the best interests of its students in mind, which allows so many of us to succeed in life after college,” she says.

Taylor is a member of Played Out, a student theater group dedicated to educating classmates about important health issues, and Together Everyone Learns More, a peer education group. She is also a volunteer at the Northampton County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Categorized in: Academic News