This summary was contributed by Lesley Cioccas – @cioccas on Twitter – and is the result of sifting through 72 pages of tweets! Many thanks to Lesley and her hard work on this. This post first appeared on Lesley’s blog and is reproduced here with her permission


Research in ELT – a very wide-ranging #ELTchat

The topic for the #ELTchat of 25th May 2011, as suggested by @harrisonmike was:

How important is research in ELT? Should teachers be engaged in research if possible? If teachers want to do research (academic or action research) where should they start and how can they disseminate their findings well?

And @lu_bodeman’s suggestion was added: Role of note-taking, researching tools in ELT

Our moderators were @garymotteram @Marisa_C @rliberni @barbsaka @Shaunwilden

As always, the tweeting was fast and furious, and at the end there were 72 pages of transcript to sort through!  After categorising the tweets, I was left with 22 pages, covering:

  • Is Research important in ELT, why and why not?
  • Defining research / Different types of research
  • Do EL teachers have a fear of research? Why?
  • Is research an everyday part of teaching? Are we ‘doing research’ all the time as part of reflective practice? On-going informal action research?
  • Teacher action research
  • Doing research – trials and tribulations
  • Formal vs informal Research
  • Teachers’ access to published Research …and some ideas for distributing results of research
  • If teachers want to do research (academic or action research) where should they start …
  • …and how can they disseminate their findings well?
  • More on journals
  • Role of note-taking, researching tools in ELT
  • Sending research questionnaires online
  • What kind of research would you be interested in reading?
  • Journals mentioned

Is Research important in ELT, why and why not?
@garymotteram lamented: The fact that we have to ask this question at all seems to me to be symptomatic of a lack of interest in the idea that research is important. Other disciplines don’t question the need for research in the way that we do in teaching.Participants felt that research is important because it

  • makes ELT professional and accountable;
  • gives us insight into how students learn;
  • helps teachers explore opportunities and solutions to issues in classroom context;
  • feeds into classroom practice;
  • helps teachers keep up-to-date;
  • keeps teachers motivated and interested; and,
  • allows teachers to see their work in a new way.

But there was a feeling that formal research is, or borders on being, or is becoming:

  • out-dated
  • inaccessible
  • not worth the time

Different types of research / Defining research
In case you’re wondering what type of research was being discussed, throughout the chat there was quite a bit of confusion about how we were defining research, and the definitions changed and were different in different threads.  Overall, an awful lot was covered under the heading of ‘research’!  These ‘types’of research were mentioned:

  • quantative vs. qualitative
  • formal vs informal
  • action research vs reflective practice
  • subjective / objective
  • anecdotal / factual
  • class research and class trialling

Some of these distinctions were discussed in depth, but there was no overall discussion or agreement about what ‘research in ELT’ was.

Fear of research?
When @Marisa_C brought up the issue of many teachers being afraid of research, issues discussed included:

  • research reeks of academia and teachers are not interested in reading it
  • academia partly to blame as much is unreadable

@marekandrews commented that much ELT research is written in a way which is inaccessible to practising teachers and is too much research on than research with”.  And @rliberni reminded us that the academic stuff forms a bedrock from which other ideas and methodologies flow, and it’s important to keep current. But there was reasonable consensus that we need better, stronger bridges between academia and the classroom teacher, including:

  • Relevant, real world research.
  • Strong links between theory and classroom practice.
  • Readable and accessible reporting on research.

@garymotteram was concerned at the perception of academia reeking, but offered himself up as a bridge!

There were a few side conversations throughout the hour on:
Is research an everyday part of teaching? Are we ‘doing research’ all the time as part of reflective practice? On-going informal action research?
The idea of teachers as researchers every time they teach, :

  • investigating what works, what doesn’t, how to improve things;
  • learning from what happens in the classroom;
  • gathering info, reflecting and acting upon it

BUT, is this reflective teaching or is this action research?

@Imadruid @JoHart @Marisa_C and @alhen_ shared a conversation on this sub-topic, discussing the difference. The outcome appeared to be that, while reflective practice is often published and may be both validated and systematic, it’s not a defining characteristic of reflective practice. But it is of action research.

@Marisa_C and @rliberni agreed that it is important that teacher research feed into more organised research

@garymotteram Not doing research doesn’t make you a bad teacher, but doing research makes you a better one

I think perhaps @cherrymp’s question “so what makes it researching is the documenting and reporting part?” summarises a lot of participants’ thinking on this, and @hartle added “…  and reflecting.” “Reflection is key, I think. If you can report ideas and exchange even better… but no reflection means bad teaching.”
@cherrymp when you research you are putting your practice under the scanner – questioning it

@harrisonmike asked:  Is blogging a form of (self) research?

Teacher action research
@Shaunwilden made us all envious, reporting that, “We used to encourage teachers to do action research projects with classes and report back”. Those who followed this thread felt that sharing the results, talking it through with colleagues was beneficial.  Blogging as a way to share was mentioned.

@sandymillin posed two questions: What’s the best way to go about action research in your classes without uni as a push?, and, So how do you progress from just reflective teaching to action research (without doing an expensive course)? drawing these tips:

  • Try something new but document and record, especially student response/outcomes. @JoHart
  • Identify an issue and possible solution, test it, collect data and draw your conclusions @DaveDodgson
  • Need to carefully document and revise the tools and methodology, if needed, as you progress @cherrymp

As for How can you motivate Ts to do reseach if they’re not on a course? it was suggested that you could  give their research more visibility

Another thread was Doing research – trials and tribulations
The main problems seemed to be:

  • Time
  • Support
  • Motivation
  • Cost

@esolcourses had a question for those who do engage in formal research… Do you do it mainly because you want to, or because you have to/it’s expected?

@garymotteram felt that research needs to be built into the fabric of what you do, so it becomes part of our everyday activity.  @JoHart suggested that we need to reflect, review and record to build in research, and
@Rogers_Suzanne addded that research needs to be modelled and practiced. @dreadnought001 reminded us of  the ultimate irony, that to do substantive research (MA/Phd), you really have to leave the classroom!!

Another thread grew out of this, formal vs informal research
@garymotteram wasn’t sure that ‘formal vs informal’ is a useful distinction, felt that we probably mean ‘funded vs non-funded’, then @cioccas added, or ‘assessed vs non-assessed’?

@esolcourses identified another problem with formal research (particularly when it involves tech), that things change so rapidly.  @DaveDodgson weighed in to point out that, since we’re always told “it’s not the tool…”, older research on tech can still be relevant. And @rliberni reminded that research in some areas, eg, language acquisition, has been on-going for a long time and much will still be relevant. @esolcourses agreed, this may “still” be relevant, but cautioned that we shouldn’t assume it is. Newer pedagogies may have since emerged.

@ddeubel was concerned with “teacher” bias, finding it the most problematic aspect of research. esolcourses agreed, adding that all research is subjective, as did @cherrymp, commenting that all research is in a way biased or filtered, plus looked and acted upon from a particular theoretical framework.

@DaveDodgson noted another problem with academic research is filtering it down to the classroom and the common refrain ‘that would never work in my class’! @pjgallantry felt that one problem of ‘academia’ can be that it deals with ideal class environments, and @hartle noted that many academic researchers are not classroom teachers.   @DaveDodgson added that when classroom teachers do research, they lack the academic background to share their results.  @garymotteram felt that if we look at case studies of what other teachers do then there is less of a problem with the issue of ‘it won’t work for me.’ @ozsolmaz agreed and added that sometimes wrong sampling may cause ‘interesting’ results since all population should be properly represented. @garymotteram pointed out that drug trials are still only cases studies, even if they involve 1000s. All research is in the end a single case, so we build on case law, as it were.

Validity and reliability
@Marisa_C posed the question: When can research be considered to have some reliable and valid results?  Is that possible in teaching? prompting these responses:

  • @hartle It’s difficult to have valid results that can apply to all learners but it’s important to have valid questions
  • @ozsolmaz Proper sampling of population, a suitable research method and correct analysis of the data will increase reliability and validity
  • @JoHart felt that validity and reliability through a sufficient sample and repeatability was ‘easier’ in quantitative studies, or that the use of statistics placed a higher value on this.
  • @ddeubel pointed out that qualitative research and ethnography also allow for statistical analysis and repeatability.

An unanswered question was @pjgallantry’s How does one do objective analysis of student performance/improvement in ELT/languages? Or How can one compare ‘success’ of one methodology/approach over another?

So, if teachers want to do research (academic or action research) where should they start?

  • You need to have a valid research question or a problem.
  • Best place to start is in the classroom.
  • Background reading and discussion helps too.
  • Reading should be dictated by the issue(s) from your classroom that you choose to focus on.

Another unanswered question: What sort of questions and methodologies do you suggest for language teachers?

When doing (action) research, how do you go about collecting data?

  • surveys
  • survey for quantitative data and interview for qualitative data (mixed-methods research)
  • prefer the use of journals and portfolios to questionnaires, the answers on questionnaires depend on so many variables Plus questionnaires are more likely to ‘direct’ the respondents to particular answers

@barbsaka let us know that The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) offers small grants for teachers who want to conduct research to encourage classroom teachers – http://jalt.org/researchgrants .  She also shared that #JALT members interested in research (and collaboration) have created a group to support each other: http://mashcollaboration.com/

Joining a professional organisation like IATEFL or JALT can help get you started with research and you can meet like-minded people. Conferences like IATEFL are also good places to share action based research and publish the papers afterwards.

…and how can they disseminate their findings well?
There was general  consensus that #ELTchat was a great way to disseminate findings! @Marisa_C: suggested we can start our own page for publishing teacher research which drew lots of support and suggestions it could be used also for cooperative research.  Another suggestion was a wiki on possible research topics/questions.

In the time I’ve been on Twitter and following #ELTchat I’ve seen that it can be used as a way of sharing our own research, asking for suggestions for research topics, finding gaps in the research literature, for finding participants in surveys,etc.

There was general consensus on the importance of sharing results of research
…even if the research isn’t ‘successful, after all reflecting on why something ‘failed’ is often as useful as reporting on success

Journals
There was also a discussion on the lag time to publish in research journals, that they take a long time to reply to authors and to publish.  Chatters thought that this could be attributed to the volume of submissions and the fact that reviewers/editors, etc probably have several other jobs and projects as well. Another comment re journal reviewers was about the varying opinions.
Someone commented that many journals are still based on a highly “academic” research paradigm, though @garymotteram said that most of the journals he read include articles that involve teachers report their research, few are highly academic.

Check the list of journals at the end of the summary for some of the suggestions of where to publish.

@esolcourses felt that many teacher development books these days (such as DELTA series) are much more readable/accessible.

Blogs
@JoHart asked “Do we need to “publish”? We blog, we present, we share – the only reason to publish is if we need for qualifications.  And @seburnt added that With all the blogs now, I pay little attention to journals anymore.

While it was acknowledged that blogs are a good way to share classroom research, there was concern that    blogs aren’t peer-reviewed.  @CoffeeAddictMe pointed out that teachers’ peers read them and comment, though @seburnt wasn’t sure that would qualify them as scholarly advice.  😉

Teachers’ access to published Research results formed another major sub-topic, started off by @barbsaka’s comment that even if teachers don’t have means to conduct research, we all benefit from it.  She lamented that access is often limited if teachers aren’t at university.

Some participants felt that there was sufficient research available in free, open access journals on the Web, while others were frustrated with not having access to all the research they wanted because it is tied up in pay-for-access publications and they weren’t affiliated with a university.

@cioccas brought up an issue of access in Australia where  there is a ranking system for journals, which sways decisions about where to publish, at least for academics.

…and some ideas for distributing results of research amongst our colleagues…
@ozsolmaz we have a small blog for our department where some important (and free access) links are shared there. Great for students.

The sub-topic of Role of note-taking, researching tools in ELT wasn’t heavily subscribed, probably because everyone was passionately discussing all the other threads.
@garymotteram wasn’t sure you should worry about tools until you have thought about questions and methodologies. Tools come later.  However, @cherrymp offered up a couple of tips:

Suggested tools for sending research questionnaires online:
•    Google Docs http://docs.google.com can do polls for you
•    Survey Monkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/

And what kind of research do #ELTchatters want to read?
Research where teachers can see a direct classroom application, that could improve everyday classroom reality.

Journals mentioned:

And a couple of excellent lists of journals:

Other resources:
@cybraryman1‘s Research page

And, of course, there’s #ELTchat on Twitter or eltchat.com – as@rliberni says, I’ve learned a lot just here about thinking on grammar, dogme, methodology etc.

If this discussion was anything to go by, I think this is a subject that we’ll be revisiting again and again in #ELTchat.  There were many aspects participants wanted to delve deeper into and many unasnwered questions in this chat.

Finally, my apologies if I’ve left out any comments which might have been key to some of these discussions.  I started this summary with 22 pages, and couldn’t include everything.  I may have got some comments out of context or in the wrong thread, for that I also apologise.  This is my first summary and, while I found it fascinating trying to sort through the transcript and catch up on lots of the chat I’d missed, I was very pushed for time.  Fortunately, it’s all in the transcript, if you want to try to follow all of the discussion.

by Lesley Cioccas

@cioccas