TeachingEnglish
Comments on the Directory from prominent academics and ELT professionals

Apart from responses to our specific questions below from Scott Thornbury and others, we have received comments on the Directory which we will list here from Simon Borg, Ron Carter, Adrian Holliday, Keith Johnson, Richard Kiely, Jenny Pugsley and Tony Wright. You are welcome to respond to any of these opinions or add a new opinion of your own using the Add new comment facility!

Simon Borg, Reader in TESOL, University of Leeds
I will certainly make my students aware of the Directory as an additional resource to consult when they are doing a literature review, as it can highlight book chapters, reports and theses which may not appear in other databases.  I suspect that the electronic version will be the most useful for users given its search facilities. In terms of future updates, again I would suspect that the electronic formats are the way forward – both the searchable database and the downloadable PDF.

Ron Carter, Professor of English Studies, University of Nottingham
I can say that the Directory has been very valuable for us.  Internally and within the university here, it has been of considerable value to the ELT group in demonstrating the extent of our research and postgraduate completions. Externally, it showcases UK research, especially the range and variety of projects in so many different institutions. It helps attract even more international interest, resulting in more outward-facing projects and inward flow of students that is of real value to the UK economy.  I don't think we stress enough how valuable this sector is to the UK, and the Directory plays a vital part in helping us all to do so.

Adrian Holliday, Professor of Applied Linguistics, Canterbury Christ Church University
I find the Directory of UK ELT Research very worthwhile. Everyone in my department got one and it was commented on favourably. I don't believe there is anything else of its kind and I would recommend updates. This may be made easier by making use of institutional repositories which I think are being set up in a number of places in preparation for the REF [the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Excellence Framework].

Keith Johnson, Professor Emeritus, Lancaster University
This Directory represents a huge amount of work on the part of the compilers, who deserve to be thanked for their efforts, which are truly of great use to the ELT community. As they themselves state, no comparable directory exists for ELT-related research, and they have gone a long way to plug this gap. Given the amount of interest there is world-wide in ELT research, and the important role which UK research plays in it, this gap is indeed lamentable.

The printed version of the book is of value, but the real value of the Directory comes in the online version, because it is searchable. Hence someone who wants to find out what research has been done on a particular topic can search under descriptor, while information about work being done in a particular institution is also available by searching under institution.

Now that the framework has been developed for the Directory, it is very much to be hoped that it can be updated in the future, so that it can continue to fulfil the undoubtedly important role that it has.

Three minor issues spring to mind. One is how the printed version is organized. It would be interesting to seek user views about how this version might best be presented. My own preference might have been for organization according to descriptor (though there will doubtless be problems with that which only come to light when one actually tries to do it). This is of course not an issue for the online version, which (as noted above) has the huge advantage of being searchable along various parameters.

Another issue is what counts as research. The compilers have followed a modified version of the Higher Education Funding Council’s RAE [Research Assessment Exercise] definition, and this includes ‘scholarship’ (as defined on p. 3 of the printed version).  Perhaps there is an issue as to whether such a broad definition is most appropriate for this Directory. Many will think that it is, although some might wish for a slightly narrower definition that does not include (for instance) state-of-the-art reviews – which, as I recall, did not in fact hold much weight in RAE deliberations. It would again be useful to seek user reactions.

I imagine that if the Directory goes into further editions (as one hopes it will), it would be interesting to see whether new descriptors need adding – possibly the case since the foci of interest in research are constantly changing over time.

Congratulations to the compilers. I very much hope further editions do appear.

Richard Kiely, Head, Centre for International Language Teacher Education (CILTE), University College Plymouth St. Mark & St. John
The Directory is particularly useful in mapping research done in an interdisciplinary area such as ELT. Thus, it brings together work and publications which might be labelled as Applied Linguistics, English or Education, but which are complementary resources for any ELT researcher. Such a Directory might be drawn on by assessors in the Research Evaluation Framework process, providing a useful overview within which contributions can be better understood. It draws together all the knowledge-building which is in the public domain – books, journals, research dissertations, and project and research reports. With the British Council leading this initiative, there is every chance that all stakeholders will invest the time required to ensure that it is comprehensive.

Another area of important contribution is as a directory of doctoral dissertations. Currently these can be accessed through the British Library, but searching in the different discipline areas is difficult. In this directory, the geographical context of studies is easily determined, and this can constitute a valuable start for the novice researcher. The ability to locate previous doctoral dissertation allows building on previous work which may not have been published separately from the dissertation.

Finally, the Directory can be an excellent antidote to the league tables which increasingly determine the choices of prospective doctoral students. It enables them to identify those centres which have a strong record in doctoral research provision in ELT fields. The focus on ELT can then be examined further by consulting the returns in the last RAE [Research Assessment Exercise] of the departments and academics profiled.

Jenny Pugsley, Head of TESOL, Trinity College London
This is an extremely well-structured and authoritative Directory, as one would expect from the two editors concerned, offering what appears to be a comprehensive, informative and accessible compilation of research information, invaluable both for directing readers towards those people and institutions working in areas of specific interest to us, and giving readers a broad overview of the kind of issues that are being taken up by researchers in the UK and internationally with UK institutions.  We are free to reach our own conclusions as to how far the areas researched are in fact of short- and medium-term interest to teachers, trainers, examination boards, publishers and other English language professionals who have daily to take difficult decisions affecting the English teaching profession and industry, and the fate of their students.  The section on pages 10 and 11 reviewing the history of ELT with, and through, the British Council, in particular during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s is to be welcomed for its insight and frankness, and will strike a familiar chord with the many who were involved at the time.  The editors have wisely adopted a reasonably wide definition of their topic (ELT research) in recognition of how interrelated are different disciplines – e.g. English language teaching and other language teaching -  and how, I suggest, the learning and teaching of English may be freed to some extent from their imperialist legacy, as it is sometimes perceived, by being firmly situated within the wider domain of language study as well as applied linguistics – when appropriate.

Tony Wright, Senior Teaching Fellow (TESOL), University of Exeter
Unfortunately the Directory came out too late to assist me with my review for the journal Language Teaching of initial teacher education research. It would have opened up one or two paths which were not available in the more mainstream journals, and also, crucially, I believe, would have opened up access to some unpublished PRACTITIONER-led work.

A potential difficulty: Too much of the UK ELT research oeuvre is UK university-based (inevitably), and therefore not necessarily representative of what happens in the field (classroom, training room etc.) worldwide. I'd make it a priority if the project were to continue to find a way of trawling for this sort of material. What the first Directory shows is the influence of RAE [Research Assessment Exercise], and the bootstrapped efforts of individuals and departments. We talk a lot about 'action research' (and analogue activities), but ELT practitioners (teachers in schools) don't typically work in the UK, rather contexts which are often not warm to teacher research of any type. I am sure a lot appears in various teachers' association newsletters and so on, but is it 'UK'? EFL in the private sector does not seem to be engaged with 'research' either. So any future Directory is likely to be representative of the HE [Higher Education] sector. Can the next Directory be made more international?

There is relatively little funded ELT research in the UK, which is another problem.

The Directory is well set out, easy to access on the whole, and valuable as a source for people like myself teaching at Masters and Doctoral level. Whether it's helpful for people outside UK HE is another matter. Only they can say!

Average: 5 (5 votes)

Comments

Graeme's picture
Graeme

One way of addressing the important point raised by Tony Wright above would be to include more abstracts from those concluding research degrees (MA or PhD) at a distance, i.e. international students taking Distance courses at UK universities.In my very scarce free time outside the British Council, I am a dissertation supervisor for the University of Birmingham Distance MA in Applied Linguistics (and my wife also tutors several modules on the course). The range and diversity of students and their teaching contexts is fantastic. I have supervised classroom-based research from Turkey, Korea, Japan, Jamaica, Greece, Germany, several African and Middle-Eastern countries as well as Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.
This diversity can only add to the relevance and replicability of research conducted under the auspices of UK universities and should feature in future updates of the database.
G.

Richard_Smith's picture
Richard_Smith

To extend your point, Graeme, and to further respond to Tony Wright's comment,  I'd say there is quite a lot of research going on in relation to non-UK ELT contexts which is supported by UK universities - but this research tends to be above all doctoral research, carried out mainly by international students - whether full-time or part-time/distance learners.If you access the database and do a 'Refined search' selecting the 'Type' button and choosing 'doctoral thesis' from the drop-down menu you'll see what I mean (this will provide a list of doctoral theses completed in the years 2005 to 2008). In fact one thing that struck me when we were compiling the directory was the very high proportion of doctoral research into ELT which is carried out in UK universities by non-UK students, into their own home contexts. To check what doctoral theses have been entered by a particular university you can continue your 'Refined search' and this time select the 'Entered by' button and choose the university you're interested in within the drop-down menu. Birmingham did enter quite a few doctoral theses. If you - or any other doctoral supervisors, at any institution - feel your return doesn't provide a full enough picture of work actually going on then I'd encourage you to share this view with others in your institution so that the next, imminent return (for 2009-10) can be more complete. I hope, like you I think, that more universities will enter summaries as well as titles of theses next time round. Finally, I think it's worth pointing out that the rich resource represented by the doctoral theses listed is more accessible than many people imagine. In the majority of cases it's no longer necessary to go to the university concerned to read a particular thesis - many have already been made available, and many more are being made freely available online. As far as I understand, anyone, anywhere can go to the British Library's 'Ethos' pages to access or order a PDF of a particular thesis they're interested in: ethos.bl.uk