TeachingEnglish
      Perspectives on UK ELT Research: some questions

      While we were compiling the Directory of UK ELT Research, 2005-08, some issues and concerns emerged for us which are discussed at greater length in the introductory section of the pdf version, under the heading ‘Perspectives on UK ELT research’. We thought that it would be good to summarise some of the main points here, in the form of a set of questions which might lead to fruitful discussion.
      You will see that the Directory in its present state is dominated by contributions from university departments.  This need not have been the case since we spread our net to all types of ELT-active institution when we invited contributions. A related issue in our minds is whether or not all contributions have relevance to ELT practice. This gives rise to considerations such as:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


      • Who does ELT research? How do some people earn the right to consider themselves ELT researchers rather than simply applied linguists or teachers with classroom ideas to share? 

      • What exactly is ELT research? Is our restriction of this to research which ‘relates directly’ to the teaching, learning or assessment of English as a Foreign, Second or Additional Language’ too narrow? We suspect that it could be viewed as such.

      • In other words, do we have the right kinds of entry in the Directory?

      • To what extent is it useful/feasible to conceive of ‘ELT research’ as a distinct field of inquiry?

      We restricted the trawl to people affiliated with UK-based institutions. This geographical focus led us to pose the following questions in our Introduction:
       

      • Is UK ELT research distinctive from other countries' ELT research? If it is, in what ways? If not, then what does this signify?

      • What ELT research ‘should’ be carried out which is not represented in the Directory? Do particular kinds of research predominate at the expense of others? While our role was not to judge the contributions to the Directory, we did suggest a need for more critical research in relation to ELT, and highlighted both the predominance of research into testing and the relative absence of practitioner research. We are looking forward to hearing others’ opinions about the kinds of research that are predominant or relatively lacking.

      • Does the British Council have a role to play (as in the past) in relation to UK ELT research? If so, should its role be simply to publicise research that is already going on, to ‘tap into’ such research in some way, and/or to stimulate and originate?

      • How should we conceive of impact and ‘quality’ in ELT research? Bearing in mind recent controversial HEFCE statements that, in future, assessments of the worth of UK academic departments' research may include up to 25% for ‘impact’, how do the contents entered for 2005–2008 seem to measure up in this area? Additionally, how should ‘quality’ be measured in ELT research?

      • What is the actual quality as well as relevance and impact of UK ELT research?

      We hope you agree that it is timely to discuss the nature of ELT research, its relevance to practitioners and policy-makers, and the emphases, quality and impact of work currently being carried out. We now look forward to your responses (please use the 'Add new comment' facility below) – which will help to further consolidate the field of ELT research as well as improve data collection procedures for future planned editions of the Directory.
      Richard Smith & Shelagh Rixon
      Back to Directory of UK ELT Research 2005-08

      Average: 4.1 (7 votes)

      Comments

      Dario Banegas's picture
      Dario Banegas
      Submitted on 8 February, 2010 - 11:38

      Hi Shelagh & Richard,
      Here are my not-very-much-thought thoughts. Apologies.

    • Is UK ELT research distinctive from other countries' ELT research? I agree with you on the fact that it's not that distinctive as a whole. However, what IS distinctive is the research conditions we may find in the UK. For example, I'm currently designing the official curriculum to introduce English in the primary level of the province of Chubut. It's very hard for me to have access to journal and recent publications or discuss the state-of-the-art when it comes to teaching English to young learners. Also, as a teacher, I'm doing 'research' a la Patagonia, that means, together with other teachers we're getting involved into Action Research but we lack the access to academic resources so that we build a strong theoretical framework which says something NEW about the issue in focus.

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    • What ELT research ‘should’ be carried out which is not represented in the Directory? Do particular kinds of research predominate at the expense of others? Perhaps, there is a predominance of studies carried out at university level. I mean, I've found interesting research findings but generally related to a university/ESL/EAP/private sector rather than the EFL state school matrix.

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    • Does the British Council have a role to play (as in the past) in relation to UK ELT research? I'm thinking that it could use opportunities such as TKT Projects, Primary English, or Connecting Classrooms (at least these two projects are being carried out in my context) to collect data and promote the write-up of findings, implications, and conclusions. Though what I'm thinking now is whether we concieve ELT research as the result of what is ONLY or MOSTLY published in UK/USA/Can/Eur indexed journals. There must be worthy ELT research which, for a number of reasons, is not reflected in the big journals, so to speak.

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    • How should we conceive of impact and ‘quality’ in ELT research? Hmm...I'll think about this one, though maybe there should be a network which tells us about experiences based on implications and findings and how they have worked in different contexts or ask ELT people (everyone!!) to share replications, adaptations, challenges in a more-friendly way, say a blog, a forum...

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    • What is the actual quality as well as relevance and impact of UK ELT research? Misterio...
    • Scott Thornbury's picture
      Scott Thornbury
      Submitted on 7 December, 2010 - 13:10

      Who does ELT research? How do some people earn the right to consider themselves ELT researchers rather than simply applied linguists or teachers with classroom ideas to share?
      This is a question that bears very much on my own situation, and (anticipating the next question) requires a distinction, I feel, between empirical research and what might be called ‘library research’, i.e. the kind which involves sifting through existing research studies in order to extract practical implications for practitioners.  I'm not even sure if this qualifies as research, but I do think there is an important role for those who interpret research, as well as for those who do it.  Most practitioners complain (rightly or wrongly) that they don’t have the time either to do research or even to read the results of the research that others have done.  The Directory of UK ELT Research fulfils a need, both for these hard-pressed practitioners, and also for those, like me, who are attempting to ‘broadcast’ research findings to a wider public (even if only through the lens of our particular interests and obsessions!).
      What exactly is ELT research? Is our restriction of this to research which ‘relates directly’ to the teaching, learning or assessment of English as a Foreign, Second or Additional Language’ too narrow? We suspect that it could be viewed as such.
      I am comfortable with this definition, assuming it also incorporates linguistic research, in so far as this might relate to language teaching – I'm thinking of corpus-based studies for example.  Obviously, a distinction can be made between research that is central and that which is peripheral.  In the end, it's the user who will decide, but, again, a directory such as this is invaluable in terms of providing a map of the terrain.
      In other words, do we have the right kinds of entry in the Directory?
      I think so, and what I particularly like is the section on doctoral theses – information about which is incredibly hard to track down, unless you know lots of people in lots of universities.
      To what extent is it useful/feasible to conceive of ‘ELT research’ as a distinct field of inquiry?
      Clearly there is an overlap between ELT research and research into language learning in general, both other languages, and first language learning.  So it will never be a distinct field of enquiry, in my opinion, but it will be a valid one, so long as so many people are still involved in ELT teaching, teacher training, materials writing, assessment, curriculum design etc.

      Richard_Smith's picture
      Richard_Smith (not verified)
      Submitted on 7 December, 2010 - 14:17

      Thank you very much for your responses to our questions, Scott. I personally feel that (to quote you) "what might be called ‘library research’, i.e. the kind which involves sifting through existing research studies in order to extract practical implications for practitioners" should count as research, and that there is a very important role for those who mediate research, as well as for those who do it  - well, in fact, I would say that the latter (mediating others' research) is doing (library) research!! Certainly, we kept a broad definition for the Directory (a point picked up by Keith Johnson,  who expresses a different view from me in his comments in another blog-posting here).
      However, unfortunately (from my point of view!), our activity in compiling the Directory and hopefully thereby making at least some research more accessible to practitioners probably doesn't count as research in the current climate in the academy, just as - shame to say - your books might not, though they are very well-researched. Tony Wright's comment in another blog-posting here is interesting - he describes academics as being 'boot-strapped' (to the particular / peculiar form of research assessment they're subjected to) these days, and Shelagh and I write a bit about this kind of pressure in our Introduction to the Directory. My personal viewpoint is that applied linguistics isn't 'applied' if it isn't centrally concerned with mediating between practice and theory/research. I'll leave it to others to comment on whether there's enough of this kind of mediation being done from within present-day 'academic' applied linguistics.
      I can see that you've been facilitating a very lively discussion about research on your own blog, referring to the Directory -
      http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/r-is-for-research/
      Thank you very much for that, too - I think you facilitating that kind of discussion and us linking across between respective websites like this is a good kind of bridge - between the concerns of thinking practictioners and relatively 'academic' researchers - good applied linguistic activity, in other words, even if under-rated in the academy!