Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
Visit ELTBOOKS - all Western ELT Books with 20% discount (Japan only)

Editorial

I’ve been reading Writing for Scholarly Publication: Behind the Scenes in Language Education, and have been struck by the number of established scholars in the book who share their initial reticence and apprehension regarding the task of academic publishing. Out of the 14 chapters I’ve read so far, only one of the writers shares how he feels empowered, and not disempowered, when seeking publication. Without exception the others share the obstacles they had to overcome, internal and external, in their initial efforts toward scholarly publication. Several even voice their continuing sense of insecurity regarding the practice.

Perhaps part of the story is explained by the fact that the 13 authors who express insecurity are representative of groups that are traditionally underrepresented in academia. They are female, Asian, immigrant, non-traditional, or a combination of several of those. The one writer who doesn’t express a sense of disempowerment is American, male, and white.

I think this says quite a bit about where academia was, where it is, and where it is going. It’s unquestionable that access to academic discourse in the past has been restricted to an arbitrary few, and that those few who benefited (and still benefit) from that privilege take the relative ease of their access for granted. But it’s also true that recently the demographics of those with access to publishing has shifted considerably. It is now much more representative of the authors featured in Writing for Scholarly Publication; there are many more women, minorities, and nontraditional students in academia now.

One thing I still feel is missing, though, is that the dissemination of knowledge remains represented by a central source shining outward rather than an interwoven net. Western countries’ journals tend to hold more clout, and the interests and evaluations of their editors and reviewers hold sway over researcher access to their pages, and thus to the legitimacy those journals embody.

While this bothers me in general on several levels, with respect to language teaching in particular, I feel that many of the researchers who tend to have their papers published in major journals are distanced from the classroom, exploring issues of only vague pedagogical relevance to teachers in language classrooms. This lack of a practical perspective in many cases hurts the field in general, because language teachers feel the journals in the field are too distant from their contexts to be of relevance to them.

One way I’ve tried to shift the balance from theoretical to practical is to encourage teachers to publish research they’ve conducted that’s relevant to them and their context. It’s something I believe in so strongly I’ve included a full scholarship for one participant in the online course I teach, MASH Academic Publishing, in the belief that participants, regardless of income, should have access to the course and the benefits it may offer in helping to have their voice heard. My main objective in the course is to make the occluded process of academic publication transparent for those seeking entry into that world.



« Teaching and Learning: It's all about the People | Main | The Good Teacher »

Comments

Sounds like an interesting book, Theron. I've read through your editorial a few times, trying to get a handle on your main point. It feels like there are a couple(please correct me if I'm wrong):

--Even though there are more women and minorities in academia, relatively few publish in academic journals. By academia, are you talking about university level instructors, or all teachers?

--Those who do publish (in education, anyway) have lost their connection with the classroom (if they ever had one) and therefore their research is less than useful for teachers in the field.

Is that about right?

If so, do you think the solution is to "train" regular teachers to conduct research and write academically? (of course, somehow finding access to funding for their research, as well)

Or, do you think academic journals should publish more "practical" articles as opposed to theoretical research?

What a wonderful idea to offer a scholarship--is your course aimed at university teachers, or do you think teachers at secondary or lower levels would benefit as well?

Thanks for sharing information about this!

I have that book, too, Theron. I loved the chapters that I read for research on my MA dissertation. What struck me the most was how normal these researchers were - just regular people willing to put in the time and effort to add something to the literature in their field.

I realized that as a teacher I have access to data every single day that I enter my classroom. It is simply a matter of finding a question to ask, and then finding the right way to measure what's happening. Those can be big puzzles to solve, but I never feel like I'm on my own because of our network of friends and colleagues online and in person.

In answer to Barbara's comment/question, I think any teacher can become a teacher/researcher in just about any context. If you're interested, but don't know where to begin, just ask. I'm sure you'd be surprised how many people may answer.

This post raises more questions than it answers, as usual! Some factors, I think, which are also changing the nature of 'academic publishing' or what is seen to be academically valid:

The ability to self-publish and share with a peer-group or the world, including receiving feedback before submitting...

The increase in less formal, but still valid, reflections or thoughts which many are publishing in blogs such as this...

The increase of personal and professional development networks online, which allow for a wider (less-specialized) audience than a journal readership...

And, perhaps, a general lessening of 'formality' in interactions or dialogues between 'academics' and 'the public' which may make academic writing seem more and more anachronistic.

I would have to conduct some research and publish my findings on these hypotheses, of course!

Thanks for the ongoing interest in my post! It's good to know that there are readers out there. I'll take this space to reply directly to Barbara's questions, although Steve and Colin have already partially answered at least some of them.

Barbara asked:
Question 1:
--Even though there are more women and minorities in academia, relatively few publish in academic journals. By academia, are you talking about university level instructors, or all teachers?
Me: By academia I mean anyone who would like to consider themselves part of the dialog. While I work part-time for universities and colleges, I don’t have any affiliation with a university myself, but I still consider myself an academic in the sense that I’m part of the dialog, albeit from a peripheral point of view. Regarding the issue of access, this was a really difficult message to try to convey in 500 words; I wanted to say access to traditional sources of academia, such as universities, has become more open to women and minorities, but there remains a divide between the haves, typically represented by universities in the US and UK, and the have-nots, typically universities outside of traditional centers of power and influence, such as a university in Bangladesh or Nepal. So the women and minorities at major US universities are publishing, which is great, but access to the dialog is still largely restricted to those who are at those major universities and have access to their libraries and resources. As an example, in June the University of Birmingham held an on-campus lecture and workshop where PhD students, faculty, and staff could meet with a publishing industry representative to discuss how to have their researches published. This is the kind of advantage that researchers have when based on-campus versus being based in the mountains of Nagano (where I am).

Question 2:
--Those who do publish (in education, anyway) have lost their connection with the classroom (if they ever had one) and therefore their research is less than useful for teachers in the field. Is that about right?
Me: I would add “tend to” to those statements. So my suggestion would be: Those who do publish (in education, anyway) tend to have lost their connection with the classroom (if they ever had one) and therefore their research tends to be less than useful for practicing teachers.

Barbara: If so, do you think the solution is to "train" regular teachers to conduct research and write academically? (of course, somehow finding access to funding for their research, as well)
Me: I’m really skeptical of the word “train,” although I use it on my own website to refer to the activities I do through teaching the MASH Academic Publishing Course, and it’s part of the title to one of the chapters in the upcoming edited book Innovating Teaching in Context: Asia that I’m working on with Steve, two other editors, and 20-some authors. I’m skeptical partly because of my background as someone from a medium-sized town in Kansas who grew up with (and is still friends with) real cowboys (rather than the Hollywood legends). They told me, and I still believe, an expert is someone from out of town wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. It’s one of the reasons I’m so reluctant to wear suits when I attend conferences; I don’t want to be mistaken for one of those experts.
As far as funding for research goes, the only funding I’ve ever received was the John Haycraft Classroom Exploration Scholarship, which I received in 2008 for research that I presented at IATEFL2009 in the UK. This lack of funding has meant that I’ve had to be creative about how I go about conducting my research. As an example, for the research I’m doing for the MASH Fluency book project (in the writing stage now), I’m comparing the number of words my students could write in a 10 minute free writing activity from the beginning of the semester and from the end of the semester. In the literature it’s been effectively argued that words per minute as a measure is inelegant and imprecise, but in my paper I intend to argue that the alternative measures that have been proposed, while they may be more nuanced in what they measure, require too much technical expertise to apply effectively, and therefore aren’t practical for the average teacher to use as instruments in their own contexts, a factor that should also be taken into account when designing research measurements.
Back to your question, I don’t think it’s a matter of training teachers so much as it’s a matter of writing blogs like this one and encouraging them to write their thoughts about their teaching somewhere that other teachers can see and respond to them, whether through academic venues or not.

Question 3:
Or, do you think academic journals should publish more "practical" articles as opposed to theoretical research?
The irony of academic journals is that they can only publish what they receive as submissions. So if the submissions they receive are from professional researchers exploring issues of importance to them, that’s what’s going to appear in print. If, however, more teachers submit ethnographic investigations of their classrooms and contexts that demonstrate a point of significance to the larger teaching community, then the kinds of papers journals print may change.
I should add here that I don’t consider ethnographic research to be less robust or easier to implement than statistical research, but I do feel that in many research journals those articles still represent a relative minority of the papers published.
My opinions on the applicability of statistical research to human behavior is a topic for another time and place.

Question 4:
What a wonderful idea to offer a scholarship--is your course aimed at university teachers, or do you think teachers at secondary or lower levels would benefit as well?
Thanks for the compliment! I thought it was a small way to give back. To answer your question, in our last course we had a participant who hadn’t completed and wasn’t enrolled in an MA program, two participants who were enrolled in an MA program, and three MA graduates. All of them had very nice things to say about the course, so I think that anyone with an interest in publishing their experiences of their classrooms would and could benefit. If they’re thinking about joining the course, I would recommend they take advantage of the free course Moodle access, running through September 15, to make sure that the activities would fit their interests. There are also two free introductory sessions, one August 5 and the other September 9, both of which, at the time of writing this, still have some space for more participants. Those can be pre-registered for on the MASH Academic Publishing website.

What did everyone thing of the "United Nations" event? I didn't see it but I hear it went well. What is your opinion?

Recent Entries

Recent Comments

Categories

Comments

Events

World Today