TESOL International recently published their 2014 research agenda, a document that aims to summarise salient theoretical developments and gaps in the profession’s collective knowledge, and provide guidance for new research projects.
In the document, three main domains of research are defined: (a) research on individuals engaged in language teaching and learning, (b) research on learning communities, such as classrooms, schools, or online networks, and (c) research on societal change as it relates to language learning and teaching.
Each of these domains, it is argued, are impacted by developments on three fronts. First, recent years have seen theoretical developments in our understanding of language, including recent views of language as “a continually emerging, socially mediated, and self-organizing resource for identity construction and interaction” (p. 8). Secondly, there has been increasing interest in the way technology can be used to support and assess learning. Finally, research has tended to be concerned with teacher agency. For many teaching practitioners, research is conceptualised “as not only answering questions about what to do but also helping to improve the ways they develop professionally” (as above). The connections between the three domains of research and the three developments are visually represented here (clicking on each domain will pull up a number of example research questions).
While this agenda seems, in some ways, rather conservative, it does seem to contain some early indications of a paradigm shift in language education. In my PhD thesis, I developed a framework for describing language education, which consisted of three aspects and three paradigms. This is presented below, in a slightly modified form:
Reproduction of status quo
Inclusive Target Language definition
Awareness of diversity
Dynamic conceptualisations of language
Resistance of hegemony
Table 1 – A theoretical framework for describing language education (based on Kostoulas 2014)
Using this framework, it would seem that the TESOL agenda aligns with critical conceptualisations of content, and -in addition- the research aims concerningagency seem to point towards the critical position of Resistance. It remains to be seen how the research aims outlined in the agenda will be implemented, and what impact they will have on the profession, but I have a definite sense that times are indeed a-changing.
Another point of interest in the publication is the section on Research Ethics, which lists a number of questions that researchers need to be aware of, before, during and after their research (p. 6). I’ve copied these below (keeping the US spelling conventions of the original):
- Who will benefit and how from the proposed research? Is this just?
- What are potential risks from this research?
- Has everything been done to minimize potential risks, especially to vulnerable populations?
- Do the benefits warrant any risks associated with the proposed research?
- What guidelines for ethical research already exist?
- Do research participants understand the goals of the research and what is required of them?
- Are they participating willingly and with full understanding of the research’s purpose and their own rights?
- Have I minimized factors that might coerce them to participate?
- What impact is participation having on those involved in the research?
- Are any unexpected consequences occurring?
- Are the interests and needs of the participants being prioritized over the goals of the research?
- Are the findings of the research being disseminated in a way that most benefits society and the participants?
- Is the confidentiality and security of data from the project being adequately monitored?
- Are the interpretations and uses of research findings by others being monitored for appropriateness?
The publication also contains a list of references to other research ethics codes drafted by other scholarly societies (e.g., AERA, BAAL) which may be of interest to researchers (p.22). In light of the casual disregard of ethics that I have sometimes encountered, I think that such publications are useful reminders of how to conduct research responsibly.
The research agenda is a fairly concise document (22 pages, including front matter and appendices), and I strongly recommend that it is read by anyone who has an interest in language education research. To download the document in .pdf form, click on the link below:
Featured image by The Leaf Project @ Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)