My doctoral research on English Language Teaching (ELT) consists of three overlapping foci. From the simplest to the more complex, these are: understanding how and why ELT in Greece differs from mainstream ELT, exploring the ways in which global forces, local sensitivities and power impact the way languages are taught, and finding ways to use complex systems theory in order to make sense of ELT in a post-modern setting. These foci are described and exemplified with sample papers below, and following that there is also a section outlining other interests which are (at best) tangential to my doctoral research.
I. Exploring ELT in Greece
Something I personally find intriguing is that, despite the stong pressures of globalisation, ELT theory and practice in Greece retains a distinctive local character, which I sometimes call the ‘Local Paradigm’ (or Transmissive Paradigm). The local paradigm is quite discernible in the content of courses, the methods of instruction and the goals of language learning. I have summarised these differences in the key words ‘What?’, ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’, which form the main axes of the conceptual framework I am developing in order to describe local pedagogy. An example of my early thinking on this topic can be found in this paper, which summarises the findings of my pilot study at a language school in Greece:
Kostoulas, A. (2010). ‘Between paradigms: a case study of a language school in Greece.’ In Georgogiannis, P. and Baros, V. (eds.) Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Intercultural Education, Immigration, Conflict Management and Pedagogy for Democracy. (pp. 401-411). Patras, Greece: University of Patras Centre for Research on Intercultural Education.
A more refined version of how I conceptualise local pedagogy was presented at the 2011 BAAL Language Learning and Teaching SiG Conference:
Kostoulas, A. (2011, July). From local pedagogy and global influences towards eclectic practice. Paper presented at the 7th BAAL Language Learning and Teaching Special Interest Group Conference“Theorising practice and practising theory: developing local pedagogies in language teaching”, hosted by Aston University, Birmingham, UK.
In this presentation, Greek ELT is described as a synthesis of local pedagogical traditions and global influences, and it is suggested that the reflective and purposive negotiation of these competing forces can lead to the emergence of eclectic practice.
II. Understanding global and local influences
Obviously, the local pedagogy in Greece does not exist in a vacuum, so there is a constant interaction with the global setting in which it is embedded. This interaction is typified by a power imbalance, which takes the form of the importation into Greek ELT of materials and methods which were developed in the English Speaking West. I sometimes use the term Dominant Paradigm (or Global, or Communicative Paradigm) to refer to these influences from mainstream ELT. The influence of the Dominant Paradigm is discussed in the following presentation with particular reference to the question of cultural input. In the presentation, I draw on the concept of hegemony, and argue that the uncritical use of foreign cultural images, which is presented under the innocuous guise of ‘multicultural awareness’ constitutes a form of cultural imperialism.
Kostoulas, A. (2011). ‘Τα Αγγλικά υπό το πρίσμα της πολυπολιτισμικότητας: κριτική επισκόπηση των εγχειριδίων Αγγλικής γλώσσας στο Γυμνάσιο’. [English under the multicultural lens: a critical analysis of the EFL textbooks used in secondary education]. In Georgogiannis, P. (ed.) Intercultural education, immigration and Greek as a second or foreign language. Vol. B. (pp. 457-470). Patras, Greece: University of Patras Centre for Research on Intercultural Education.
However, and interestingly, such influences are neither monolithic nor absolutely deterministic. In my research, I am trying to develop a nuanced understanding of how the Dominant and Local paradigms interact, and what the outcome of this interaction is. The following conference presentation is an example of an attempt at studying the interaction of the two paradigms, with particular reference to the question of the target language variety. The presentation also introduces the concept of methodological tension, to describe the uneasy co-existance of incompatible influences.
Kostoulas, A. (2011) ‘Said attitudes and unsaid practices in English language teaching’. In Panajoti, A. (ed.) The Said and the Unsaid: Papers on Language, Literature and Cultural Studies (pp. 151-159). Vlorë, Albania: University of Vlora “Ismail Qemali”.
An extended version of this presentation, which elaborates on the concept of English as a Lingua Franca, has been published in the inaugural issue of in Esse, a language journal focusing on English Studies. The full reference is:
Kostoulas, A. (2011). English as a Lingua Franca & methodological tension in a language school in Greece. in esse 1(1), 91-112.
III. Applying complexity thinking to ELT
In trying to make sense of all the above, I have become increasingly conscious that traditional epistemological tools were not helpful for my purposes. To begin with, the various influences that impact ELT in my research setting seem too interconnected to discern and study in isolation from each other and from their context. More importantly, it seems that although the shaping influences are broadly similar in different research settings, the outcome of their interaction is, at times, strikingly different. I am indebted to Dr Juup Stelma for introducing me to Complex Systems Theory, an epistemological alternative which -I believe- has greater descriptive power and is better suited to the dynamical nature of ELT. Consequently, one of the main aims of my research is to develop a conceptual model of ELT that exploits the offerings of complexity. My earliest attempt at applying Complex Systems Theory on a TESOL setting was in my MA thesis:
For this study, I created a small-scale conceptual model referring to the production of ELT courseware. The model synthesised into a complex system various influences, such as methodological imperatives in the mainstream ELT literature, the preferences of ELT practitioners and and the beliefs of publishers, and traced instances of tension or harmony among them.I believe that ELT as practiced in Greece can be most usefully described as a complex system, and I put such a description forward in the following conference:
In this presentation, I describe eclectic pedagogy as the outcome of the interaction between various shaping influences, and discuss how Complex Systems Theory can help to retroactively explain this process of emergence.
Other research interests
Along with many people in the LTE group, I have developed an interest in the concept of reflexivity, which can roughly be described as the reciprocal shaping influences that develop between researchers and their research. I have tried to impose some structure on my reflexivity thinking in this blog post, which loosely draws on Activity Theory. I am currently trying to find ways to bring reflexivity to bear on my research.I also have a personal interest in Co-operative Development, a pathway of professional development put forward by Julian Edge. In a nutshell, Co-operative Development relies on non-judgmental discourse between a Speaker and an Understander, which leads to the Speakers developing enhanced awareness of their practice. I believe that parallels can be drawn between this type of discourse and the interaction between a research participant and an interviewer. It must follow that research activity that observes the principles of Co-operative Development can have a positive impact on participants. A summary of my thinking on the topic, and Julian’s reaction to this, can be found here.
Outside TESOL, I have taken an interest in diverse topics ranging from Philosophy and Autistic Spectrum Disorders to Military History. In the past, I have worked with the Research Centre for Modern Greek Philosophy, in a project aiming to increase outreach and the impact of their work. There I developed an interest in the Modern Greek Enlightenmnent, and the ways in which ideas derived from the Englightenment were synthesised into Greek scholastic thinking. As I am writing these lines, I am struck by the parallels to my current work. I can not claim the same for my interest in Military History, which did however lead to a publication in the somewhat selective refereed journal of the Hellenic Army General Staff: