Inquiring

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Image courtesy of Dr. Marcus Gossler

Yesterday, I missed another valuable #EAPChat on Twitter due to my mixed-up schedule at the moment. I really feel I missed out on the discussion, but, thanks to the work of Tyson Seburn, I can always catch up with the summaries. The discussion was instigated by three questions:

  1. Should EAP practitioners also be researchers?
  2. How much does research play into your practice?
  3. What are your favourite sources for research reading?

It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself on the outside of that conversation thinking, “That’s for academics. I’ll leave the research to those who are smarter and more experienced than I am.” Sadly, that is the case for many people. Journal articles are often stuffed full of research data, supporting evidence, and are written in a very academic (sometimes even a bit pretentious) manner. Is that bad? Sometimes. I think that there are certain authors who try really hard to make themselves sound intelligent which often alienates those who need to read the article. Most of the time, the information that is presented is there to show that things have been thought through in a manner that filters out the poor suppositions and misinterpreted data. Leaving all of the raw data in the article gives readers the chance to critically analyze the information for themselves.

This is all great and wonderful, but who has time to read all of these articles and where do you find them? That was the issue that was raised during the context of the #EAPChat. A language teacher has a lot of roles to fill and very little time to fit in professional development. As a result, we need to prioritize what we are going to do with that time and articles often fall to the wayside. It isn’t that we don’t want to read them, it is that we have to spend time finding, reading, critically analyzing, comparing with other research, and applying it to our situations. That is a lot more than just sitting down and reading.

When I was in my MA program, I had to read a number of articles. I got in the habit of reading an article each week and I have tried to continue that practice. I haven’t always been successful, but I feel it is beneficial for my growth as a professional, so I attempt to make time for it. I thought I would share some of the ways I locate my articles. Not everyone has access to a university library journal database like I do, so I will share some of the websites I use to find free access articles.

Google Scholar: It’s the obvious first choice since it is most familiar to people. It is different than the regular Google web search in that is attempts to only locate academic material. My tips include:

  • limiting you search to recent articles. Do a search and then click on the times under ‘Any time’. I usually use ‘Since 2009’.
  • taking off the ‘include citations’ check at the bottom.
  • looking for HTML or PDF articles on the right side of the page. A major majority of those will be available publicly.
  • creating an alert by using the ‘Create alert’ link on the right side, near the bottom. This brings up a form. Fill in your email address, change the alert to ‘Show up to 20 results’, and click on ‘Create Alert’. You will now get an email alert letting you know of new articles that come up within those search parameters.

Microsoft Academic Search: This is similar to Google Scholar, but you can create RSS feeds based on search parameters. You can also search by DOI and on conference information. My tips include:

  • limiting your search to recent articles. Do a search and then use the dropdown menu on the right marked ‘any time’. Choose a year and your search results will update.
  • clicking on a title and bringing up the document information. Click on the DOI link under the summary to view the article.
  • subscribing to the RSS feed of your search by clicking on the ‘Subscribe’ button near the top of the search. This opens up the RSS feed in your feed reader.
  • choosing your area of research by clicking on the field names on the left.

DOAJ: This is the Directory of Open Access Journals. You can search or browse for journals by subject or you can do a search for articles. The articles are from lesser known journals, but some good content here as well. My tips include:

  • limiting your search to recent articles. Do a search and then choose a year from the right-hand side. You can also type in a year range.
  • clicking on ‘Fulltext’ under any title will bring up the article.
  • clicking on ‘Keywords’ will allow you to see the tags used for that article. You can click on any keyword and it will do a new search using that tag.
  • clicking on ‘No charges’ under ‘Publication Fee’ will limit your search to free articles.

JURN: This is a custom Google search that indexes 4,507 free journals and often finds things that Google Scholar misses. My tips include:

  • sorting your information by date by clicking on the ‘Sort’ button after doing a search and choosing ‘Date’. This puts the more recent articles at the top.
  • looking at the source by checking out the URL under the summary. This helps identify where it comes from.

JSTOR Register and Read program: JSTOR is a powerful journal database that is available to universities that pay for it. The problem is getting access as a individual. You can read all about their free ‘Register and Read’ program here. You don’t have access to everything and it limits how often / how much you can use it, but it is better than nothing.

So how do I look for articles? I tend to think about my day as I prepare lessons, teach, do administrative work, etc. and reflect on what components might be worth digging into a bit more. Sometimes I read a blog post or tweet and it triggers something for me. I do a search, find three or so articles, skim them / read the abstracts and conclusions to find if they are relevant, and then sit down and read through them with a notebook beside me. I take a few notes and then I try to think about how that might work in my context. Now, I have started blogging about those things to share with others and to get people’s feedback.

How would you answer the #EAPChat questions for yourself? Do you have favourite places to find articles? Please share your experience with us. We can learn together. Thanks

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5 thoughts on “Inquiring

  1. Hi Nathan

    I think this is a really important topic, and thanks for providing the list of ways to access journal articles. You mention many relevant points about teachers’ problems dealing with research articles, which after all, are often not written for practitioners, but have relevant implications. That’s where I believe teachers need to develop the capacity to cut through the “clutter” and find the kernels of the articles that speak to classroom practice. A good way, in my experience, is to do what you set out to do, and read an article a week. If you can do that with colleagues and have some discussion, all the better. I spent several years teaching in Asia where we had article discussion groups regularly at our school, but I also had some close colleagues with whom we had our own discussions (often facilitated with some cld beer 😉

    But to help cut through the clutter, readers need to have some appreciation for the different research approaches that are used, and what that means for generalising the findings. You speak of raw data, which suggests you’re thinking of statistics reported in quantitative research. There’s also all the qualitative research being done, too, in which it’s often the case that talk from the classroom is presented, or language from other texts analysed.

    I think what the ELT community needs is the development of a community of “research readers” in which the skills to read the variety of research reports available to us are developed through moderated discussions. At the open access English Australia Journal (http://www.englishaustralia.com.au/english-australia-journal), we’re planning something like this for 2014. I wonder if others might think about doing this in other contexts? Feel free to download articles from the journal and add to your weekly reading list. We have some good articles related to EAP there.

    Cheers

    Phil

    Disclosure: I am the editor of the English Australia Journal, though I do not receive any incentives for publicising the journal, apart from the satisfaction of having more teachers read the articles.

    1. Thank you very much, Phil. I think this is what I was thinking as well, only you were able to put it into words. I have to say that I struggled at first to find ways to get through all of the ‘clutter’ in research articles and I do find they are easier to understand now. I give the credit to my professors who helped us understand the importance of reading, processing, and discerning the information.

      I really like the idea of have a discussion group centred around research articles. It may sound dry on the surface, but I think it would actually be quite interesting. I will take some time to go through the English Australia Journal. I look forward to it!

      I have a colleague, Michael Burri, who just moved to Australia to work on his doctorate at Wollongong. I think you have already connected. He has always been encouraging me to do more and strive for something better. I appreciate that in a fellow educator.

      Thank you once again for your comment. I always appreciate learning from those who have more knowledge and experience than I do. I am thankful you take time on Twitter to connect with others in the ELT community. Your input is always welcome here, too.

  2. Hey Nathan – disclosure: I work with Phil and he put me onto this 🙂 I’ll share this post around as I also think it is an important topic and honestly find it astonishing that all this research is being done in the name of what we, as practitioners, actually do – and yet there is some sort of invisible divide between the practising teacher, coping with day to day realities, and the “ivory tower” researcher publishing in journals. One thing I’ve struggled with forever – and I admit this is purely a writing issue – is the seeming need of many “academic” writers to obfuscate and (essentially) mystify instead of clarify and illuminate. In fact it often seems readers have to be quite persistent and focused to get to the “kernels” of many articles, and I wonder if the mystification is sometimes a way to disguise the fact that there isn’t that much significant substance underneath it all. But then you can’t know this unless you engage with the research. Your idea of reading an article a week is great, and I love the tips. It would be great if more teachers would share those research gems or “things that make you go hmm” with the online community as they find them, so we can help each other sift the wheat from the chaff. We are connected these days as never before and I think/hope we are going to see much more blurring of the lines that divide us from developments in the field in the next few years. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sophia.

      I agree that there are some researchers who appear to hide the lack of substance under a pile of complex or ‘mystifying’ language. I think it is important for teachers to learn how to sort out the good from the poor research.

      Your point raises another issue that I have been concerned about for a while now. Most journals are written is such a way that those who are not native speakers of English will find it difficult or even impossible to comprehend. That is why I think it is imperative that those who can dig through and find the ‘kernals’ are able to share those is a more readable format. I love reading blog posts from other teachers who are able to curate relevant material on different topics and synthesize that information into readable and applicable language.

      Thank you for taking time to comment and to share this post. I appreciate your input and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

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