Researching

Blood_letting

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Imagine yourself living in the middle of the 17th century suffering from a migraine headache. What would you do? Go see a physician of course! What was the cure? Bloodletting was the standard response since the body was made up various humours and by draining some of the blood from the body, you were putting the various humours in balance (Ali Parapia, 2008). Fast-forward to today and this has been proven to be a rather dangerous practice as any substantial blood loss affects every cell in the body and can cause anaemia, tissue damage, organ failure, and ultimately death if not restored (Garrioch, 2004).

Since I am not a doctor, nor play one on TV, my knowledge of this subject is based entirely on what I have read from experts in the field. Where did they get their knowledge from? Research, piles of research. Study after study has been done to find the causes of migraines and also the effects of blood loss. It is through this careful study that we find the facts, things that are not based on conjecture or anecdotal evidence, but on careful research, study, comparison, and analysis. While it may not be as exciting or riveting as hearing personal stories about how someone’s life was improved or saved by this medicine or this procedure, it is critical that medicine continue to be based on objective, evidence-based results.

This isn’t to say that all research is correct or is even used correctly. In the case of medicine, as it is in all areas of study, there are things that can negatively affect the research. Bias is real problem and that often comes from who is running the study or for what purpose. While drug companies do a lot of good, they can also be a part of what is wrong in research. Company funded research can be twisted to show favourable results; results can be applied to areas it shouldn’t be. Research needs to be verified and tested in various situations and applications. This replication is vital in making sure all negative variables have been removed.

While this is more easily done in the areas of science where chemistry, physics, and biology almost always react the same way and are not prone to change. This is far more difficult in fields that involve human behaviour such as language teaching. In this case, it is even more important that studies are verifiable and replicated to make sure they are being used in the proper manner.

Over the past four weeks, I have been reading a number of research articles as a part of my #444ELT project. Each week, I would choose a research topic such as vocabulary acquisition or extensive reading and I would look at the research carried out by others on this topic. I would then compile this information and write a blog post on what I found, attempting to critically think about what I have read and how this could be applied to my situation. I have to say that I certainly have learned a great deal about research during this time, something I didn’t expect upon undertaking this project. Reading through this information, I have come to a few conclusions.

  • There is a serious lack of research being done on some subjects. Actually, compared to other areas of research, I would say that ELT is in dire need of researchers. When I say researchers, I’m talking about anyone who has a stake in the process including teaching practitioners.
  • There is a noticeable amount of assumptions being made before the study even takes place. I noticed in a number of articles, some of which I put in the summaries, that researchers approached their studies from a certain bias. It isn’t always readily noticeable at first, but once you start to ask yourself questions as you read it, you start to notice it.
  • There are a number of teachers who simply don’t care about (perhaps fear?) research and are even anti-research in their approach. It seems that some people base much of their knowledge or approach to teaching on what they have heard from others or have read in their teacher’s manual. There needs to be more of a critical approach to teaching, something I plan on commenting on later in another post. The question I have is, why? What is there to lose from studying and analyzing research studies before making your decision on what is best for your students? I am more forgiving of newer teachers since they are still trying to get their heads wrapped around what is happening in the classroom, but I am perplexed by more experienced teachers who simply say, “This is how I have always done it!” Well, with that type of attitude, we would still be draining blood for hypertension!
  • People are still basing much of their teaching on old results. If a study is more than 10 years old, it probably needs to be re-studied. So many things change when you are dealing with people and society in general. Unlike a chemical reaction that won’t change, societal norms and thinking radically changes certain things which has a wide-ranging affect on how we should be teaching. If we didn’t continually question and research, we would still be teaching students in the Audio-Lingual method.

So what can we do? Start by questioning what you do. Let’s take an example of vocabulary lists. Find primary sources of research done on the use of lists in learning vocabulary. Read it. Study it. Ask questions and start the cycle again, looking for answers to those questions. Don’t just look at one study on the topic, look at as much as you can. Examine both sides of the argument. Once you have done that, test it in your own classroom. Apply it to your lesson plan, making sure that you don’t change anything else. See what happens. Do it again and see if it is replicable. This type of research, known as action research, is an effective way of seeing if what you are reading is true.

Another important step is to report on what you find. Blog about it and share your findings, possibly even publishing your action research results. This openness can only help others explore their perceptions on this subject and may even bring about changes or help answer some of your questions on the subject.

I hope that helps. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts on this subject. Thank you.

References

Ali Parapia, L. (2008). History of bloodletting by phlebotomy. British Journal of Haematology, 143(4). 490-495. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2141.2008.07361.x/full

Garrioch, M. A. (2004). The body’s response to blood loss. Vox Sanguinis, 87(1). S74-S76. Retrieved from http://baata.org/polezni/blood%20loss.pdf

 

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4 thoughts on “Researching

  1. Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for taking the time to write about all the research articles in the #444ELT series. I’m planning to come back to some of the posts because the past few weeks have been a little too hectic for me to read them with the attention they deserve.

    I did want to ask a question – do you think that the lack of interest in research (or lack of awareness of research) might sometimes be due to the fact that a lot of the journals/publications that the research would be published in are available only by way of costly subscription? That could just be my impression as I keep coming across articles that say open access databases are gaining ground. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for the ordinary practitioner who would like access to research results or even just to see if any research has been done, but does not have access to institutional subscription to journals.

    It just now occurs to me you may have addressed this issue somewhere in the series, and I haven’t come across this part yet. Apologies in advance if this is the case.

    Thanks once again,
    Vedrana

    1. Vedrana,

      Firstly, thank you for your comment. I think that paywalls on research is one thing that could be contributing to the problem, but I think there is enough out there that can be accessed without needing institutional access.

      You are correct, I did blog about this a long while ago, so I can understand the difficulty in locating the information. Here is a link to that post: https://eltreflections.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/inquiring/

      I also have come across this post from English Repository that is quite extensive: http://englishrep.org/free-e-journal-list-2/

      I hope that helps. Let me know if there is any other way I can help out!

      1. Thanks for the links – very useful. In fact, I think I remember coming across the English Repository list before and even bookmarking it, but I’ve done so again, just in case. 🙂
        Actually, I do have another concern – you mention DOAJ in your post and point out that the articles are from lesser known journals. It just so happens that today I came across this post http://retractionwatch.com/2011/10/31/how-do-croatian-scientists-deal-with-retractions-and-misconduct-a-guest-post-by-mico-tatalovic/ and the author addresses the issue of undetected plagiarism in lower impact journals. The post is from some time ago, but I’m afraid nothing has changed dramatically in this respect in Croatia. But maybe this is a local thing, and would not be a problem in some other countries?
        Obviously, it would be very unfair to say that everything reputable is paywalled, but I sometimes worry about the credibility of the content that isn’t. Whether this is justified or not, I can’t tell, possibly because I haven’t done really extensive research in any particular area.

      2. Thanks for the comment. It’s true that there are a lot of suspect ‘academic journals’ out there and we need to be careful. I think the same thing goes for paid or unpaid, reputable or unknown, we need to vigilant in checking out the information and verifying it against other research. In that search, I suspect we would find whether or not that information is plagiarised or not. Some will slip through, but I guess we can’t win them all.

        You do raise an important issue and also expose the problem with access for many people. I try really hard to find articles that are already available online so everyone can compare what I wrote with what is written in the article.

        Thanks for the comments.

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