There have been a lot of challenges since beginning my MRes course at University of Portsmouth, even bearing in mind the advice given to me that I should make as many contingency plans as possible. However, what has been most difficult has been planning to overcome myself in the research process. In this blog post I shall outline the natures of challenges faced and overcome. It is not the case that this is some kind of quest, merely that, given the circumstances I vastly overestimated my own abilities to carry out the kind of study that I wished to undertake. What has finally coalesced is, I believe, worthwhile research but not quite the project that I had planned. Below, I outline my learning during the MRes course so far with reference to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) (Careers Research and Advisory Centre Ltd., 2011) in bold parentheses.
My original proposal was for a quantitative study that relied upon an overly optimistic sample size of volunteer participants. This sample was drawn from a population at my new place of work. Because I was a new instructor in an intensive English programme, I had few free teaching periods available when my students did. Furthermore, I had not developed sufficient rapport for the students to feel comfortable in working with me. The only choice left to me was to conduct the study during the university’s lunch break. To take a sample of in excess of 60 first-year university students in a self-funded study, to take place in their free time, was incredibly naive. Obviously the outcome was that the recruitment was only 6 students, which provided only a sufficient sample for a pilot study.
Clearly the study I had in mind would have been more suited to someone with a tenured position with a lower teaching load and a research budget that would facilitate carrying out the study, rather than someone in a teaching position. However, I have always tended to overreach in my work, and this has always been preferable to me than the alternative of settling for underreaching. This does not mean that the intended study cannot be carried out; it means that it can be carried out in the future. Hopefully completing this course results in a credential that assists me in finding a position that allows me to complete my intended study with a suitable sample size. (A1.2 Phase 1; A1.3 Phase 1; B1.2 Phase 2; B2.1 Phase 2;)
As regards the sample size, I have gained a greater appreciation of the statistics involved in quantitative SLA studies. This has not only the benefit of assessing the significance of outcomes of my own studies but also allows me to read more deeply into the literature than I was able to do at the end of my MA studies. It is possible to gain more insight into the significance (or otherwise) of literature I need to evaluate for the basis of my further studies. (A1.3 Phase 2; )
Also, due to the delay in recruiting participants in my original study I found time to carry out a short, interview-based, qualitative study on teaching English listening through Task-Based Language Teaching. This was conducted purely to satisfy my own curiosity and to attempt to build my research profile with a research method new to me. This was a lucky coincidence because interview data will be necessary to ensure that I have something useful to take away from this MRes project. I found interviewing somewhat difficult, talking too much in my early interviews. However, I developed further in the project, and in the interviews conducted for this project I have managed to proceed with greater self control. (A1.3 Phase 2; B1.4 Phase 1; B2.1 Phase 2; B2.4 Phase 2;) Additionally, I have engaged with other research methods and/or paradigms and have published a narrative of the teacher development opportunities afforded me during my time teaching in language schools in Japan (Jones, 2020a), as well as a duoethnography (Jones & Steven, 2020), where I was the lead author and (due to the structure of duoethnography) authorial contributions were clear. (A1.2 Phase 2; D1.2 Phase 2) I have also written about the difficulties in completing the aforementioned duoethnography (Jones, 2020b) (B1.5 Phase 2; B2.3 Phase 2; C1.6 Phase 2; D2.1 Phase 2; D2.3 Phase 2).
Aside from direct links to my dissertation project, I had the opportunities to interact with the academic community in some different ways. I have been active on Twitter (Twitter, n.d.) under various usernames and have blogged about professional practice (Jones 2015-2020) since approximately 2015 and have found it to be a rich resource for continuing professional development as a language teacher. However, it is also a resource for academic development as well. (A2.2 Phase 3; B3.4 Phase 2; D2.1 Phase 2) I frequently contact Achilleas Kostoulas (D1.5 Phase 1), who led me to finding out about the major statistical problems in psychology that had been uncovered by Nick Brown while he was a Master’s student (O’Grady, 2017). This led me to a greater interest in the psychology replication crisis, which I feel is adjacent to applied linguistics given the default in statistical analysis sections of papers toward ANOVA without justifying its use, or otherwise being explicit in the choice and use of statistical analysis processes. This in turn led me to Flake and Fried’s preprint Measurement Schmeasurement (Flake & Fried, 2019) and questionable measurement practices, and the serendipitous discovery that Julia Strand was planning to hold a Skype meeting to discuss it. The paper was a revelation and it is clear that strands of applied linguistics would benefit from greater standardization in terms that are operationalized and measured. (A3.1 Phase 1; B3.1 Phase 1; D1.5 Phase 1)
While I had already begun attending small ELT conferences and symposia during my MA, I had the opportunity to attend an international phonology and phonetics conference that was serendipitously scheduled at the end of my first year on the MRes course. New Sounds Tokyo 2019 at Waseda University was a pivotal experience for me. Not only did it provide valuable experiences to build a network of people and discuss my research with people I have cited previously (Ian Wilson) and in the current MRes dissertation (Solene Inceoglu, Ocke-Schwen Bohn) and other people active in the field of speech learning (Pavel Trofimovich, Mirjam Broersma) I also got to meet people that I had been acquainted with on Twitter (Sandra Jansen) and also people from international colleagues MA cohorts presenting their PhD work from University of Barcelona (Ingrid Mora-Plaza, Natalia Wisniewska). This is likely to be valuable not only now but in the future, too. (B3.1 Phase 1; B3.4 Phase 2)
Particularly rewarding was a conversation with Pavel Trofimovich regarding Open Science practices in applied linguistics research. We talked for around half an hour about Open Access (OA) publishing, registered reports, attempting replications as part of a study, and producing practitioner/teacher-focused research outputs. Some of these I am already doing (publishing in OA journals and/or using preprints), and others (registered reports, replications) are things that I am planning on carrying out in the future. (A2.4 Phase 2; B2.3 Phase 2; B3.4 Phase 2; D1.5 Phase 1; D2.3 Phase 2)
I have already looked at another research team’s data set, to run different analyses upon it, out of curiosity regarding Kartushina & Frauenfelder (2014), by contacting Natalia Kartushina directly. This also exposed me to how actual data and R code are kept (on work computers), which means that sometimes, if data are not stored in a publicly accessible place, work cannot later be verified. That is not to say that the data set was lost; I received it with kindness, but the R code was unable to be located, although this would likely be able to be replicated by finding code to carry out a GLMM. However, I was interested in whether t-tests alone could validate the same findings as the paper (Kartushina & Frauenfelder, 2014), which it did. (A2.1 Phase 1)
Some of the more tangential learning that has enhanced my professional development as a researcher has been use of a reference manager, Zotero (Center for History and New Media, n.d.), a citation robot, Citation Gecko (Citation Gecko, n.d.), and use of The Bullet Journal System (Carroll, 2018) as a project management tool.
Zotero (Center for History and New Media, n.d.) and I have a complex history because during my MA I attempted to install it and it did not work on either of my computers. Shortly after commencing this course I was persuaded by a colleague to try again, and I found that Zotero (Center for History and New Media, n.d.) really works well, especially in conjunction with the browser button it has made available. (A1.5 Phase 1)
In addition to Zotero (Center for History and New Media, n.d.), Citation Gecko (Citation Gecko, n.d.) has become useful as a way to source literature of interest based upon citation patterns that it detects through web scraping. It is not perfect but I have a considerably larger array of literature to wade through than that found in my library keyword searches. Citation Gecko (Citation Gecko, n.d.) will never replace considered library or search engine searches, but it is extremely useful as a supplementary literature search process. (A1.4 Phase 3)
The Bullet Journal System (Carroll, 2018), I feel, is a very useful tool for academia, because it functions as a task list and log, diary of appointments and time-sensitive tasks. It can also be used in conjunction with other project management approaches such as Agile, my favoured approach, which I use for my work as a university language teacher when I design syllabi and materials (see Pope-Ruark, 2017) for details. However, the main reason for me to use The Bullet Journal System is that it was recommended for people living with ADHD (Why the Bullet Journal Is the Best Planner for ADHD Brains – YouTube, n.d.), as I also do. While Gantt Charts are useful for some people in charting progress, they have never worked for me because they do not show any of the sense of urgency and instead provide too much visual clutter, allowing me to bask in what I have done and indulging myself in satisfaction when perhaps I should have my head down reading and writing to complete a subproject before the deadline. However The Bullet Journal System (Carroll, 2018), allows task migration, short-term and long-term scheduling and also personal modification of the bullets used to classify tasks and events, which I have done so that I can see at a glance what is done, in process and yet to be started (in place of an office whiteboard because I work across multiple sites and also frequently do work on my commute which can be up to 150-minutes in total to and from work. It also functions best as a place to keep all tasks and notes (see Pope-Farguell, n.d.) for the benefits of this), and subject specific indexes can be applied for this. My use of The Bullet Journal System (Carroll, 2018) is evolving constantly, as I also see how other academics further in their careers (Ackerman, 2019; Mackin Roberts, n.d.) use it. (B2.3 Phase 3; C2.2 Phase 2)
However, there are some things that would have been useful to have developed but I have not had the time or the need to spend on them. The first of these is learning R (R Core Team, 2019). I have an extremely rudimentary knowledge of how to analyse a corpus using R (R Core Team, 2019), but it was the statistical analysis tools that would have been most useful. The reason that I did not feel it was time well spent was that jamovi (The jamovi team, 2019) is available, and it can provide R (R Core Team, 2019) code, which can then be used to generate graphs. (A1.4 Phase 1).
My Japanese language skills could be better. I have taken steps to practice writing formal academic Japanese more, mainly for job hunting purposes. However, I did see some poster presentations at New Sounds 2019 that were spoken in Japanese to groups of mainly L1 Japanese attendees and found that it was straightforward to understand. I have also joined a professional organisation, JACET, which conducts most of its communications in Japanese, and this is not problematic for me, although sometimes reading takes me longer than I would like. I had intended to sit the JLPT language test this summer, although the COVID-19 crisis made me reconsider this. I will consider sitting the test in winter this year, should a second spike of infections fail to manifest. (A1.6 Phase 2)
In conclusion, there have been considerable highs and lows during the course, and the main study itself has been somewhat anticlimactic considering the time I put into thinking about it and, of course the self funding. However, the opportunities to learn, including the knowledge that what I had planned is not straightforward but still possible to carry out in the future, while I continue to develop my research skills in the meantime.
Ackerman, L. (2019, July 22). Academic Bullet Journaling. Dr. Lauren Ackerman. https://lmackerman.com/bujo/
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Carroll, R. (2018). The bullet journal method: Track the past, order the present, design the future. Portfolio/Penguin.
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Jones, M. (2020b, April 16). Reflections by a hermit on collaborative writing. Marc Jones. http://www.marcjones.tokyo/2020/04/16/reflections-by-a-hermit-on-collaborative-writing/
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O’Grady, C. (2017, November 28). Researchers find oddities in high-profile gender studies. Ars Technica. https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/11/researchers-find-oddities-in-high-profile-gender-studies/
Pacheco-Vega, R. (n.d.). The Everything Notebook. Retrieved 22 May 2020, from http://www.raulpacheco.org/resources/the-everything-notebook/
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