My doctoral dissertation investigated the professional and culture learning of sojourning English language teachers (ELTs), people who travel overseas for the purpose of teaching English for more than a year but not for more than a decade. Although this study helped me more deeply understand culture learning theories (Deardorff, 2009; Holliday, 1995; Ting-Toomey, 1999) associated with teacher development, I was not able to dive deeply into theories associated with professional learning, such as teacher knowledge (Shulman, 1987) and technological pedagogical content knowledge (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Since earning my PhD, my experiences as a curriculum coordinator and faculty developer have shaped my approach to professional development and influenced my research agenda.
Teacher Knowledge, Beliefs, and Cognition
When I was an instructional designer at Kirkwood Community College, I worked on a study with my supervisor and a colleague from Institutional Research to investigate how and why community college instructors shared their pedagogical knowledge and their knowledge of their specific fields. Through qualitative analysis of two focus groups, we found faculty shared their knowledge for both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, although some felt a resistance to sharing because of structural reasons, lack of responsibility and ownership, and vulnerability of being judged.
At Southern Illinois University, I applied a similar method to study faculty perspectives of developing and implementing an extensive reading program. This came about when I realized that the CESL curriculum did not address any extensive reading practices in its current form. As curriculum coordinator, I was curious to learn why this was so, thus prompting me to investigate faculty perspectives. The literature on the benefits of extensive reading is growing, but there are not many studies detailing successes and challenges of integrating extensive reading into existing curriculum. I have completed this study and the manuscript is now under review.
A small part of that extensive reading study looked at teachers’ engagement with research (Borg, 2013). I am intrigued by the different perceptions and attitudes teachers have towards research in applied linguistics and second language education. Through my professional learning network, I found a colleague who has a similar interest, and we are in the process of collecting and analyzing data on English language teachers’ cognition and engagement with research. My focus of this study is on teachers who work in intensive English programs in the US and Canada because I have not seen many studies on this group. As an advocate for research-based pedagogy, I find myself in conflict with teachers who see little to no practical use in research. I want to better understand their perceptions and share these findings with others in my position. I feel that, if we cannot connect theory and practice, we will keep repeating the same mistakes and our profession cannot fully advance (Borg, 2009; Tavakoli, 2015).
Professional Learning Networks for Professional and Culture Learning
One of the greatest discoveries during my dissertation research process was finding online communities through blogs, YouTube, and Twitter where EFL teachers were sharing their learning about English language teaching and the host country. This discovery led me to further pursue the role social media plays in the professional and culture learning of English language teachers. As of November 2017, I have completed the first research project, investigating my professional learning network on Twitter as a Community of Practice (Wenger, 1998; Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). I intend to begin the second research project, investigating the extent to which English language teachers use YouTube for culture learning, later this winter.
Concurrently, as an extension of my dissertation, I have found sufficient online evidence to support my theory that much of the literature on international students’ cultural adjustments can be applied to new sojourning English language teachers. This is part of a larger project on culture learning of sojourning English language teachers that I intend to turn into a book. I am using my blog at http://sojourningelts.wordpress.com/ to share my preliminary findings associated with sojourning ELTs.
As of November 2017, I have two papers under review, one from my dissertation and the other on a professional learning network for professional learning. My colleague and I are in different stages of data analysis on our study of IEP teachers’ engagement with research. Data collection for my YouTube study on ELTs’ culture learning and sharing will commence soon. I anticipate that all of these studies will help me learn more about what ELTs need and value in terms of professional growth. Methodologically, I seek to become a more resilient qualitative researcher at the same time expanding my repertoire to include mixed method studies. Ultimately, I strive for a closer connection between ELT research and practice as I feel that my primary audience are teachers who can apply the practical implications of research to improve teaching and learning.
Borg, S. (2009). English language teachers’ conceptions of research. Applied Linguistics, 30(3), 358-388.
Borg, S. (2013). Teacher research in language teaching: A critical analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017.
Tavakoli, P. (2015) Connecting research and practice in TESOL: a community of practice perspective. RELC, 46 (1). pp. 37-5.
Ting-Toomey, S. (1999). Communicating across cultures. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Wenger-Trayner, E. & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice. http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/