What do you think of when you hear the word “research”?
Many people who are not based in a very academic setting (e.g. a university) hear the word “research” and immediately think that it will be boring, dry, confusing, esoteric, irrelevant to “real life”, or that it will take them forever to read and understand a research publication. Of course, sometimes research is like this — but it doesn’t have to be!
I work for a publisher and a key part of my role is to help our teams integrate research findings into ELT courses, materials, methods and approaches. I’m also a teacher trainer and do my best to ensure that I’m up-to-date with research findings from applied linguistics, so that the recommendations and guidance that I give teachers are sound and likely to genuinely benefit teaching and learning. My own experience is valuable, of course, but there are also many things I can learn from others, and research is particularly valuable when it leads me to question my own long-held beliefs, ultimately strengthening, changing or adapting them in the face of new evidence.
One of the challenges I face on a daily basis is how to make research interesting and engaging for the people who need or want to apply research to their daily practice, and who tend not to enjoy reading long academic texts which are often only published in journals, behind a paywall that is prohibitive for most teachers. There are many alternative ways of sharing research findings. This blog series is a collection of some of my favourites.
One way researchers can share their findings is through live online Q&A events.
This is something I’ve had the pleasure of experimenting with in the past week.
When I’m not blogging, writing papers or pursuing other hobbies (like learning the songs of common British birds – seriously!), my day job involves managing pedagogy research for Cambridge University Press (CUP).
The CUP Facebook group is very active and we recently decided to try a new event format, in which I get the pleasure of talking directly to group members about research on different aspects of ELT and responding to their questions and thoughts.
We hosted three of these events this week, inviting people to have “lunch with Laura”. The format was simple:
- I spoke for 10 minutes about research into a particular aspect of ELT;
- Attendees then had 10 minutes to ask questions or comment on how these insights related to their own teaching contexts.
Here are the recordings of this week’s Lunch With Laura events:
- Bite-sized learning (Tues 13 June 2017)
- Reading skills (Weds 14 June 2017)
- Listening skills (Thurs 15 June 2017)
I love this event format because I consider one of the best parts of my job to be the opportunity it gives me to interact with teachers across the world, learning how useful insights from linguistic research might be applied to local teachers’ practices. The online environment makes it ever easier to connect people who would never ordinarily be in dialogue with each other (for example, one teacher who attended the first event was based in a remote region of the Amazon!).
To all who may claim that “teachers aren’t interested/have little to gain from linguistic research”: these events clearly demonstrate a willingness to engage with research when it comes in a format, time and place that suit the work and life schedules of teachers. And the teachers I met online this week were clearly interested and engaged: they had creative ideas and asked good questions (not that either of these things should be surprising).
Live Q&A events like this overcome many of the challenges facing teachers when engaging with research:
- the events are free to attend;
- a recording is available later if you are teaching/sleeping/otherwise engaged during the event (although of course this means you’d miss the chance to participate in the Q&A section of the event);
- you can join from anywhere in the world provided you have an internet connection;
- you have the opportunity to speak directly to the presenter, who may well be a leading expert in their field (though in this particular case, I should clarify that I was presenting the findings of others’ research);
- but you are not obliged to ask questions or volunteer comments, so can simply listen, observe and reflect, if that approach suits you better;
- there are no slides or similar ‘clutter’, and I find this often improves audience attention.
From the perspective of the presenter (researcher), there are also benefits:
- you have the opportunity to address a live audience and see how they react to your research findings;
- an audience composed of practising teachers, not fellow researchers, may well respond in different or surprising ways that encourage you to question your assumptions or consider new avenues of enquiry;
- you challenge yourself to share research in an innovative way (as opposed to the traditional format of written academic prose);
- the format is lower-stakes than academic conference presentations or journals, allowing you space to relax, reflect and explore the main themes of your research with a (less judgmental?) audience – a particularly good thing for early-career researchers.
And in terms of general clarity and quality of presentation:
- the format does not allow for any slides, forcing the speaker to be self-disciplined and clear in their verbal presentation of information (though of course you can refer to written notes – I certainly did!);
- keeping to a very restricted time limit, much like a pop-up presentation, also imposes the discipline of synthesising, prioritising and summarising the key points;
- the inclusion of Q&A at the end, unlike the basic pop-up format, holds the speaker to account for the points they’ve made! Audience members can challenge (or support) the ideas and/or data which are shared and expect a response.
I’d encourage any researcher to have a go at a live Q&A event – and of course, please share the link here so we can all join in!