Saturday, November 24, 2007

Falsifiability - Can we use this concept in qualitative research?

As for falsifiability, I think that the underlying assumption of this concept may be at odds with the underlying concepts within qualitative studies. I did a lot of reading on the distinction between quantitative and qualitative theory today and some postulating about the assumptions that both take. In the end, I see a clear distinction being drawn between both, in that quantitative studies relate to explaining or controlling variables; these variances can be double checked in future similar studies, by re-creating similar if not exact conditions within future experiments. Qualitative studies on the other hand try to look at things more holistically. I think that in qualitative studies, it is harder to say something is either right or wrong, as the phenomena under investigation is viewed more loosely and with greater flexibility. In addition, the kinds of things that qualitative studies focus on are reliant on context. That is they are specific to the particular classroom, or based on a specific problem of a smaller group. The theories that may come out (within say, a Funnel approach) are related to smaller and more specific groups, within a certain time frame. That said, it is difficult to come up with conditions that reject the findings of this kind of qualitative study, as it would be more difficult to correlate the findings (not having numerical data) with other similar groups in the future, without validity issues.
From what I gather, falsifiability is about understanding that there may be a case that your theory may be disproved, and in such a case you need to modify your thinking or may even have to reject it. Unless we take a time machine (or utilize historical organization in a qualitative study), we are unable to create the exact conditions necessary to disprove the findings. So, what can we do?
We can look into the validity of the qualitative research by checking the organization of the arguments presented and the usefulness of the descriptive analysis. If the study is logical and presents exceptional descriptions, then how can it be falsified?
One may say that the theory produced for that particular group may not suit present groups, ‘cause the conditions or context is different. Is it now falsified?????
What is the purpose to a qualitative study? How much can we depend on the universals that come out of such studies to make inferences about other groups? Do we use them as only a guide????
Maybe I am way off track, but I thought that the falsifiability idea better suits hard numerical data, which can more easily be disproved…Plus I think more important issues with qualitative studies are with how well the generalizations fit with the context of the study, and what happens soon after with that particular group…I don’t know, I think I m starting to confuse myself….
Steven M.
Wiersma & Jurs (2005) Research Methods in Education, Pearson, USA

Friday, November 23, 2007

Research Philosophical Essay: Where am I?

Hello everyone,
Week 1 coming to an end... where am I? Well, you could use a metaphor and say I was a sponge trying to soak up a pretty big spill, but unfortunately the spill is quite large (content area reading) and my sponge is a little ineffective (or my brain is OS9, trying to deal with i-life applications... bit of a MAC reference there...)...
What am I trying to come to terms with at the moment...and struggling...
The awards go to...
1. In the category of Jargon
~ and the biggest winners so far are Epistemology, Ontology, and Axiology and whateverelse-ology... Actually it is good to be able to put words to the things that I am thinking…but maybe don’t have a word for… I was reading an article dealing with subjectivity (Luhrmann T.M. 2006) that discussed emotions and how different cultures have different ways of expressing various feelings. Some cultures didn’t have a word for ‘sad’, but they expressed the feeling in another way.. It got me thinking about knowing the concepts behind words, but not having the jargon to talk about them in sufficient detail. Now, we have all this new jargon that expresses our ideas even more succinctly;-)

2. In the category of Concepts: The winner is ‘Falsifiability’.
I was particularly struggling with the concept of falsifiability… It is a concept that has come up a number of times in my study, but it is quite a difficult thing for me to grasp. The idea of having to have the logical possibility that something can be shown to be false is quite difficult for me to grasp. And it almost seems defeatist…in that we can only ever accept something until it is proven otherwise, and we can never feel absolute confidence in any decision or outcome… But then again, it allows for improvement, modification, or even change on a large scale…which can make one feel quite satisfied in that we don’t have to stick to traditions that start seeming to be inappropriate within changing societies. Tradition handed down from one generation to the next, is often accepted at face value, due to its long history…even though it could be wrong…case in point: “the world is flat…”

3. In the category of methods and approaches: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods win hands down... I see a lot of theory trying to say that these concepts have been thought of as mutually exclusive for a long time, but are now being thought of as complementary. I’m kind of moving toward this later idea. I believe that quantitative data and descriptive analysis can sit side by side…I just need some more information to prove it…When I did ‘Testing’ I noticed you could use both numerical data and qualitative descriptions in analytical scoring. It was quite satisfying, being able to give a number and description of the test takers ability on an item. Yet, when it comes to the student, what will they look at? The number or the description?

4. In the category of self awareness: What kind of researcher am I? Well,
A) Having grown up in Australia with an immigrant mother an Australia born father
B) Culture and language
C) Living in Japan as an Australian
D) Having taught in a variety of contexts.
These among other things are shaping the researcher I am. I am starting to think that the research we do is inextricably linked to our self identity, and what we bring to the research can determine how we conduct the body of our research. Although the paradigm of the research may be determined by the need established by the end users, and/or the needs set out by the inquiry, the approach and methods we use are accented by the person we are. What do I mean by this? Well, even though the goal in scientific method is to be as objective as possible, and try to limit all influences from the researcher, I think that it is extremely difficult to eliminate all subjectivity, even in the data analysis of quantitative studies. The questions we choose and the procedure we follow will have slight variations due to individual researcher bias. Just as no two cooks can make exactly the same meal, no two researchers will have exactly the same influence (or lack there of) on a research study.

This is where I am at the moment… It is not much, and definitely not very logical, but it is an attempt to think aloud and share some thoughts…
Steven Mondy

Luhrmann T.M. (2006) Subjectivity, SAGE publications, University of Chicago, USA

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Contextualizing of Research

Westerners come here in droves, staying a short time, but trying to impart western philosophical norms on a society that either resists or is blatantly opposed (yet not openly) to the ideologies that they try to impart. Many times I hear teacher's complaining about the 'sounds of silence' within the classroom, when not realizing the difference in learning styles that our Japanese learners have.
Communicative teaching and learning is something that we learned about in Methodology...but when it comes to my classroom, in Asia, students find it quite a struggle to change to a learning style that is not introduced to them in elementary and junior/senior high school.
Japanese learners are very good at adapting to new ways of learning, but still have trouble with so called western ways of doing things. True, they are learning English, and with that comes not only language but cultural aspects, too. Yet, one must consider the influence of many years of socialization and learning of cultural norms, within the way one views these learners when it comes to educational research.
Yes, contextualizing of research seems to be quite relevant, especially for more localized studies...

Quantitative, Qualitative and mixed methods...

Numbers tend to give a feeling of exactness and rightness (if I can say that), but as I think Hawkins states, you can just choose one model and work out all the predictions according to that particular model (as opposed to other equally valid models)... However, I feel that there will always be a point in which we reach that stops us, 'cause we do not have the capacity to in point computer technology. In an empirical only framework, our theories and ideas are only based on the next evolution of ideas and the technology that enables us to work out those ideas... How do we make advances in new ways of thinking? One way is being creative and being able to think outside of the box... I think subjectivity can give us a way to do that, but it has to go along with empirical tandem...
Also, what is objectivity? How do you reduce emotional states and affective factors for instance to specific data? And once you do reduce it to facts and figures, how do you stop from turning that data into something that disadvantages the individual? I know that within positivism, there is the debate between individual vs. society, but looking at the outcome and usability of data, aren't there many cases where descriptive analysis and holistic expressions may be more useful than just data alone? I guess it depends on what the end user is needing the research to do. Action research on a very specific level may cry out for specific descriptions of the situation at hand, whereas, bigger studies on a national or even world level may need general trends, as the problem as stated in the research affects more people in greater variety. This is possibly where number crunching can be very effective.

At the moment, I see quantitative data sitting along side qualitative observation...And the benefit that comes from both is reflected in the end user...

Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy 2

Arthur Dent's voyage into the unknown somewhat harnesses the tie-in between subjective experience and empirical truths, according to Comte's (see Wikipedia ~ Positivism for very general description) view of Positivism and it's cyclic nature. One man traveling the universe in his pajamas and dressing gown, trying to make sense of things based on the limited experience he has had on an earth that is now non-existent. Arthur struggles to break things down into their simplest, understandable pieces, somewhat in the frame of reductionists trying to reduce everything into an ultimately measurable form.
The series also touches on the idea that we may have trouble understanding the world around us, 'cause we are part of the actual workings of the universe. Arthur, was the last remaining part of the super computer known as earth. If you are part of the search for the solution, you may never fully understand the actual problem. Possibly... Thus, as researchers, how do we view ourselves, within the whole structure of the inquiry? Do our actions actually change the results? Or even our non-participatory role, may influence unforeseen elements???
Accounting for variables is inherent in scientific method, but can those variables truly be eliminated? Viewing methods have their limitations, and often when we try to account for those variables, we rely on hypothesis and theory to create models of behavior that would occur according to rational thought. Back to Comte again and his cyclic view of things.
However, if theorists such as Emile Hennequin (Wikipedia - Positivism) who included subjectivity into the equation, were to look beyond just the empirical data, they mind find answers that are more creative, but still understand that they are still based on certain assumptions...
Do I make any sense?

Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy?

Does anyone remember a little British show called the Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy? In that program, a group of people created a machine to calculate the answer to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything. The final answer was 42. Everyone was happy to know the answer, but didn't really know what it meant. So they invented an even bigger computer to work out what the actual question was...
I guess this is my slightly warped, but interesting view of the whole idea of what research is. We may find answers to wonderful questions, but do we actually understand the questions themselves. Or even the methods of obtaining answers to questions? How can we be certain that the processes that we are using are either accurate or valid. When I studied the testing unit here at USQ, I came across the ideas of validity and reliability, and developing consistent and proven methods of evaluating students. Time seemed to factor into the equation, as well as healthy skepticism of ones own creations.
I guess that one thing that the hitch-hikers guide taught me, was that we may develop understandings, but those understandings must remain open, as there may be other interpretations to our theories. And the ideas we have or the questions we ask, may not provide us with satisfactory answers that we can be happy with.
This is not to say that we stop asking, but keep searching for better understanding...
What do you say?
Steve M.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Technology in Education...

How I would love to take a trip into the future and see what is happening with technology in the classroom, and beyond.
I too, am very interested in technology, but more out of an interest, rather than a particular research focus. I haven't actually done any of the CAL, or technology in Ed. subjects, but I have taken it upon myself to introduce my students (in Japan), to the empowering aspects of utilizing technology in their studies. However, one thing that I have noticed, and in Japan mind you, is the lack of internet access among the student body. In Japan (especially among my students), mobile phone use far surpasses internet use (very subjective, I know...). So, one of the issues that I face is with computer/internet access. Students send e-mail from phones, and portable devices, that although convenient, can limit what they can do. I guess when i-phones come to Japan, at a reasonable price, we will start seeing a change in behavior patterns and greater freedom to do a wider variety of things.
Having said that, I am also a little cautious about going full steam into a situation of complete reliance on technology. A friend of mine has a son who has taken the computer based TOEFL test, and has commented on how different the testing style was. She talked about her son not being able to concentrate as effectively on that test, compared to the paper test, therefore affecting his score. I guess there is still a lot of ironing out of little problems to do, but computer based activities can offer a new scope for teachers and open up new avenues for students in their own learning.
I look on it as giving the best possible access to a great variety of material, to the greatest number of students. In the end, students have to choose to embrace new technologies, and we have to give them the chance to do so.
Steven Mondy

Friday, November 9, 2007


CLT is an interesting idea, but there are certainly drawbacks, as well as positives. The ideals of developing communicative competence in a socially integrated way are quite appealing, but very difficult for the average teacher to implement.
I also find it difficult to balance the potential benefits of CLT activities (such as role-play, find someone, and info-gap) with the needs of individuals in a non-English speaking, essentially homogeneous environment.

Qualified teacher vs. Inexperienced teacher

1 August 2007 7:56 PM
Having thought about things, I now believe that CLT offers a lot with respect to taking many classroom activities and even textbooks and adapting them to help Ss develop their Communicative language competence... I think it has the flexibility and enough variety to allow for what I was hinting at with different style.
I am not sure whether style can equate with approach, but is closely related. Style might be an accent to approach, and be what each and every teacher brings to the whole process.
I don't know whether having an inexperienced teacher teaching me would be all that bad (as long as they have had enough life experience to offer anecdotal references), as they may bring with that inexperience a fresh, dare I say approach (or should I say style in this case). I understand that the inexperience can be quite inefficient, but the new and inexperienced teacher will be trying their hardest to make it and prove least if there was variety, then it would be interesting...

Having different programs side by side

1 August 2007 4:31 PM
Surely it is possible to have content-based classes side by side (but not necessarily following on from) with other kinds of classes, lets say grammar translation, a small free talking tutorial, or an extensive reading type program. All require different approaches, but could fit within a school program. The students themselves may be able to transfer aspects of one system over to another. Just because English is the commonality btw both, it doesn't mean that the kind of class/approach to the class is/should be the same. It's the transfer of the ball in the football game (as Savignon puts it in "Teaching English as a second or foreign language"), not the actual ball itself, in this case English. We are talking about competence in using English overall. Students just adapt to a new system, transferring knowledge and skills from one activity to another. Variety! Doesn't that more closely resemble real life? Though students may like one style better than another. They may be a little confused in the beginning, but for the sake of individual differences, shouldn't we expose Ss to a variety of learning and teaching styles. If handled right, the program may in fact stimulate students...
Imagine studying 10 subjects with exactly the same teacher in exactly the same style. Wouldn't you get bored?
Do I make any sense? Probably not...

Comprehensible Output ~ Swain

Comprehensible Output ~ Swain 20 July 2007 11:20 PM
I’m am just in the middle of the first reading, and I want to say a big “Hooray” to Swain 1985, as cited in Hadley 2001), for proposing the comprehensible output hypothesis. All through the last subject (principles in language learning), I was reading and wondering about Krashen and his focus on comprehensible input, to the exclusion of a focus on production. Now I have to be careful, as I didn’t choose Krashen to investigate last subject, but to a novice like myself, I feel the need to encourage more outward production of language. Especially being here in Japan, where output is at a premium, and no matter what I do, it is difficult to encourage students to practice with others, and make use of the range of functions needed in whatever we are studying (Hypothesis 2).
One of my colleagues likened Krashen’s input hypothesis to a glass being filled (I’m sure he read it somewhere?!). Only when the glass is filled, will it start overflowing. I understand the logic behind this, but many of our students in the college where I work, tend to stay quiet for pretty much the whole time they are with us (maybe a little bit of an overgeneralization ;-). Why can’t they be encouraged to produce language, at least at levels relative to the student’s abilities? This is rather a big question that would incorporate not only affective variables, but social ones, too. I believe, that essentially students want to start producing in the TL as soon as possible as they wish to communicate, it’s just that they are unable to because they don’t have the communicative competence.
Having said that, I have had times when I gave students the opportunity to contribute, but they have not been ready to respond (think of the glass half full). And it ends up that they give up, or other students decide to respond, cause it takes and aggravatingly long time for the student to answer (I do try to discourage this king of situation, though). This has the potential of raising anxiety, and lifting that affective filter we learned about last semester. But, it’s up to the classroom teacher to read the class and give out opportunities to students to respond at various times in their particular development. Students need opportunities to test the structures they have learned, and the hypotheses they are making about language and the target culture.
So, Output, I say yes…we need to encourage a certain amount of risk taking and foster within students the courage to take chances in the TL.
Steven Mondy

Hadley, A.O. (2001), Teaching language in context 3rd Ed., Heinle and Heinle.

Approach - How do you incorporate that into a curriculum or Syllabus?

31 July 2007 9:46 AM
How do you incorporate that into a curriculum or Syllabus?
Which approach will give enough freedom of movement?
Do we just allow all teachers the complete freedom to chop and change like the weather, or do we do like ECC (English teaching school in Japan) and prescribe the step-by-step procedures, give all the materials, and expect teachers to adhere to the program?????
Well, the answer to both is yes and no. Complete freedom in teaching technique will be excellent, in that it allows teacher autonomy and creativity, but it doesn't really support the teacher in terms of a suggested course. A dictated curriculum is great for the new or lazy teacher, in that everything is prepared (almost like factory work - does that remind us of any job we've had?), but limits the possible potential of a completely unplanned learning experience.
What I was trying to get at was that teachers need a framework to work by, but be open to the odd side track that will open up those golden opportunities...
For a curriculum planner or coordinator, it would be a headache trying to balance the two. As I was saying in my previous entry, too much freedom makes it difficult to maintain consistency...
Thank you Edith, I too try to never miss an opportunity...
Steven Mondy

Approach 1

21 July 2007 12:01 AM
I see the approach, design and procedure model in the realm of the syllabus designer, who needs to contemplate how the principles of learning and teaching relate to actual practical application and implementation, however that may be stating the obvious??? Each approach requires specific thought to how it is to be presented.
Richards and Rodgers (2006) use the approach, design and procedure model and apply it to the oral, audio-lingual, TPR, silent way, community language learning, Suggestopedia, whole language, MI theory, NLP, lexical, CLBT approach and so on...
It seems that in any situation, thought must be given to the theoretical principles that underlie it, what objectives of each method, the types of learning tasks and the roles of learner and teacher. Once thought has been given to these aspects, then we need to understand which tasks will foster the learning principles and then achieve the particular objectives that are set.
Most of the time, busy or inexperienced teachers will rely heavily on the textbook to decide on these things. Yet, as we become more familiar with teaching approaches, we can sculpt our lessons (design), using activities (procedure) that encourage greater student participation and interaction.

Approach 2

30 July 2007 7:40 PM
I think that the approach we take will have a profound impact on the way we go about choosing objectives and in determining activities that will help in achieving them. If one were to have an approach based on behaviorist principles, then the objectives will probably be ones that encourage responses to a stimulus, thus requiring a selection of various drills, for instance. A large language school in Japan (NOVA), works on similar principles, with their use of American Streamline, a text (and some may say an approach) so outdated, it seems laughable that it is still being marketed today. If one were to follow in the steps of the audio-lingual approach, then the objectives will allow for the soaking up time that is required, and be less intrusive, and more teacher centered teaching may take place, until the students are at the point of producing language. Then there is the opposite end of the continuum, with the silent way approach, which has at its heart the idea that a student needs to start producing from the very beginning. So, as you can see, changing the approach will undoubtedly change the way the lesson is taught. In fact, it will shape the way that learners deal with their own learning, while at our institutions. The activities that they will be undertaking have vastly different outcomes, and require different things from students.
My question is:
“If an approach is decided upon within a school, do all teachers, in all classes need to take on that approach?”
I know of a situation in which a coordinator is forcing all teachers to take on communicative language teaching principles within a program, regardless of teacher gripes, or student difficulties with that particular approach. An approach may not necessarily work for all people, all of the time. After all, we need to also take in cultural aspects, or individual differences, for instance that may make one approach ineffective, in some cases, some of the time.
Then there’s what is happening in our college, a kind of free for all with, as many approaches as there are teachers. This too, is not an ideal situation, as there is no consistency (something in fact, that I need in my own learning).

In the end, we have to balance the needs and abilities of the students we teach. We also have to keep in mind that only one approach to teaching may severely disadvantage our students, if it so happens that other approaches are found to be more beneficial. I guess it’s an argument over consistency vs. flexibility. There are merits and demerits in both. I tend to be on the flexibility side, as long as it is based in firm and logical principles. There has to be a reason to change. I remember a lecturer introducing us to the, ‘if a bird were to fly into the room theory…what would you do?’ Carry on with your lesson plan or start talking about the bird (I think he was talking about Herbert Kohl, but I could be wrong…). That idea, although a little outdated (alternative education movement), has had a deep impact on me personally.
We need to establish curriculum's and syllabi that are based on consistent principles, yet they must also have within them some flexibility to allow for the ‘bird flying in the room’ factor.
What do you say?????
Steven Mondy