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Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory for Second Language Development

Goal: Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory for Second Language Development Research

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Ali H. Al-Hoorie
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In contemporary methodological thinking, replication is increasingly holding an important place in various disciplines, including applied linguistics. At the same time, relatively little attention has been paid to replication in the context of complex dynamic systems theory (CDST), perhaps due to uncertainty regarding the epistemology–methodology match between these domains. It is important for CDST scholars to engage with the dialog on replication and the various questions associated with it. In this paper, we explore the place of replication in CDST research and argue that three conditions must be in place for replication research to be effective: results interpretability, theoretical maturity, and terminological precision. We consider whether these conditions are part of the applied linguistics body of work, and then propose a more comprehensive framework centering on what we call substantiation research, only one aspect of which is replication research. This framework presents an alternative classification of what used to labeled “replication” research, depending on theoretical maturity, function and methodology in order to better contextualize successful and failed replication attempts. Using this framework, we then discuss three approaches to dealing with replication from a CDST perspective theory. These approaches are moving from a representing to an intervening mindset, from a comprehensive theory to a mini-theory mindset, and from individual findings to a cumulative mindset.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
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Video recording: https://www.bilibili.com/video/BV1FS4y1j7ed
Philip Hiver
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This chapter has two broad objectives: first, to provide an accessible introduction that will aid readers in understanding the central concepts of complexity theory; and, second, to examine the utility of complexity theory as a robust conceptual framework for empirical research-particularly in the lives of language teachers and the work they do. I begin this chapter by examining the principles underlying the theoretical perspective of complexity, considering how this framework encourages scholars to view the world and its phenomena, and detailing how complexity theory has been used by other disciplines. Then, by extending the recent work of Larsen-Freeman (2015, 2017), I explore some of the key intellectual ideas and theoretical tools that are on offer from the complexity perspective and relate these to existing work in the field of teacher motivation, autonomy, and development. Finally, I transition into looking at the endeavor of teacher-related research from within this conceptual framework in order to establish the ways in which complexity theory might inform transdisciplinary research in the discipline, and how it can assist in plugging gaps left by conventional research paradigms.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
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WATCH THE VIDEO: https://www.bilibili.com/video/BV1FS4y1j7ed - In contemporary methodological thinking, replication holds a central place. However, relatively little attention has been paid to replication in the context of complex dynamic systems theory (CDST), perhaps due to uncertainty regarding the epistemology-methodology match between these domains. In this paper, we explore the place of replication in relation to open systems and argue that three conditions must be in place for replication research to be effective: results interpretability, theoretical maturity, and termino-logical precision. We consider whether these conditions are part of the applied linguistics body of work, and then propose a more comprehensive framework centering on what we call SUBSTANTIATION RESEARCH, only one aspect of which is replication. Using this framework, we discuss three approaches to dealing with replication from a CDST perspective theory. These approaches are moving from a representing to an intervening mindset, from a comprehensive theory to a mini-theory mindset, and from individual findings to a cumulative mindset.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
added a research item
A quarter of a century has passed since complex dynamic systems theory was proposed as an alternative paradigm to rethink and reexamine some of the main questions and phenomena in applied linguistics and language learning. In this article, we report a scoping review of the heterogenous body of research adopting this framework. We analyzed 158 reports satisfying our inclusion criteria (89 journal articles and 69 dissertations) for methodological characteristics and substantive contributions. We first highlight methodological trends in the report pool using a framework for dynamic method integration at the levels of study aim, unit of analysis, and choice of method. We then survey the main substantive contribution this body of research has made to the field. Finally, examination of study quality in these reports revealed a number of potential areas of improvement. We synthesize these insights in what we call the "nine tenets" of complex dynamic systems theory research, which we hope will help enhance the methodological rigor and the substantive contribution of future research.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
added a research item
Recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ubKTIo63lS0 - Learners' interlanguage development is nonlinear and characterized by phases of stability alternating with high degrees of variability that accompany rapid development (e.g., Lowie & Verspoor, 2019). Variability is thought to be a necessary feature of L2 development (Verspoor & de Bot, 2021), and is a source of meaningful information both quantitatively, because such data show fluctuating levels of the variables of interest, and qualitatively, in the sense that multidimensional combinations or juxtapositions can also be illustrated for each measurement occasion (Larsen-Freeman, 2006). Within an overall trajectory of development, variability can be investigated in the context of task performance--particularly task iteration. Task iteration is repeated engagement with a task at a given interval that generates variation. Task iteration creates variation because learners orient to it differently at each iteration. This creates options in learners' language resources and gives them choices for making meaning. In this paper we report a longitudinal study of how the syntactic features of learners' interlanguage develop over time. Eighty nine Saudi learners of English in their foundation year of college were asked to compose a descriptive text in English on a topic of personal choice. Participants did this every two weeks over the course of a semester (T = 7) as part of their 3 hours per week of language instruction. Text type was controlled for by providing a writing prompt where the field of writing was varied but the tenor and mode of writing were fixed across all waves. Syntactic complexity was examined through length of production units (MCL = mean clause length). Using Generalized Additive Mixed Models (GAMMs; Murakami, 2016; Wieling, 2018) and Bayesian mixed-effects negative binomial location-scale models, we examined whether learners' development show nonlinearity, stability, and variability; what this stability and variability in the data illustrate about learners' development; and, whether iteration of the same task procedure produces different effects over time.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
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Recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/eyWpLST50wM - The year 1994 marks the date of the very first contribution on the topic of complexity theory/dynamic systems theory (CDST) in the field—a conference paper delivered at the Second Language Research Forum. Since then, numerous empirical studies have been conducted testing the applicability of CDST and contributing to a growing body of evidence. We undertook a systematic review project spanning the 25 years from 1994 to 2019. We wanted to know, given this body of research in the field, (1) what methodological trends emerge in CDST studies, (2) what substantive contributions these CDST studies have made to the field, and (3) what areas for improving CDST study design are apparent. We conducted a comprehensive search in databases relevant to the field and an article pool was assembled that included peer-reviewed articles, chapters, proceedings, doctoral dissertations, and conference papers. Our search returned a total of 2,341 hits from the combined database. Among other inclusion criteria, we specified that a report must involve an empirical design, must explicitly identify itself as being informed by CDST, and must be related to language learning or language development. Inspected against the inclusion criteria, 158 reports were retained in the final pool. A team of researchers coded each report individually using a detailed categorization scheme that included descriptive markers such as study design, research context, length, and analytical strategy as well as more substantive descriptors such as empirical contribution or study limitations. We present our results and highlight methodological trends in the report pool using a framework for dynamic method integration at the levels of study aim, unit of analysis, and choice of method. We then examine the empirical, theoretical, and practical contributions of these studies. Finally, we examine the methodological rigor of these studies to make recommendations for improving CDST study design going forward.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
added a research item
This book provides practical guidance on research methods and designs that can be applied to Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST) research. It discusses the contribution of CDST to the field of applied linguistics, examines what this perspective entails for research and introduces practical methods and templates, both qualitative and quantitative, for how applied linguistics researchers can design and conduct research using the CDST framework. Introduced in the book are methods ranging from those in widespread use in social complexity, to more familiar methods in use throughout applied linguistics. All are inherently suited to studying both dynamic change in context and interconnectedness. This accessible introduction to CDST research will equip readers with the knowledge to ensure compatibility between empirical research designs and the theoretical tenets of complexity. It will be of value to researchers working in the areas of applied linguistics, language pedagogy and educational linguistics and to scholars and professionals with an interest in second/foreign language acquisition and complexity theory.
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
added 2 research items
Complexity theory/dynamic systems theory has challenged conventional approaches to applied linguistics research by encouraging researchers to adopt a pragmatic transdisciplinary approach that is less paradigmatic and more problem-oriented in nature. Its proponents have argued that the starting point in research design should not be the quantitative–qualitative distinction, or even mixed methods, but the distinction between individual- versus group-based designs (i.e., idiographic versus nomothetic). Taking insights from transdisciplinary complexity research in other human and social sciences, we propose an integrative transdisciplinary framework that unites these different perspectives (quantitative–qualitative, individual–group based) from the starting point of exploratory–falsificatory aims. We discuss the implications of this transdisciplinary approach to applied linguistics research and illustrate how such an integrated approach might be implemented in the field.
Complexity theory/dynamic systems theory (CDST) has captured the imagination of many in the field of applied linguistics (Larsen-Freeman, Diane & Lynne Cameron. 2008. Complex systems and applied linguistics . Oxford: Oxford University Press; Ortega, Lourdes & Zhao Hong Han (eds.). 2017. Complexity theory and language development: In celebration of Diane Larsen-Freeman . Amsterdam: John Benjamins). As recent syntheses of the growing number of CDST-informed strands of applied linguistics research illustrates, it has emerged as an important influence on applied linguists’ thinking (see Larsen-Freeman, Diane. 2017. Complexity theory: The lessons continue. In Lourdes Ortega & Zhao Hong Han (eds.), Complexity theory and language development: In celebration of Diane Larsen-Freeman , 11–50. Amsterdam: John Benjamins). The fact that CDST has continued to permeate questions throughout the field is to be expected and welcomed.
Philip Hiver
added a research item
This book provides practical guidance on research methods and designs that can be applied to Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST) research. It discusses the contribution of CDST to the field of applied linguistics, examines what this perspective entails for research and introduces practical methods and templates, both qualitative and quantitative, for how applied linguistics researchers can design and conduct research using the CDST framework. Introduced in the book are methods ranging from those in widespread use in social complexity, to more familiar methods in use throughout applied linguistics. All are inherently suited to studying both dynamic change in context and interconnectedness. This accessible introduction to CDST research will equip readers with the knowledge to ensure compatibility between empirical research designs and the theoretical tenets of complexity. It will be of value to researchers working in the areas of applied linguistics, language pedagogy and educational linguistics and to scholars and professionals with an interest in second/foreign language acquisition and complexity theory.
Philip Hiver
added 5 research items
In this article, we introduce a template of methodological considerations, termed “the dynamic ensemble,” for scholars doing or evaluating empirical second language development (SLD) research within a complexity/dynamic systems theory (CDST) framework. Given that CDST principles have yielded significant insight into SLD and have become central to the concerns of applied linguists in many domains, we propose the need for a practical blueprint to ensure compatibility between its theoretical tenets and empirical SLD research designs. Building on “complexity thought modeling” (Larsen–Freeman & Cameron, 2008), we present a practical catalog of 9 considerations intended to inform research design at multiple stages. We contextualize the 9 considerations of the dynamic ensemble by discussing how these have been framed and addressed within one previous CDST study. Finally, we address the issue of what practical implementation of this dynamic ensemble would entail and introduce several case-based methods for building off of the considerations in our dynamic ensemble. We hope that this user guide can help orient researchers interested in working within a complexity framework and spur continued methodological discussion in the field.
In this chapter we explore the contribution of complexity theory (CDST) to theoretical and empirical work on L2 motivation. Through a review of relevant conceptual tools and principles of complexity, the chapter first examines the ways in which a foundation in CDST has informed theory and practice in L2 motivation. These principles are illustrated through examples of recent and ongoing research from a dynamic and situated perspective. Extending this discussion to methodological considerations, the chapter details the utility of CDST as an aid to designing L2 motivation research that prioritizes adaptive and developmental processes. Rounding off the chapter is a proposal for guiding principles for future L2 motivation research designed to correspond with the conceptual tools and principles introduced at the outset of the chapter.
Philip Hiver
added a project goal
Complexity and Dynamic Systems Theory for Second Language Development Research
 
Philip Hiver
added a research item
Two decades ago, scholars first proposed that applied linguistics issues could profit by being viewed explicitly in complexity theory (CDST) terms, and since then CDST has gained considerable currency in the field. There is rapidly increasing interest in adopting complex dynamic systems theory (CDST) in domains as diverse as educational linguistics, L2 pedagogy, English as a lingua franca, L2 learner psychology, sociolinguistics, and multilingualism among others. This novel perspective has yielded significant insights to long-standing questions. However, apart from a handful of exceptions (e.g., Verspoor, de Bot, & Lowie, 2011; Dörnyei, 2014), this is accompanied by a scarcity of practical guidance for applied linguists on the research methods which can be applied to CDST research. Because of these challenges to conducting empirical CDST research using established research paradigms, research methodology has lagged behind the rich conceptualizations found in theoretical discussions. To provide a springboard for further progress, this colloquium is intended to showcase ways to both expand the toolbox of methods available and use existing methods in innovative ways to conduct research in a dynamic vein. The individual papers in this colloquium will present a range of practical templates and methods for how researchers and scholars can design and conduct research using the CDST framework. The presenters, CDST scholars from around the world, introduce methods ranging from those in widespread use in social complexity, to more familiar methods in use throughout applied linguistics that are inherently suited to studying both dynamic change in context and interconnectedness. These diverse perspectives provide methodological guidance regarding how research might be designed and conducted in more dynamic and situated ways. The colloquium is hoped to inform research methodological developments in the study of applied linguistics that will spur greater involvement in CDST research across the field.