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Putting complexity theory into practice: A “dynamic ensemble” for second language research

Authors:
Putting Complexity Theory into Practice: A “Dynamic Ensemble” for Second
Language Research
Phil Hiver
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
Paper presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
(April 9–12, 2016, Orlando, Florida)
Nearly two decades have passed since Larsen-Freeman (1997) first proposed that
applied linguistics issues could profit by being viewed explicitly in complexity terms. Since
then complexity theory has exploded into domains as diverse as English as a lingua franca
(Baird, Baker, Kitazawa, 2014) sociolinguistics (Blommaert, 2014), multilingualism (de Bot,
2012; Jessner, 2008), educational linguistics (Hult, 2010), L2 pedagogy (Mercer, 2013), and
conversation analysis (Seedhouse, 2010). Complexity theory principles have yielded
significant insight into second language development, and become central to the concerns of
applied linguists in many domains. The issue we address in this paper is the need for a
practical blueprint to ensure compatibility between the theoretical tenets of complexity and
empirical second language research designs.
In this paper we formulate a practical catalog of methodological considerations,
termed “the dynamic ensemble,” for scholars doing or considering doing empirical second
language development research within the complexity theory framework. We first clarify
some common misconceptions associated with complexity theory in applied linguistics
research. Then, building on “complexity thought modeling” (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron,
2008) we propose a template of nine considerations which are intended to inform the choice
of research problems, development of hypotheses, sampling of participants, data collection,
and analysis of datasets. This dynamic ensemble is designed to function as an explicit
operational user guide to the complexity theory considerations we believe are indispensable
both for researchers designing a study and consumers of research evaluating these studies.
To illustrate how the conceptual tools of complexity theory have been used, we highlight
examples from existing studies, and outline specific areas of inquiry and questions which
lend themselves to exploration using our proposed template. It is hoped that this user guide
will be a starting point to help orientate researchers interested in working within a complexity
framework.
Summary:
This paper outlines a practical blueprint of nine methodological considerations, termed “the
dynamic ensemble,” for scholars doing empirical second language research within the
complexity theory framework. This dynamic ensemble is intended to inform the choice of
research problems, development of hypotheses, sampling of participants, data collection,
and analysis of datasets.
... Thus, as individuals' patterns of variability should be explored in the learning process (Rose, Rouhani, & Fischer, 2013), the ecological exploration of speaking anxiety in EFL learners provides better understanding of how patterns of speaking anxiety might occur differently for different learners. In line with the principles of an ecological perspective and the postulated dynamic nature of anxiety (MacIntyre & Gregerson, 2012), the rationale for the application of nested ecosystems model and complex dynamic system theory (CDST) in this study were their emphasis on the mentioned ecological features (Van Lier, 2004 ) and operational considerations , contextual considerations as well as macro and micro system considerations (Hiver & Al-Hoorie, 2016). Both of these models regard classroom ecology (Larsen-Freeman, 2016) from a non-reductionist, non-linear, emergent, and emic perspective (Van Lier, 2004). ...
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Chapter
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