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Education and learning research in the age of complexity and fragmentation: an introspection

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On 1 June 2018 I had the privilege to deliver a keynote on the Oxford-Cambridge PhD in Education exchange. I discussed the impact of the ideas of complexity and fragmentation on my own research and how my PhD students understood complexity. I came up with a 6-point desideratum that was used as the basis for the ensuing discussion.
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Education and learning research
in the age of complexity and
fragmentation: an introspection
University of Oxford, 1 June, 2018
Pascual Pérez-Paredes, Faculty of Education
1
@perezparedes
in this talk…
Complexity: my students´ perspective / in my
research
Complexity: some reflections
A desideratum
2
complexity from my PhD ss
3
Media: easy to access,
overwhelming, too
much to choose from
Balance: open-
minded / standing my
ground
Organization is key
4
My research is more
open to the entire world
Sharing of ideas
worldwide
Technology-related
research
But information
overload and
distraction everywhere
5
More interested in
different research
methods now
More challenging to
make sense of the data
as learners exposed to
same complexity
(media, inputs,etc.)
6
Multitude of theories
A piece of the big
puzzle
Research, cv, training,
personal balance
Staying focused and
taking responsibility
Done is better than
perfect
7
CV keywords
Applied & Corpus linguist
Corpus linguistics in language
education
Technology and language
education
Corpus-assisted discourse analysis
8
Corpus & corpus data
(mainstream definition)
In linguistics a corpus is a collection of texts (a ‘body’
of language) stored in an electronic database.
Corpora are usually large bodies of machine-readable
text containing thousands or millions of words.
Representative of a particular language variety or
genre, therefore acting as a standard reference.
Corpora are often annotated with additional
information such as part-of-speech tags. Corpora can
be used for both quantitative and qualitative
analyses.
Baker et al. (2006). A glossary of corpus linguistics.
Edinburgh: UEP.
9
Disciplinary
boundaries
What is information in this context?
INFORMATION
EVIDENCE
AS
Identifiable
Classifiable
Quantifiable
Subject to refined statistical analysis
Generalisable
Replicable
Intended to test a hypothesis
Callies (2015)
10
Disciplinary
boundaries: methods
Pérez-Paredes, P., Aguado. P. & Sánchez, P. (2017). Constructing immigrants in UK
legislation and Administration informative texts: a corpus-driven study (2007-2011).
Discourse & Society,28,1,81-103.
Pérez-Paredes, P. (2017). A Keyword Analysis of the 2015 UK Higher Education Green
Paper and the Twitter Debate. In Power, persuasion and manipulation in specialised
genres: providing keys to the rhetoric of professional communities. Bern: Peter Lang.
Pérez-Paredes, P. & Díez-Bedmar, B. (2018) Researching learner language through POS
Keyword and syntactic complexity analyses. In S. Götz and J. Mukherjee (EDS.) Learner
Corpora and Language Teaching. Studies in Corpus Linguistics Series. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins.
Pérez-Paredes, P. , & Sánchez Tornel, M. (2015). A multidimensional analysis of learner
language during story reconstruction in interviews. In M. Callies & S. Götz (Eds.), Learner
Corpora in Language Testing and Assessment. John Benjamins.
11
Different
datasets
Spanning a
period of time
Different research
methods
Mixed methods in war zones
Corpus & corpus data
(mainstream definition)
In linguistics a corpus is a collection of texts (a ‘body’ of language)
stored in an electronic database.
Corpora are usually large bodies of machine-readable text containing
thousands or millions of words. Representative of a particular language
variety or genre, therefore acting as a standard reference.
1,500 billion word corpus
12
complexity
fragmentation
13
14
15
16
still there?
17
Two papers
18
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2012). Complex,
dynamic systems: A new
transdisciplinary theme for applied
linguistics? Language Teaching, 45(2),
202-214.
Douglas Fir Group (Atkinson, D.;
Byrnes, H.; Doran, M.; Duff, P.; Ellis,
Nick C.; Hall, J. K.; Johnson, K.; Lantolf,
J.; Larsen-Freeman, D.; Negueruela, E.;
Norton, B.; Ortega, L.; Schumann, J.;
Swain, M.; Tarone, E.) (2016). A
transdisciplinary framework for SLA
in a multilingual world. Modern
Language Journal, 100, 19-47.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2012). Complex, dynamic
systems: A new transdisciplinary theme for applied
linguistics? Language Teaching, 45(2), 202-214.
19
Our disciplines provide us with a
conceptual framework, a sense
of order of what is real and how
knowledge is obtained.
Multidisciplinary approach:
additive but lack of interaction
Transdisciplinary: creates new
forms of activity that are
thematic rather than disciplinary
Complexity Theory
20
1. Complex systems are open and dynamic.
2. They operate under conditions that are not in
equilibrium.
3. Complex systems are systems because they
comprise many elements or agents, which
interact.
4. Change/dynamism is central. The systems adapt
both through interaction with the environment and
through internal reorganization/ self-organization.
5. The strength of the interactions changes over time.
Therefore, multiple routes are often
possible between components, mediated in different
ways.
6. The complexity of complex systems is emergent. It
is not built into any one element or agent, but rather
arises from their interaction.
7. Because the systems are open, what arises may be in
nonlinear relation to its cause. In
other words, an unexpected occurrence may take place
at any time.
8. The structure of a complex system is maintained even
though its components may change.
9. The environment in which they operate is part of a
complex system.
10. Complex systems display behavior over a range of
timescales and at different levels of complexity – the
latter are nested, one within another.
11. Complex systems sometimes display chaotic
variation.
12. Complex systems iterate – they revisit the same
territory again and again, which means
that the present level of development is critically
dependent on what preceded it.
21
Larsen-Freeman & Cameron (2008: 158) have
written in this way about the process of
L2 development. ‘Embodied learners soft
assemble their language resources interacting
with a changing environment. As they do so,
their language resources change. Learning is
not the taking in of linguistic forms by
learners, but the constant adaptation and
enactment of language-using patterns in the
service of meaning-making in response to
the affordances that emerge in a dynamic
communicative situation’.
Thus, this view assumes that language
development is not about learning and
manipulating abstract symbols, but is
enacted in real-life experiences, such as when
two or more interlocutors co-adapt during an
interaction.
During co-adaptation, the language resources
of both are transformed through reciprocal
causality.
Larsen-Freeman (2012:207)
22
Douglas Fir Group (Atkinson, D.; Byrnes, H.; Doran, M.;
Duff, P.; Ellis, Nick C.; Hall, J. K.; Johnson, K.; Lantolf,
J.; Larsen-Freeman, D.; Negueruela, E.; Norton, B.;
Ortega, L.; Schumann, J.; Swain, M.; Tarone, E.) (2016).
A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a
multilingual world.
The Modern Language Journal, 100, 19-47.
23
A process of epistemological expansion
A new SLA must be imagined,
one that can investigate the learning and
teaching of additional languages across
private and public, material and digital
social contexts in a multilingual world.
Innovative research agendas responsive to
challenges of language learning and
teaching in our increasingly networked
technologized and mobile worlds
Sociocultural theory
(Johnson, Lantolf, Negueruela, Swain),
Language socialization theory (Duff),
Social identity theory (Norton),
Complexity and dynamic systems theory
(Larsen–Freeman),
Usage-based approaches (Ellis, Ortega),
The biocultural perspective (Schumann),
ecological and sociocognitive approaches
(Atkinson),
Variationist sociolinguistics (Tarone),
Systemic functional linguistics (Byrnes, Doran),
Conversation analysis (Hall).
24
25
Douglas Fir Group (2016)
How does complexity
affect your research in
education?
A complexity-informed
agenda?
Why should we care?
26
Desideratum
(1) Research is
becoming more
interdisciplinary and
discipline boundaries
tend to disappear.
Applied linguistics
Educational linguistics
Corpus linguistics
Technology and
language
27
28
System
29
Cognitive Psychology
Desiderataum
(2) Collaboration with other
researchers is essential.
Greene. (2007). The
demise of the lone author.
Nature, Nature, 2007
Computer scientists
(Applied) Linguists
Education researchers
NGO
Designers
30
Any issue of Nature today has
nearly the same number of Articles
and Letters as one from 1950, but
about four times as many authors.
The lone author has all but
disappeared.
In most fields outside mathematics,
fewer and fewer people know
enough to work and write alone. If
they could, and could spare the time
and effort to do so, their funding
agencies and home institutions
would not permit.
31
Researchers in a cage
Birth of the subdisciplines, a
case of descent not of
replacement
Scientists trapped in their own
specialisms
Maintaining cultural, political
and financial support for
research
32
Greene, M. T. (2003). What cannot be said in
science. Nature, 388(6643), 619-620.
Desideratum
(3) Re-examine
constantly your ontology
and epistemology.
Dynamic ontology /
epistemology
Think critically at your
work through the eyes of
differing epistemologies
(and ontology).
33
Desideratum
(4) Go deeper into the
basic foundations of
your discipline. But
make sure it´s you and
not somebody else
guiding that reflection
and
(5) Explore the limits of
your discipline and
themes.
34
Desideratum
(6) Attention is your
best asset.
Attention needs to be
strategic.
35
This is understandable. For most of human history, we’ve lived in
environments of information scarcity. In those contexts, the implicit
goal of information technologies has been to break down the barriers
between us and information. Because information was scarce, any
new piece of it represented a novel addition to your life. You had plenty
of capacity to attend to it and integrate it into your general picture of the
world. For example, a hundred years ago you could stand on a street
corner in a city and start preaching, and people would probably stop
and listen. They had the time and attention to spare. And because
information has historically been scarce, the received wisdom has been
that more information is better. The advent of digital computing,
however, broke down the barriers between us and information to an
unprecedented degree.
Yet, as the noted economist Herbert Simon pointed out in the 1970s,
when information becomes abundant, attention becomes the
scarce resource:
in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of
something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes.
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the
attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a
poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently
among the overabundance of information sources that might consume
it.2
36
https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/stand-out-of-our-light/3F8D7BA2C0FE3A7126A4D9B73A89415D#fndtn-contents
37
So the main risk information
abundance poses is not that one’s
attention will be occupied or used up
by information, as though it were some
finite, quantifiable resource, but rather
that one will lose control over one’s
attentional processes. In other
words, the problems in Tetris arise not
when you stack a brick in the wrong
place (though this can contribute to
problems down the line), but rather
when you lose control of the ability
to direct, rotate, and stack the
bricks altogether.
Come to Cambridge for the 13th Teaching and
Language Corpora Conference 18-21 July, 2018
38
www.educ.cam.ac.uk/events/conferences/talc2018/
Alice Munro, the Canadian writer, once said ‘The
complexity of things – the things within things – just
seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing
is simple’ (Franzen 2004).
Nothing of interest to applied linguistics, I would
add.
Larsen-Freeman (2012:207)
39
Thanks
@perezparedes
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Article
In this plenary address, I suggest that Complexity Theory has the potential to contribute a transdisciplinary theme to applied linguistics. Transdisciplinary themes supersede disciplines and spur new kinds of creative activity (Halliday 2001 [1990]). Investigating complex systems requires researchers to pay attention to system dynamics. Since applied linguists study language systems that change (for example, as they develop in learners, this is a useful perspective to bring to bear on many of our concerns. To introduce Complexity Theory, I list twelve principles undergirding this perspective and elaborate on three of them: those to do with dynamism, complexity, and the role of context. I then discuss several studies of L2 development that have been informed by the perspective. I conclude by suggesting that the ultimate promise of Complexity Theory is the help it provides in humanizing science.
A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world
  • D Atkinson
  • H Byrnes
  • M Doran
  • P Duff
  • Nick C Ellis
  • J K Hall
  • K Johnson
  • J Lantolf
  • D Larsen-Freeman
  • E Negueruela
  • B Norton
  • L Ortega
  • J Schumann
  • M Swain
  • E Tarone
Douglas Fir Group (Atkinson, D.; Byrnes, H.; Doran, M.; Duff, P.; Ellis, Nick C.; Hall, J. K.; Johnson, K.; Lantolf, J.; Larsen-Freeman, D.; Negueruela, E.; Norton, B.; Ortega, L.; Schumann, J.; Swain, M.; Tarone, E.) (2016). A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world. Modern Language Journal, 100, 19-47.