Friday, 27 September 2013

Post-post-pre-confirmation thoughts

I really should have blogged after the July residential since that was a pretty major milestone -- my pre-confirmation panel. The panel threw me off-balance (to say the least) and I was pretty lost for at least a few days but by the time I left Lancaster I did have some sense of the new direction I was going to move in. 

While in London I just wanted to have fun (which I did) but from the moment I landed in Singapore it has been work, work, work. I didn't work much last semester because semesters here clash with the Jan residential, so I've been trying to make up for it this semester. As a result I probably took on too many jobs -- I'm currently teaching at NIE, NUS, SIM University and NAFA, in addition to some course development work and miscellaneous workshops. This has also made it hard for me to chase up schools for access; I'm hoping to do that at the end of the year which is school vacation in Singapore.

I worked out an overly ambitious schedule, according to which I should have started the 2nd of the 3 assignments due this semester. Which I haven't of course. I count myself lucky to be able to finish the first (and the shortest at 2.5k words) before the 30 September deadline. In the course of writing this paper, I've had some time to think about my research. In my post-panel report, I wrote that I was looking into practice theory instead, specifically Reckwitz's (2002). This is something which I found and put aside previously, and I think now it could work for me. I'm not sure, especially after the panel, if the literacies practices paradigm really works for me, and Lave and Wenger's CoP isn't quite it either. 

While at the Lancaster campus bookshop, I came across Shove, Pantzar and Watson’s (2012) book "The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday life and how it changes" and found it very interesting. Prof Elizabeth Shove is from the Sociology department at Lancaster, and the authors have adapted Reckwitz's framework, which is more complex, into something more streamlined and usable. They analyse practices based on the three elements of materials, competences and meanings. I like that they approach this with the aim of changing practices, not just describing them.

My methodological approach as it stands now is primarily case study, with an ethnographic perspective. I've read up further on ethnography and participant observation for the paper, and feel better prepared to explain how I'm taking up the ethnographic perspective without actually doing ethnography. In exploring ethnography, I discovered that there is a strong mixed methods tradition, which I wasn't aware of before. I guess this further explains the considerable overlap between case study and ethnography. This is useful to know if I end up administering a questionnaire. 

I know many people find coursework a drag, but I'm really grateful for it, especially at this point. I think a solid methodological foundation is important for research. Not to say that I believe that epistemologies and paradigms are unshakeable; I tried that and I think that view doesn't really work for language assessment. Maybe pragmatism really is my epistemology. 

I also think I've got a more precise notion of the research gap I'm trying to fill now. Not only is there insufficient research into the classroom-based, social and digital aspects of language assessment, but what there is currently also tends to focus on assessment tools and frameworks, which on their own don't seem to have much of an impact on assessment reform. So I'm arguing that this is why there's a need to look at things from a social practice viewpoint, which has been done in general ed assessment but not in language assessment.

This feels like a move forward for me, but that's what I feel every time there's a change in my thinking, so it might just be an illusion :P