Reflecting on Conferences

Last week I went to the two big linguistics conferences in Australia – the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, and the Australian Linguistics Society. They took place back to back this year, at Monash University in Melbourne. There were lots of really interesting presentations and I was really glad to be able to go to both the conferences.

However, the conferences made me think a bit about the directionality of research and the ability to research anything and everything. So here is my reflection on conferences and research.

When I’m at a conference, I’m not only looking at the information that is being presented as an interesting snapshot of what other people are doing. While I am watching the presentations, I am also collecting things. Ideas, mostly. Ideas about: research methods, things that I can use in my own research, but also whether that method was best for the stated objectives (this improves my own skills in research design); presentation styles, including powerpoint presentations, vocal styles, stance, outfit, everything (this might seem judgemental, but again, it’s to work out the different responses I have to things so I can improve my own presentations, not to tear others down); ways that I can use the content of a presentation in my own work (e.g. data that would be useful, conclusions that support my work); links to future projects that I might be interested in; publications and references that would be interesting to me; and so on.

Amongst all this thinking about different aspects of each presentation, I was also thinking about the ways in which the presentations connected to each other, and with supported each other or contradicted each other – even when they seemed to have the same goal.

It got me thinking – all of the research we do, we want to be used in the world. But if so much of what we do contradicts itself, not because of aims, but because of approaches, then how can we possibly use everything? Take for example some of the fascinating presentations I went to on classroom education. The problem? Many students aren’t learning well in classrooms. The contradictory solutions are: get rid of the classroom model for something that is more flexible, more student driven and more creative; and work out what skills it takes to be able to study well in classrooms, and teach children these skills from an early age. Both studies were fascinating. Both studies saw improvement in students’ attention spans, and learning outcomes. But we can’t implement the results of both studies…

A second example of this is my own project. My project has a focus on teaching students the skills they need to understand and function in a Standard Australian English speaking area. BUT, why should they have to learn SAE? Why is SAE a prestige dialect in this country? Shouldn’t we be teaching teachers to value other dialects, and educating the community in different ways of speaking and the backgrounds that those dialects have? But how can we do both?

In more general terms, how do we choose research projects, should there be some sort of directionality in the field, and how to we determine whether something is worth pursuing into the real world for maximum effect?

I wish I had an answer to these questions, but really all I get is more questions. Currently I feel like my project is a bandaid on the problem, but that a full system/societal overhaul is what would be needed to actually fix it. So I guess I’ll be sticking with the bandaid for now.

And I’ll definitely be presenting at the next conference.

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