Smirnova, Lada (PhD alumnus)
I remember a thick book on the ‘Mathematical fundamentals of the theory of complex systems’, which started with the words ‘As is generally known, …’. Since that first degree in computer programming I got from the National Research Nuclear University in Moscow, the statement has challenged my mind several times…‘if something is true, check out its opposite and see what that can do for you’ as John Fanselow said.
My name’s Lada Smirnova and I am originally from Russia although my family is quite international as my husband is Ukrainian. My daughters like working abroad and have been volunteering in Ireland for more than 6 years. More about me.
What I like about the research process: you dig into an issue and then notice something curious, which is a bit out of your present focus and you think: ‘ok, give it some thought later’. Later, when you occasionally encounter that thing, you say: ‘wow, this is what I’ve been thinking of for some time and here is the interlink between the ideas, which did not seem connected before’.
That happened in my DELTA days with the concept of ‘activity system’, when I was writing an Experimental Practice assignment on dogme. Then, I encountered the notion of ‘contradictions’ when was doing an MA assignment on teaching grammar or, for sure, on ‘grammaring’, as Larsen-Freeman (2000, 2003, 2006) put it. Then, writing my MA dissertation brought Galperin’s ideas of Systematic Formation of Mental Actions to the front of my mind, but as a peripheral point of my argument.
When a pilot project I carried out at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration brought me into a new ‘dark tunnel’, the above notions magically united behind the Cultural Historical Activity Theory (hereafter CHAT). Theoretically underpinned by my MA dissertation, the project involved more than 250 students and 12 highly educated and experienced teachers of English. The main objectives were to orient the teachers in Moodle and Web 2.0 tools so that they could make their own choices to design courses and activities.
It got apparent from the beginning that the teachers could not critically evaluate either of the innovations. Their choice seemed rather random and therefore did not help them fully address an action research aim. By no means I put blame on the teachers: as a trainer, I had not found a proper framework to help them shape an agency and cope with the major contradiction between their strong motivational commitment to bring technology into their classroom and, at the same time, to protect the status quo.
The pilot project proved to be a pivot of my PhD. All in all, I have been expanding upon my MA research for several years with focus on how to help teachers with new Web 2.0 tools. I suppose that a functioning activity system can provide us with a clear and simple descriptive framework within which we can highlight and deal with the contradictions and the challenges we face, reflect on them and find proper solutions.
As cognitive processes are not limited to what happens in the brain of an individual, then we have to expand a unit of analysis and include emotional and contextual factors, so that to approach the contradictions of ELT in their dialectical entirety in the post-method era (Prabhu, 1990; Kumaravadivelu, 1994).
Methodology and Teacher Development
The practical part of my work is going to be the most exciting as I will use the methodology of transforming experiments I’ve never tried before. The idea, stemming from the founders of CHAT and their followers, is that by ‘double stimulation’ teachers resolve a conflict of motives in the contradictions they face in their cultural and
historical context. That is, development happens due to the new volitional aspect as the teachers create their own transformative agency guided by their own new vision of their local and societal setting.
I am going to organise weekly intervention sessions, about 10 in total for every participant or a group, and invite teachers to participate. I can be contacted via:
Below are four recent presentations connected to the proposed study:
Smirnova, L. O., 2013. Flipping language classroom to meet the needs of students. Oral presentation at ‘Internationalisation of Russian higher education: challenges for teaching English’. National University of Science and Technology “MISIS” (MISIS) April 18, 2013 Moscow, Russia
Smirnova, L. O., 2013. Flipping language classroom at the university level. A keynote speech delivered at ‘Innovations in foreign language teaching’ conference, Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Jan., 22, 2013, Moscow, Russia
Smirnova, L. O., 2012. Designing a blended learning curriculum for final year students. Oral presentation. Faculty of Real Estate Management, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Dec., 24, 2012, Moscow, Russia
Smirnova, L. O., 2012. Integrating Web 2.0 tools into Language Classroom. Oral presentation. Faculty of Government Management. Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Dec., 12, 2012, Moscow, Russia
Thank you for reading mine. Wishing you all every success with your research.
Finally, I want to thank Richard and Susan for involving me into this vibrant community,