ONLINE RESEARCH IN ELT

MARTIN SKETCHLEY
English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference 2013
The talk focused primarily on the use of free online software tools to develop and enhance surveys and questionnaires for ELT professionals. Furthermore, the sharing of online surveys via social media websites, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, is recommended to gain a broader pool of participants. This is based upon personal experience of developing and conducting research in the past.

ONLINE RESEARCH IN ELT
WHY ONLINE RESEARCH?
Research or teacher-led action research has always been an activity usually reserved for those, in the opinion of many language teachers or educators, which are pursuing a post-graduate degree. However, it is standard practice for language educators to continuously undertake some form of action research – it could include monitoring role-play interaction, monitoring the acquisition of language with particular nationalities or reviewing post-lesson feedback from students. All this is a form of action research, yet there are indeed more formal aspects to research. If teachers peruse various articles such as the ELT Journal or IATEFL Voices, there is usually an article related to the findings of a particular study. However, why should teachers undertake research? Borg (2013) suggested that teacher research could support the professional development of the language teacher (p.6) as well as assist in the professionalizing the industry as a whole. However, there is always a tension between the lack of research supported and countered by teachers and the professionalism of the industry - with research being a secluded activity with the only participation from individuals who are naturally predisposed to research. However, the development of Social Media (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn) has offered further opportunity for English Language Teachers keen to incorporate action research with their current careers. This handbook looks at the uses and exploitation of online and cloud software with the development and execution of surveys in English Language Teaching (henceforth ELT). It is also supplements the talk given at English UK Annual Teachers’ Conference 2013 in London on 9th November 2013.

MARTIN SKETCHLEY
He is a Young Learner Co-ordinator at LTC Eastbourne as well as a Trustee for English in the Community. He holds an MA in ELT, TEFL-Q qualification, CELTA as well as a TYLEC (young learner certificate). He has been a teacher for 8 years with experience in South East Asia, Eastern Europe and in the UK.

Email: martinsketchley@gmail.com Website: www.eltexperiences.com Twitter: twitter.com/eltexperiences

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ONLINE SURVEYS
There are various techniques available for the teacher who is wishing to develop their own form of action research. The traditional applications and approaches available for English language teachers who are incorporating research include:     Classroom observations Case studies Interviews Surveys & questionnaires

These examples are usually accessible to teachers and in reality teachers are constantly reviewing, reacting and reflecting on their own teaching experiences on a daily basis. However, with the

development of technology, we have seen the expansion of online surveys, lessons and interviews being recorded as well as learner diaries being written online via the use of blogging tools or other online software. Naturally, with online research much in its infancy, teachers and researchers require sufficient knowledge how to create and undertake the research necessary for their aims. The focus of this paper looks at the use of online tools to create and undertake online surveys. Nevertheless, what are the primary advantages of online surveys as compared to the traditional paper-based surveys? The advantages of online surveys could include the following:  Participants are anonymous: there is greater transparency and honesty with this form of research, rather than surveys being administered in person. This could cause participants answering what the researcher would like to hear – the ‘halo effect’ – or deciding to answer what the researcher does not want to hear – the ‘horn effect’. Online tools provide the

participant the autonomy and space to complete with no added pressure as the researcher is not physically present during this process.  Wider international participation: the online survey could be emailed for participants to complete at their discretion. This could generate a ‘viral effect’ whereby participants forward on the email or link to the survey to other potential participants – much like when videos or pictures become viral – and a wider participation is generated. There are other tools available to link with and share online surveys which will be looked at later on.  Easier to read: online text is easier to read as this can be magnified on the computer monitor with a few clicks of a mouse.

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Online surveys can be embedded: online surveys created online can be embedded within websites or other blogging tools. This can be done with various online surveying tools and is incredibly intuitive. This will be reviewed in further detail later on in this handout.

Digital research results: the results of any surveys are already accessible in digital format. This could be downloaded for the analysis of any data and does not require the researcher to input the data on the computer which can be time consuming. In essence, this saves more valuable time for the analysis of any research results.

Save trees: researchers can save a lot of paperwork and time for printing, stapling and processing with online surveys. You don’t need to print out your survey and read the participant’s potential illegible handwriting. It is easier to process, as mentioned previously and you can read the participants’ contribution.

Notwithstanding, what online surveys are available for current language teachers and what are the differences? There are numerous online survey and questionnaire tools available – ranging from small surveys for the staffroom to large scale questionnaires for large corporations. A lot of corporations promise to deliver and execute surveys or questionnaires for a fee, dependent upon the depth of research undertaken. However, teachers who decide to undertake research are usually going to create, trial and action their own research and don’t have the finance available to contract out research. Furthermore, there is greater ownership for teachers who decide to undertake their own research and feel a greater sense of achievement. In essence, free online surveying tools are more suitable for language teachers but with the broad breadth of survey tools available, what is more suitable? The biggest survey tool which I have seen language teachers use with their own research, for teachers deciding to undertake an MA or other related post-graduate research degree, use Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com). Survey Monkey offers a free version but this is limited and the more

advanced features cost a lot of money, and as we all know, language teachers are not usually in the position to pay for these features – particularly when deciding to commission their own action research. Another tool that teachers decide to use include Key Survey (www.keysurvey.co.uk) as this offers a free 30 day trial period but then you have to pay for the tools. It looks appealing but if you forget about the survey or decide to continue with this tool, you will then have to pay money for access. However, there is a free tool available for teachers where you can create a complicated survey and you don’t need a degree in computer coding – with this tool being Google Drive (www.drive.google.com). To assist those that are unfamiliar with this, we shall look at how to create a survey using Google Drive.

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WHY GOOGLE DRIVE?
Although Google Drive is familiar as an online cloud computing software program, it also has a range of advantages for those teachers/researchers who wish to commission their own research. advantages include:  Free use: you don’t need to pay money to access any tools with Google Drive. However, there is a limit to the virtual space with Google, with this being about 5gb which is enough for any teacher researcher.  Shared collaboration: as you might be aware, Google Drive thrives on collaboration which is coincidentally what teachers focus on with more eclectic forms of teaching. More than one person can author a survey and the multiple authors can also communicate more effectively as well as view results via Google Drive.  Shared surveys: surveys can be emailed or embedded within websites, such as Blogger (www.blogger.com) or WordPress (www.wordpress.com), and the functions of sharing is incredibly easy for even the novice teacher researcher. Even if you don’t embed the survey within a personal website, you can always tweet a link on Twitter (www.twitter.com) or share this link via Facebook Groups (www.facebook.com).  Ease of use: the creation and action of a Google Drive survey is incredibly intuitive for the teacher researcher. You don’t require any previous knowledge of HTML or C++ coding to create the surveys and focuses on a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format. With all these benefits, the only thing stopping you to creating your perfect online survey is the knowledge. So how do you create your Google Drive survey? The first thing you need to do is to create your own Google account if you don’t have one or sign into your account. It is very simple to create your own account and you just have to follow the instructions. Once you have signed into your These

account, you will find yourself in the Google Drive main screen and you have to create your first survey, so click on “Create” and then click of “Form”. Form files are the

backbone of any online surveys and questionnaires and you have to become accustomed to the file format.

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The image on the left demonstrates the various files that could used within Google Drive. Essentially, the Drive files are very similar to Microsoft Word as you have word processing (like Word), presentation (similar to PowerPoint), and spreadsheet tools (much like Excel). These tools are very powerful and you can start create content for your school or personal use. For example, on my website I have a monthly teacher interview and I use “Document” with the interviewee so that he able to record his answers from my questions. However, Forms is a new tool and I guess it is similar to Microsoft Access. You can create data input tools and this is the file which we are focusing to develop your online questionnaire. From clicking on “Forms”, you will be prompted to name your file and select a design or theme (please see below). It is always best to create a folder for your own research and then create the “Form” survey within this folder. Personally, I always select the default design theme as this looks clean and simple within my website when embedding it. Nevertheless, once you have created a “Form” file and named it, such as “YL Research” or alike, you will be ready to create your survey.

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The next stage is start to writing your questions for your survey. This process is simple and quite intuitive within Google Drive. However, you should try to stick to the following pieces of advice:    Avoid ambiguity Avoid acronyms Avoid leading questions

It is also advisable to develop a combination of ‘closed’ and ‘open’ questions. Closed questions will lead the respondent to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, while open questions will prompt the respondent to answer in their own words. Dörnyei (2002) recommends a combination of both closed and open questions, and it is advisable for budding teacher researchers to purchase Dörnyei’s book, “Questionnaires in Second Language Research: Construction, Administration, and Processing” to better understand the processes of developing tools appropriate for researching in second language. Fortunately, within “Forms” there are a range of tools at your disposal to create various question types.

As you can see from the picture above, there are numerous question types and tell you exactly what they are. The following question/answer types are detailed below:  Text: this is essentially getting the respondent to type a one line piece of text. Examples could include asking for name, age, email or the country the participant is from.  Paragraph text: this is a typical used for open questions and provides the respondent the space to provide a more detailed answer.  Multiple choice: provides respondents the opportunity to choose one answer from a list. A good example of a question on an ELT-related survey may ask “How long have you been a

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teacher?” with participants having to then select one answer from the multiple answers. An example of this sort of question and answer is illustrated below.

Checkboxes: much like “multiple choice”, “checkboxes” offers survey participants the opportunity to answer more than one answer. This could be used to assess more than one item and is very similar the example question below:

Choose from a list: this is very similar to “multiple choice” but without the participant having to scroll down to view the list. This is normally used when people are inputting their address and then have to scroll to find their country of residence. However, you could decide to use this but personally, I find it easier to use “multiple choice”.

Scale: this is a common survey question or statement used in second language research and is usually associated with the “Likert Scale” with scale between “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” (used for statements) or “Important” to “Not Important” (used for questions). To create a scale, please see the example on the following page.

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Grid: this is normally used to assess multiple areas and save you time inputting questions for each individual area. For example, you may wish to know the importance of “Drama”, “Role play”, “Listening”, “Grammar” or “Reading” in the ELT classroom. Instead of writing out five “Multiple choice” questions, you are able to write out one question but then input the rows to include the aforementioned areas and then include scales of importance within the columns (please below as an example).

Date: this area prompts the participant to complete a date, and the question could ask the respondent to provide the date they have completed the survey – but this is not necessary as you will have a record – or the date that they started teaching or plan to have a holiday. This is one item that I have not used so it is redundant to a large extent.

Time: again this area prompts the participant to complete a time. This could ask the time of their teaching during a normal day or when they start work. However, as like the previous item, this is largely redundant and I have not used this before.

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When you create your questionnaire, you can add in pages so you don’t reveal the focus or area of research and I normally create three to four pages. The first page focuses on personal details of the respondent (name, age, email, country of residence, experience of teaching English, etc). The second to third/fourth page focuses on the aims of the survey and trying to find out the objectives of my research. To look at examples of question types or surveys, look at Borg’s (2013) examples in the Appendix within his book, “Teacher Research in Language Teaching” (p.233-247). With a recent Young Learner Research project, I decided to focus on three pages and, as mentioned previously, the first page focused on the teacher and their experience/qualifications, the second page was closed question grids and the third page was open questions prompting respondents to answer in their own words. I would highly recommend that you also read Nunan’s (1992) “Research Methods in Language Learning” as this will provide an insight in the development of research in language learning and supplement the other books previously mentioned.

SHARING YOUR SURVEY
So you have completed your online survey with Google Drive and now you want to trial/get teachers to complete your survey. What do you do next? It is always a minefield trying to get some response to your research but there are tools available to make your online research known to other likeminded individuals. There are a few questions first which you should consider when trialing or sending out your online survey: 1. How many people do I need to survey? 2. How large should my sample be? (UK based or Worldwide?) 3. Who shall my sample consist of? (Just teachers or others related to ELT?) Once you have considered the questions above and satisfied with your target participant, you should try to develop a bit of a buzz online. Fortunately, with the development of social media tools, teachers are now able to connect with other teachers from around the world through the use of Twitter or Facebook. If you are sharing your online survey, you could tweet a link and get other teachers to retweet the link. Ensure you use hashtags so that it is picked up by the right target reader on Twitter. Hashtags (#) are used in Twitter, and now more recently incorporated within Facebook, so that people searching for a word in these websites will find them easier. For example, when you watch TV, you will always find something like #DowntonAbbey or #XFactor and people actually tweet their thoughts about what they are watching.

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You could always use the following Hashtags to ensure that it is picked up by the right people: #ELT #ESOL #Research. A popular Hashtag used with teachers is #ELTChat is a dedicated weekly

discussion about the latest thoughts and musings within English language teaching. If you are keen to share your online survey, you could always head over to a group on Facebook (there are plenty related to ELT) and share your link. It would make your survey more visible online and will also get the right people to complete your survey. One other thing you could do is get your survey embedded within an ELT related website. It is very simple to embed the survey within a website and you don’t need any other HTML coding skills. When you have completed your online survey, remain in “Forms” and click “File”, and choose “Embed…”. You will see a box pop-up and will be given the HTML code to input into a blog post or website. Copy this link and paste it into a new blog post or within your website code. When you view the blog post or website, you will see the survey embedded within the post or website and participants would now be able to complete the survey (please refer to the images below for guidance).

As well as embedding the survey within websites or blogs, you are able to email the link of the online survey for potential participants, so why not email teachers your survey? You may find that your survey will generate some interest which you had not expected due to a ‘snowballing’ effect. One teacher may forward or retweet your survey to another and then it grows and grows with more participants sharing your research and before you know it, you will have a greater number of participants. Recently, with my young learner research, I managed to get 50 participants to complete my research from around the world and was able to get a broad spectrum of opinions and views.

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When you create your online survey with Google Drive, you will find that another file is created for all the responses received from participants who complete your questionnaire. This file is created within a similar format to Excel and you are able to download this for analysis once the survey is offline. The folder you created your survey – for example, “Research ELT” or another named folder – will also hold the responses file. If you created a “Forms” file called “Online Surveys” the response file will b e called “Online Surveys (Responses)”. The benefit of keeping all responses within one file is that it becomes a lot easier to analyse the data and create charts within Excel, once you have downloaded the file from Google Drive.

The image above shows you how to download the responses file. Ensure you tick the corresponding box and then click “More”, then move your mouse down to “Download…”. You will be prompted with a range of formats to download your file and it is best to select an Excel format. Once you have

downloaded the file, you will be able to work offline and analyse the data in your own time. Please also remember to turn off your survey so that it is no longer accessible after a particular date. You don’t want to continuously receive contributions after the date for data analysis.

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ADDITIONAL READING
The following books are highly recommended should you wish to develop your own research in language teaching:  Borg, S. (2013) “Teacher Research in Language Teaching: A Critical Analysis”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press  Dörnyei, Z. (2010) “Questionnaires in Second Language Research: Construction,

Administration, and Processing”, Oxon: Routledge  Nunan, D. (1992) “Research Methods in Language Learning”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. This handout is also available in electronic format on my website (www.eltexperiences.com) and should you wish to get in touch with me, you are more than welcome (martinsketchley@gmail.com).

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