For the purposes of this TMA I have chosen the articles ‘Investigating the role of bilingual teaching assistant in Hong Kong’ (Gao and Shum, 2010) and ‘Communicative-based curriculum innovations between theory and practice: implications for EFL curriculum development and student cognitive and affective change’ (Saad Shawer, 2010).

My deeper understanding of the terminology through engaging with the E891 course materials has allowed me to gain greater understanding of the articles.

Understanding terminology such as Ontology (E891-SG,Pt2-2.2), which relates to theories about existence or being. Epistemology (E891-SG,Pt2-2.2), which looks at the consideration of what we know and how we know it and Paradigm which discusses ‘ positions on the best ways to think about and study the social world’ (Thomas 2009, p.77 cited E891- SG Pt2-2.2), has enabled me view the article in a wider sense.

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In the article by Shawer the link between his Paradigm position and his epistemology is identifiable as being the TA’s interaction with the students and how this is demonstrated through his choice of methodology..

Understanding the different Paradigm positions has allowed me to identify the evolution of the ontological and epistemological positions in the article by Gao and Shum. I now understand the Ontology to be the research problem, so in this article the inequality facing the south Asian learners, and the epistemology being how the researcher knows about the problem being ‘The recent government initiatives in Hong Kong focusing on raising the participation of students from south Asian backgrounds in mainstream schools’( Gao and Shum, 2010, p.445)

The author’s view of learners stems from their ontological and epistemological positions. (E891-SG,Pt2-2.2),

In the article by Shawer I believe that he is taking a view of learning that fits in with the Social Constructivism theory. This is evident in his article as he discusses in detail the work of Lev Vygotsky and how students are socially constructing there own learning. Shawer states that ‘this study is particularly based on the Zone of proximal development’ (Shawer, 2010, p.335) this is a theory that was developed by Vygotsky which discusses the ability of a learners education to be enhanced by that of a more able other, which in this case would be the teacher participating in the CLT programme. Shawer focuses on the ability of humans to be active constructors of their own knowledge and not passive receivers ( E891-SSG,Pt2-2.5)

Shawer demonstrates a negative view of formalised teaching and appears to prefer teaching of language forms in context, (Shawer, 2010.p.344).

Shawer discusses his epistemological position( Shawer 2010,p.336) and clearly identifies the interaction with respondents being key to his study. This relates to the view of an ‘agentive’ mind (E891-SG,Pt2-2.5) and can be clearly identified on page 348, where Shawer discuses the impact of the CLT programme on students confidence levels. This further supports that he is working within a social constructivism theory

Gao and Shum appear to be working with a Social cultural theory and view of learners.

When looking at the sociocultural theory a researcher would discuss learning in settings within a wider context that takes into account the social institution where learning occurs and how this is shaped by, and in turn shapes, practice as it emerges between people in ongoing activity (E891-SG, Pt2-2.5)

Gao and Shum’s study relies on language being the connection between the south Asian learners prior knowledge which is engaged through discussion with the bilingual Teaching assistants. (Gao and Shum, 2010.p.446) The learners already have knowledge and an awareness of what is being discussed possibly but they are unable to show it or utilise it through the language of instruction, they are working in a community which is constructing knowledge and developing identities as individuals. Gao and Shum discuss in detail the backgrounds of the research participants ( Gao and Shum, 2010.p.448) this is part of the ontology of the research and identifies the knowledge base of the teaching assistants.

Some researchers may view that the learners are bringing resources , in this case language to the classroom. Lave (1998) discusses this in great detail and relates that the social impact on the construction of learning derives heavily from the learning environment and the ability to socially construct opportunities for learning.

Similarly the work of Vygotsky is identifiable in this article and the Social view of learning. Gao and Shum discuss the interaction between the Teaching assistant and the students (Gao and Shum.2010.p.450) and relating this to the use of the Zone of Proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding. This further supports that the authors view learning as being socially constructed and are working within the sociocultural theory. Piaget and Vygotsky were both influential in the development of a constructionist ontology and clearly identify the necessity of the learner to construct meaning from the environment and how this then impacts upon the resulting actions. (E891-SG,Pt2-2.5). This has impacted upon the research of Gao and Shum and the shaping of there Constructionist ontology.

Gao and Shum demonstrate that learners do best in an environment where they feel safe, comfortable and empowered. It is important they feel like their culture is validated. This all contributes to their motivation and ability to learn.

The articles by Shawer and Gao and Shum are similarly in that they both appear to be working with a socially constructed view of learning. However this can be viewed as a difference as in the Gao and Shum article the social interactions are with the other learners and the Teaching assistants whereas in the Shawer article it is with the teachers participating in the CLT programme.

They both use the same methodology in terms of Qualitative methods (E891-SG.Pt1-1.2).They differ in that in the Shawer article the interviews and analysis are for both students and teaching assistants where as in the Gao and Shum article the perceptions of the teaching assistants and teachers are the only findings that are analysed, there is no input form the students.

(Gao and Shum, 2010.p.447) This makes the results very skewed towards a personal perspective. In the Shawer article the methodology is mixed in terms of qualitative (interviews) and Quantitative (questionnaires) Whereas the Gao and Shum research relies solely on qualitative methodology.

Additionally they were only interviewed once which does not allow time for reflection and processing of information (Gao and Shum, p. 448)

Both studies were small in scale and therefore limited in scope (E891-SG.Pt1-1.2). Thus meaning they are not necessarily representative of the wider context. This can be seen in the Gao and Shum article (Gao and Shum, 2010.p.454) However the article by Shawer has a wider variable and types of interview and therefore may be more likely to be valid in a wider context

(Shawer, 2010.p 340)

I have found it difficult to put each article in one paradigm position I believe this may be as researchers begin with a paradigm position which is derived from the ontology and epistemology of the paradigm position but as they conduct their research and gain there results they realise that there are more factors involved after the research is carried out, therefore evolving there position. Thus they have a stance in terms of the paradigm they use initially however this evolves as they identify other influencing factors. This relates to the work of Gage and his theory of Paradigm wars (Gage, 1989 cited in Hammersley 2013 p.155)

This also links to the work of Khun (1970)( E891-SG.Pt2-2.4) who discussed that sometimes researchers will change their paradigm to another that seems better aligned with what is happening in their enquiry. Kuhn pointed out that the shift from one paradigm to another could not be based on a rational appeal to common ground between the two paradigms, since each effectively offers a different conception of the world (E891-SG,Pt2-2.4) Therefore I believe that it is a commonly occurring outcome for Paradigm positions to shift during the course of a research study.

Gao and Shum demonstrate that they are working in a mainly interpretivist Paradigm.

Gao and Shum use interpretvist methods as it is in an exploratory study focusing on finding out what the role of Teaching Assistant’s is, finding out their mindset and views, finding out what is going on (Gao and Shum, p.477). Gao and Shum demonstrate limitations within the interpretivist paradigm as the perceptions of the teaching assistants are the only findings that are analysed, there is no input form the students.( Gao and Shum,2010,p.448) This makes the results very skewed towards a personal perspective( Gao and Shum, 2010,p.466) I can also identify that Gao and Shum use interpretvist methodologies as in they use an ethnographic approach to obtain qualitative data.

However they clearly demonstrate that they have a Constructivist ontology and epistemology relating to the world once again of Piaget and Vygotsky and the opportunity for socially constructing and scaffolding the learners education. As well as cognitive constructivism discussing cooperation between individuals as the best form of social interaction. ( E891-SG, Pt2-2.5)This can be identified in Gao and Shum’s research article where they discuss the role of the teaching assistant and the acceptance of that role by the learner (Gao and Shum,2010,p.449)

This study is also bordering on Critical because its about advocating for the ethnic minority. Pushing for equality. It is not value free research. Gage discusses the relationship between Constructivism and critical theory in ‘Paradigm Wars (Gage, 1989) Gage discusses the move from ontological positions which see learners as passive receivers, and from epistemological positions where what we know and how we know is governed by an external objective reality that is somehow transmitted and received by individuals.

Gao and Shum’s ontology shows that individuals are active constructors of their own social reality and thus hold different perceptions of society due to differing beliefs and attitudes.

However after considering all these factors I consider the main paradigm position to be that of interpretivism

I believe that Shawer is working within the Constructionist paradigm, however I am also unsure if his work is within the interpretivist paradigm as there is a focus on multiple realities, the methodology is qualitative and there is an ethnographic approach to data production, these are all identifiable factors in both paradigm positions. There are elements of social constructivism identifiable. CLT as a method is based on social constructivist theory . (Shawer 2010,p.333) Shawer discusses the work of Vygotsky ( E891-SG, Pt2-2.5) which supports this . Shawer also discusses the individual experiences of the two teachers throughout his research study. This is an element of the social constructivist theory as it identifies the ability of the teachers to develop the learners (Shawer,2010,p.351)

Some researchers consider constructivism to come under the interpretive paradigm, so Shawer may consider himself to be working under the same paradigm in his view of learning/ learners and his ontological/ epistemological positions well as the methodology

When thinking about Paradigm positions I believe I am more drawn towards a positivist stance. This leans towards my role as a distance learning tutor as I feel I align myself with the Outsider looking in approach. I favour working in objective reality with hard data to back up my findings, thus giving me confidence in my research.(E891-SG.Pt2-2.3).However I can also see that this may be a negative in terms of educational research as it gives no subjective interpretation nor does it take into account the complexities of individuals and the social world. When looking at the work of Hargreaves (Hargreaves, 2007,cited in E891, SG-Pt2-2.3) Hargreaves argues that educational research has failed to provide practitioners with the knowledge they require about which pedagogical strategies work, I believe that the positivist paradigm provides policy makers with hard data on which to base their decisions on thus giving more credence to educational research. Similarly the work of Oakley (Oakley,2000, cited in E891-SG.Pt2-2.7)is particularly relevant when I think of my paradigm position as he states the importance to ordinary people having sound information about the effectiveness of different techniques.

I prefer to conduct research which is demonstrable to outsiders and gives instant answers to questions. I prefer the methodology associated with the positivist position in that the collection of Quantitative date giving graphical/ numerical representation. (E891-SG.Pt2-2.3) I am unsure however if I wholly support the ontology of this approach which states that the world is made up of facts and theories that can be proven or falsified scientifically (E891-SG.Pt2-2.3)

In practice I can see the positivist paradigm I prefer, working well to research the retention of students studying on distance learning courses and the reasons for withdrawal.

However there are elements from the interpretvist paradigm which I find interesting. This leads me to the work of Gage (1989) where he discussed the ability of different paradigms working together and building the bigger picture of a research problem once it is recognised that they can work in conjunction with one another.

Reference list

Gage, N ( 1989) The paradigm wars and their aftermath. In Hammersley, M (ed) (2007) Educational reasearch and evidence-based practice, Milton Keynes, Sage in association with the Open University

Gao, F and Shum, M ( 2010) Investigating the role of bilingual teaching assistants in Hong Kong : an exploratory study. Educational research, 52:4, 445-456. available at (accessed 17th January 2014)

Shawer, S (2010) Communicative-based curriculum innovations between theory and practice: implications for EFL curriculum development and student cognitive and affective change. The Curriculum Journal, 21:3, 333-359 available at ( accessed 17th January 2014)

The Open University ( 2013) E891 Study Guide [online], available at (accessed 17th January 2014)


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