ELTRIA, Barcelona, May 2024

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In a few days I will be presenting at the ELT Research in Action Conference in the amazing city of Barcelona!!!

Here is the program

My talk, entitled “AuthenticAIty: Where do we go from here?” is the opening plenary. Richard Sampson and I will also be doing a workshop later in the conference schedule about Intuition and Practitioner Research (see our Special Issue of the JPLL for more on this subject).

Shortly after the talk, my slides will be available to view at the following address


BAAL 2023: Broadening the Horizons of Applied Linguistics

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  • 56th Annual Conference
  • Wednesday 23rd August – Friday 25th August 2023,
  • The University of York

Teaching as Research: A Case in Practice

Whilst a great deal of research within the teaching research nexus is done on or with teachers, clearly some of the most emic insights into classrooms come in the form of practitioner research. The need to present research as something polished and finished that meets the requirements of academic journals can lead to a ‘distancing effect’ (Ushioda, 2021), and may create a divide between the two activities where the nexus meets. Furthermore, there is a tendency for published research to further distance itself from reality by presenting only the sanitized and ‘ideal’ version of the process and findings (Rose & McKinley, 2017).

In this presentation, I reflect upon my own journey to becoming a practitioning researcher by discussing one of the projects I have undertaken which was every bit as much part of my teaching as it was part of my research. I will discuss how conducting this research helped me broaden my horizons and develop as a practitioner. I will discuss the types of data and evidence that I collected in order to question any assumptions about my practice, thus allowing me to arrive at more solid and evidence-based conclusions  (Walsh & Mann, 2015).

During this short talk, I will explain what I do in my classes and how I make my research a part of my teaching practice by employing an approach that utilises elements of autoethnography, exploratory practice and evidence-based reflective practice. I will mainly describe some of the methods I employ in day-to-day classes and how data is generated as a natural by-product of the type of teaching I do. I will also comment briefly on why I feel this is also an ethical approach and why it can benefit my students and my own practice as both a teacher and a researcher.

Rose, H., & McKinley, J. (2017). The realities of doing research in applied linguistics. In J. McKinley & H. Rose (Eds.), Doing research in applied linguistics: Realities, dilemmas and solutions (pp. 3-14). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Ushioda, E. (2021). Doing Complexity Research in the Language Classroom: A Commentary. In R. J. Sampson & R. S. Pinner (Eds.), Complexity perspectives on researching language learner and teacher psychology. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Walsh, S., & Mann, S. (2015). Doing reflective practice: a data-led way forward. ELT Journal, 69(4), 351-362. doi:10.1093/elt/ccv018

Memes and EFL Learners

Meme made by a Japanese EFL learner
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I attended JALT CALL 2023 in the beautiful city of Kumamoto, and gave a presentation entitled “Me and My Memes: EFL students’ memes and their role in participatory culture.”


Memes are the “lingua franca” of the internet (Milner, 2016), and there is a small but growing body of research using memes with EFL learners (Harshavardhan et al, 2019). In this talk, I share some of my own practical experiences using memes in Japanese university classes. Students find and share memes, as well as creating and sharing their own. The values and potential pitfalls of this are discussed practically, and some preliminary data about students’ reflections and experiences of using memes are presented to begin a discussion on the potential place that memes might have in the EFL classroom. Initial response show that students found making their own memes to be a rewarding experience that gave them a connection to participatory culture (Jenkins et al, 2009).

Harshavardhan, V., Wilson, D., & Kumar, M. V. (2019). Humour discourse in internet memes: An aid in ESL classrooms. Asia Pacific Media Educator, 29(1), 41-53.

Milner, R. M. (2016). The World Made Meme: Public Conversations and Participatory Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Presentation to be given on June 4th at 10:00-30 at Kumamoto-Jo Hall, Room A3 (Front).

AILA2021 World Congress Symposium – Practitioner Research & Classroom Dynamics

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Emic Insights Through a Small Lens


Hello and thank you for coming to the symposium at AILA2021 about Practitioner Research. If you didn’t pay the (astronomical) fees for the conference, don’t worry – our symposium will be available after the event for free to everyone. We can also continue the discussion here, or on a social network of your choice (as long as it’s Twitter).

The dulcet tones of my favourite Aussie, Richard Sampson, will be a delight to all as our Featured Speaker. His video about Complexity, L2 Learner Psychology, and Practitioner Research even features his own musical composition as BGM!

Digital Handout


This symposium brings together teachers engaged in research, who can offer valuable insights into their own practices and provide a more nuanced and contextually specific cross-section into their classrooms utilising various methods suited to practitioner-research.

Ushioda’s ‘small lens’ approach to researching classroom phenomena was originally intended to focus on motivation with a ‘more sharply focused or contextualised angle of inquiry’ (2016: 566). This can be achieved by utilising various established and emerging practitioner-based research methodologies which utilise a methodical and evidence-based design in order to gain emic insights into the language learning classroom. In this symposium, researchers will utilise a small lens approach to examine a range of psychological and social factors relating to classroom dynamics focusing on both learners and teachers, such as emotions, identity, motivation, autonomy, values and beliefs.

Research done by practitioning teachers is strongly advocated in the literature on complexity paradigm approaches, both within education (Davis and Sumara, 2008) and SLA (Larson-Freeman and Cameron, 2008). As the field of applied linguistics is reshaped by a tendency toward more situated and complexity-informed ways of understanding, insights from practitioner research are also gaining traction. The complex social dynamics that emerge inside specific classrooms are still rare and under-reported within applied linguistics, and this symposium aims to provide a springboard to learn from more emic perspectives from inside language learning classrooms.

Humanising Language Research Through the Complexity Lens (Webinar)

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In this Webinar, Ema Ushioda, Richard Sampson and Richard Pinner discuss the issues surrounding Complexity Theory and conducting research on language learning and teaching. In this 90-minute Webinar, Ema Ushioda, Richard Sampson and Richard Pinner discuss how complexity perspectives to language learning can be researched with a focus on making sense of complex and unpredictable phenomena. We discuss how the Complexity Lens can act as a useful tool for teachers and researchers to ensure that we focus on the actual people in the language classroom and the relationships that take place in real learning contexts. This event was kindly supported by Multilingual Matters and the TEFLology Podcast.

Is it all about the now? Authenticity and Currency

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How do time and authenticity interact

It has been a long time since I wrote about authenticity… or at least it feels like it anyway. In truth I have a few chapters which aren’t even published yet which discuss this favourite theme of mine, but because I was on sabbatical last year (if you can call it that) and because I basically didn’t really do much work last year except here and there, it feels like many moons have passed since I mused and reflected on the concept of authenticity from the perspective of language teaching.

Yesterday I was out walking my beloved dog, Pippin, and listening to some Nirvana. There was a line in the song that said “That’s old news” and this got me to thinking. Old news is an interesting expression, it’s something of an oxymoron. News, by definition, has to be new. So old news can’t really be news. I instantly started thinking about the lessons I teach which incorporate elements from the news or current affairs. Now that I’m back to teaching after a year off, it’s interesting how much I realised I enjoy thinking about my classes and planning materials for them.

The first big change in the news to have happened since I was last in the classroom in the academic year of 2019 is obviously the timely end of Trump’s presidency. Nobody was more relieved than me to be rid of this toxic, bloated, deranged orange billionaire. But, there is now a Trump shaped hole in many of my lessons. I used to teach a class on the discourse of racism, in which we take Teun van Dijk’s ( 2008) work on disclaimers and denial in the discourse of racism, and utilise some of the principles to analyse articles and speeches.

In the class, the example I have been doing for the past four years was Trump’s famous presidential announcement speech, June 16, 2015, in which he spouted vitriolic nonsense about Mexicans being “rapists”. I am including the handout I use as well for anyone interested.

Currency as an attribute of authenticity

I am going to talk about this lesson in terms of authenticity and currency. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, currency is one of Feda Mishan’s 3Cs of Authenticity (along with culture, and challenge (2005: 44–64)) from her brilliant book Designing authenticity into language learning materials. I have always found the concept of currency to be particularly helpful when I think about materials and authenticity. Basically, currency refers to the temporal dimension to authenticity, which she particularly elaborates with respect to the changing nature of language use, although she does also associate it with topical issues and current affairs. In my own writings I have already slightly developed on this idea, when I wrote;

“If I do a lesson about John Lennon in December, it would have more currency than doing the lesson in, for example May, because I could use the opportunity to mark the anniversary of his death. I could also ask students to talk about their own favourite musicians, and the dangers and stresses that fame brings. Currency not only refers to the ‘up-to-date-ness’ of the materials but also their topicality and relevance.”

(Pinner, 2016: 79)

With the departure of Trump, I thought this might be a good time to discuss “old news” and currency in relation to authenticity. I think this lesson is perhaps one of the best I had in terms of helping the students understand and apply Van Dijk’s framework for identifying racist discourse. It was always fun to teach, and the students enjoyed putting Trump under the microscope and coming to the unwavering conclusion that Trump was indeed being racist in his speech. The lesson had a video, it had an academic text behind it, and most of all it had currency.

This year, I can probably still get away with using this lesson, but what about next year? And the year after? Clearly, with Trump no longer current (as in serving as president and regularly featuring in news and media) this lesson is going to start aging quickly. In other words, I need to find a new, more contemporary racist figure to analyse.

But, currency is not simply a matter of updating your handouts now and then. This could quickly become exhausting. Whilst I am very happy with the idea of The Living Textbook (meaning we are always updating the materials we wrote for class), it would be nice to be able to create materials which can be used for more than a few years.

Materials and “Old News”

When a teacher creates a lesson based around a newspaper article, they do so knowing that they will very likely only be able to use those materials once, or at best a handful of times. Why? Because the news will soon lose its currency, and thus an aspect of its intrinsic authenticity will also be lost. Students are not going to get excited by a random newspaper article that you had lying around for years. They need “New News” in order to connect with the topic, find relevance in it in the world, validify and authenticate it. This is a shame, as I am sure anyone who has made a lesson plan from a newspaper knows that it can be quite time-consuming. I’ve always found that using newspaper articles in my classes was a good way of getting students involved in something going on in the world and brining it into our class. And, of course, newspapers are part and parcel of the “classic” definition of authenticity. Please note, I am NOT saying newspapers are authentic in and of themselves. They are not. But, I think we can all agree that it’s a bit of a shame to design classes around a news story and not to be able to get some kind of mileage out of it.

However, let’s consider a slightly different perspective. What if the newspaper article was from August 6, 1945?

Despite being over 70 years old, this article retains its currency simply because of the historical importance of the event.

Another example might be a paper from September 11th, 2001.

Such articles will likely always retain their authentic currency, simply because these stories are not news but history.

Does this mean I can keep using my Donald Trump lesson then? Can I say that this was a historical speech?

The issue is a little more complex than that. I think Trump’s presidency is very likely going to be remembered in history (hopefully for the right reasons). However, I personally might feel that Trump was old news still rather than being history, simply because we need more time to pass before we can gauge how history responds to the event, how people reflect on it, and importantly how much people care about it! This is especially true in terms of the demographic I teach. I need to consider how 20-year-old Japanese university students feel about Trump and whether they still care, now or in a few years’ time. My feeling is that for my students, they wouldn’t be very interested in analysing Trump anymore now that he’s no longer president.

This is why currency is such an interesting concept, and does not simply equate with how recent something is. I would argue that, keeping with the US president theme, Abraham Lincoln has more currency than, say, George W. Bush. I feel that students would appreciate a lesson on JFK more than they would on The Donald, and this is because of currency. Lincoln and JFK belong to history, whereas Bush and Trump are simply in the past.

Currency Vs History

The problem with this conceptualisation of authentic currency is that it might discourage teachers and materials writers from using stories from recent current affairs because of the way they will age quickly. We are already very aware of how international textbooks are constantly needing to be updated. Photos of students in the 90s just won’t cut it for a coursebook anymore. Photos, typography and graphic styles are all easy identifiers of the age of a textbook, and publishers are certainly under the impression that their customers will not want to spend good money on an ancient textbook. Opening a textbook and seeing a photo of someone using a chunky laptop or sitting in front of one of the big CRT monitors instead of a flatscreen is likely to inspire a snort of derision, not a good starting point when the teacher is trying to get their students to invest in the content. Not only do styles and fashions change but also so does language. The fact that materials need updating is as inevitable as the fact that languages themselves are constantly evolving and updating.

So, should materials writers simply avoid anything from current affairs? Should textbooks be filled with articles on the moon landing and speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.? (I chose both those examples as they are widely used in textbooks). I think it would be a shame if we let currency slide in favour of history, but it’s true that something historical will retain its currency for longer than something which is merely ‘news’. The balance is in the sweet spot somewhere in-between. There are new news articles all the time, but certain topics retain their currency and recur in the news regularly. Issues about gender equality, racial discrimination, the environment, social justice. Critical topics such as these will always have currency and it will not be hard to find news stories to link to these issues.

I have also experienced a kind of “noticing” effect when teaching about certain topics, much as Richard Schmidt started noticing new vocabulary items everywhere once he had learned it. When I am talking about a certain topic with one of my classes, it’s never long before a newspaper article with direct relevance to that topic jumps out at me. Recently it was the resignation of Olympics Committee President Mori for making sexist remarks, which fits very nicely in with my class on feminism and gender issues. The lesson is there already, but this provides an up-to-date reference point. I might show a slide of Mori in the class, but it’s easy to change and update.

Unfortunately, the Trump lesson isn’t going to be so easy to update. That lesson has lost its authentic currency I fear, so I will need to redesign it. But as I’m doing so, I will bear in mind these reflections on currency and try to get something which has a good mileage. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!


Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Pinner, R. S. (2016). Reconceptualising authenticity for English as a global language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Schmidt, R. W. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11(2), 129-158.

Van Dijk, T. A. (2008). Discourse and power. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

WEBINAR: Humanising Language Research Through the Complexity Lens

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6th March 2021
10 AM to 1130 UTC
Find your time zone


Ema Ushioda
Richard J. Sampson
Richard S. Pinner

In this 90-minute Webinar, participants will be able to join in a discussion about how complexity perspectives to language learning can be researched with a focus on making sense of complex and unpredictable phenomena. We are planning to include a lot of audience participation so we will be fielding and answering questions. We will also encourage audience members to ‘take the mic’ and share their own experiences too.

We will discuss how the Complexity Lens can act as a useful tool for teachers and researchers to ensure that we focus on the actual people in the language classroom and the relationships that take place in real learning contexts.

To attend the event please sign up at the link below: https://forms.gle/amqbkK9eGDks29Cy5

We will email a Zoom Meeting link a few days before the event.

This event is kindly supported by Multilingual Matters and the TEFLology Podcast.

Recommended Reading

Pinner, R.S. and Sampson, R.J. (2021), Humanizing TESOL Research Through the Lens of Complexity Thinking. TESOL J. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.604

Sampson, R. J., & Pinner, R. S. (Eds.). (2021). Complexity Perspectives on Researching Language Learner and Teacher Psychology. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. <https://www.multilingual-matters.com/page/detail/Complexity-Perspectives-on-Researching-Language-Learner-and-Teacher-Psychology/?k=9781788923545>

Virtual Laboratory: Authenticity and Metacognition

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Recently I was invited to contribute to the Virtual Laboratory on Cognitive Approaches to L2 Instruction by the Universities of Heidelberg and Kent. It’s always nice to be given an invitation, and of course I accepted. Here is the video of the lecture, and my slides are also available for download too (with embedded audio).

Here is the abstract for the talk.

Dr. Richard PINNER
Sophia University (Japan)

Authenticity and Metacognition in L2 Learning

A talk for the Virtual Laboratory on Cognitive Approaches to L2 Instruction: Bridging theory, Researches and Practice

Slavisches Institut, Universitaet Heidelberg

AUGUST 8, 2020

(Central European Time, ex. Berlin, Paris, Roma)




In this video lecture, I will discuss the issue of authenticity in L2 learning and teaching. I will outline the way authenticity is (somewhat paradoxically) simultaneously over-simplified and overly complicated. In order to explain the definitional problems and conceptual paradoxes of authenticity, I will present the authenticity continuum, which is a visual attempt to understand authenticity as it relates to language learning from both a social and contextual perspective. Authenticity is an important aspect of self-in-society when learning another language, and I will discuss the way that metacognition and metacognitive strategies are an essential aspect in the creation of a culture of authenticity within the language classroom.

You can access the slides from here

If you would like to ask any questions or continue the discussion, you can either do so here on this site, using the YouTube comments or you can talk to me through Twitter @uniliterate.

Hope you enjoy the talk and I look forward to hearing from you!

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What conspiracy theories have in common with fiction – and why it makes them compelling stories

Philip Seargeant, The Open University

In an era dominated by “fake news” and disinformation, conspiracy theories are coming to play an increasingly influential role in modern politics. During the recent impeachment hearings in the US, for example, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill warned that “fictional narratives” pushed by Russia were undermining American security.

But what’s the difference exactly between a conspiracy theory and a legitimate news story? Does “fictional” in this sense simply mean fabricated? My ongoing research suggests there is more to it than this – something which can explain why conspiracy theories can gain such a powerful hold over the public imagination.

The narrative that Hill was referring to in her impeachment testimony is what’s known as “Crowdstrike”, a conspiracy theory named after a US cybersecurity company, that alleges it was Ukraine rather than Russia that hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server in 2016, and that Ukraine, along with the Democrats, subsequently went about framing Russia for interfering in the election.

A day after Hill’s testimony the US president, Donald Trump, again trotted out precisely these same allegations in an interview with the TV show Fox & Friends. In doing so he made a string of assertions which are provably false. Reports from both the US intelligence community and special counsel Robert Mueller have, after all, concluded that it was Russia who actively interfered in the 2016 election, while there’s no evidence of Ukraine having any part in it.

As Hill noted, the whole Crowdstrike theory seems to be a clear “effort to legitimise an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a US adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016”.

Powerful forms of narrative

Conspiracy theories are used in disinformation campaigns in two main ways. On the one hand, the simple act of citing them can be a way of legitimising views you don’t like. For instance, the British journalist Carole Cadwalladr’s investigations into various shady tactics used by the Leave campaign in 2016 EU referendum are regularly dismissed as nothing more than conspiracies by her enemies.

But conspiracy theories are also used as counter-narratives to confuse the actual nature of events and, in doing so, push a particular ideological view of the world.

Read more: Conspiracy theories: how belief is rooted in evolution – not ignorance

It’s worth noting that all explanations operate as a type of narrative. A basic dramatic narrative has three steps to it: (1) a person embarks upon a (2) journey into a hostile environment which (3) ultimately leads to self-knowledge.

This same basic structure applies to explanations: (1) you want to discover some information; (2) you find a way of discovering it; and (3) your world is changed as a result.

But, as recent research I’ve been doing shows, there are several ways in which conspiracy theories draw directly on elements of storytelling that are found in fiction rather than factual narratives.

As in fictional narratives, all the elements in a conspiracy theory are linked through clear lines of cause and effect. There’s a reason for everything and, if that reason isn’t immediately forthcoming, it’s because it’s being purposefully hidden as part of the conspiracy. This differs from real life of course, where events often include large amounts of happenstance, inexplicable phenomena and a general murkiness and confusion.

Same story

Then there’s the way that conspiracy theories are all underpinned by the same basic archetype: what the writer Christopher Booker calls the “overcoming the monster” story. In this, a single or a small group of rebels take on the overwhelming forces of a corrupt and malevolent establishment which is threatening the wellbeing of society.

Crowdstrike slots snuggly into this formula. Corrupt forces within the political establishment (in this case the Democratic Party) are presented as betraying the will of the people – represented by the election of Trump in 2016. The ongoing impeachment process against the president therefore threatens the welfare of the US as an independent democratic nation. As the political theorist Jan-Werner Muller has noted, this type of conspiracy theory is structurally embedded in the logic of all populist movements in the way their leaders regularly argue that the will of the people can only be denied through underhand and corrupt ways.

Conspiracy theories always fixate on a very simple story which acts as a fable for their overarching worldview. They usually take an issue of real significance – such as foreign influence in domestic elections – but, in order to explain it, they latch on to one succinct story which bypasses the complexities and messiness of real-life phenomena and instead satisfies the logic of their overarching ideological narrative.

For Trump’s supporters, the Crowdstrike story feels true because it’s another example of the establishment’s great witch hunt against him. As a story, it also has a coherent logic which the expanse and messiness of the facts lack. So, in both these ways, our familiarity with the way the world is mediated via fiction helps cast doubt on the way the world actually is.The Conversation

Philip Seargeant, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.