Understanding Motivation through Ecological Research

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Submission Summary

Researching complex and dynamic constructs such as motivation can be challenging. However, approaching this inquiry from a practitioner perspective may offer a multitude of opportunities. I will relate my experience as a teacher-researcher who investigated motivation during and English for Academic Purposes programme by using Exploratory Practice.

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Researching from a complex and dynamic perspective requires due considerations and pragmatic decisions. Ushioda (2015) raised the following questions: a) if learners are ‘persons-in-context’, how can we meaningfully differentiate between the learner and the context?, b) how do we deal with the psychological and historical elements of the evolving context which are internal to the learner (e.g., memories), c) how do we define and circumscribe the external, internal and temporal boundaries of ‘context’ relevant to the specific learner? And given the multitude of ‘nested’ (Bronfenbrenner 1989) contexts and sub-contexts, how do we know which ones of these interact directly or not with L2 motivation? To address these questions, I will illustrate my own framework based on the notion of ‘life capital’ which ecologically views learners holistically as human beings with their own 'life stories' which shape their behaviour, including their learning motivation. The focus is on a group of international students who joined a pre-sessional programme at a UK university. I was the tutor in charge of the reading and writing module, and, in my capacity as a teacher-researcher, I was interested to chart and understand the trajectory of these students’ motivation. To gain such insights, I adopted Exploratory Practice (EP) as a methodology to account for the diverse and wide range of factors, both internal and external, which shape the learners’ motivation to learn English for Academic Purposes. Using Potentially Exploitable Pedagogical Activities (PEPAs), I was able to fulfil the ethical duty as the pre-sessional teacher facilitating learning, and the additional research objective of understanding the nature, shape and quality of their learning motivation.

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Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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