The Global Cafe and talking about ‘My Country’

Yours truly presenting at the University of Toyama‘s Global Cafe

My turn finally came to give a presentation for the University of Toyama‘s Global Cafe on Friday, May 19. The instructions were relatively simple, “to talk about yourself and your country” for about 30 minutes, but of course I had to complicate things.

First things first, I should probably explain what the Global Cafe is. It’s an initiative started by a few faculty at the University of Toyama to try to provide students with opportunities to experience communicating in English. There is usually a Japanese guest speaker from the university faculty invited to talk about their experience of using English professionally and their career and a foreign resident of Japan from the university faculty to talk about their country.

I’m largely supportive of the motivations underlying the Global Cafe and impressed by the organizing efforts of the faculty who have put their time and energy into coordinating it. That said, with the four of five events to date that I’ve attended, I’ve felt there was an imbalance between the guest presenters. My impression has been that the Japanese presenters have been able to put themselves forward as professionals who have used their language skills to further their interests and careers, which I feel casts them in a very positive light. I hate to say on the other hand, but perhaps in contrast the foreign residents of Japan faculty have presented on the theme of ‘My Country’ which in my opinion has limited the range and depth of the presentations they have been able to give; they don’t seem to have been as successful at sharing their stories as professionals furthering their interests and careers. Their presentations have tended to be more along the lines of my country is here, these are its geographical and linguistic features, and these are some of its cultural features. The presentations on people’s countries have generally all been done well, but that was simply not the kind of talk I wanted to give, nor the kind of presentation that I feel I could do particularly well or successfully. And therefore I made things complicated.

Just in case you want to dive into my talk without further explanation, the slides I used are included below. If you want to read an explanation of what I presented on, I’ve included that below.

Being too clever for my own good, and knowing that the kind of presentation I was expected to give was one covering my country, the USA, I had a bit of a brainstorm about how to approach the issue. I concluded that the pivot point from the kind of presentation I was being asked to give to the kind of presentation I wanted to give revolved around the definition of country. Being an English teacher, I did what I’m always telling my students to do; I checked the dictionary to see exactly how country is defined. Here is the definition, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Country, a definition     Source:

I noted the first definition as an indefinite expanse of land as a good place to add some humor, but not something I could build a 30 minute talk around. The second definition includes, “land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship”, and I thought that gave me something to work with. I decided to chart just where I’ve lived over the years, which was an instructive exercise. I decided to make two charts, one tracking the countries I’ve lived in, and one tracking localities within those countries. I’ve included them below for reference. I think the first, detailing the different places within countries that I’ve lived over the years, makes the better case for the direction my presentation ended up going in:

Places I’ve lived, along with the (approximate) years of my residence in each location
Countries I’ve lived, along with the approximate number of years of residence

My opinion was and is that the first of the two graphs give me a good reason to question just where I should talk about when discussing ‘my country’, especially in light of the definition of country being the land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship. I started by noting that I really have very few memories of Iowa; it’s where my parents are from, but I haven’t spent a substantial portion of my life there, and while I still have family there, including my mom, my formative memories aren’t really anchored there, and so I could only talk about it as a place I’m not all that familiar with.

Kansas is a good candidate; that’s where I went to high school and university, although the last time I spent any substantial amount of time there was more than 17 years ago, and so my memory is of a place that I very much doubt exists any more, at least not in the form I remember it. I made my case by asking if Toyama is the same now as it was 20 years ago, and was answered with a resounding no. I also explained that the house I spent my high school years in has since been sold, and so if I let myself in the door and sat down in the living room, the police would be called on me for trespassing, and I would end up in jail needing to explain myself. If I’m lucky. I didn’t talk about the proliferation of guns in the US generally and Kansas more specifically; I didn’t want to get too deep into those kinds of issues during my talk. I preferred to try to keep things light.

That said, I couldn’t resist the “indefinite usually extended expanse of land” part of the definition having lived in Kansas, and so I shared with my students my favorite geography paper of all time: the Kansas is flatter than a pancake article. Here the two most relevant graphics are as evidence.

First, the photos:

Figure 1. (a) A well-cooked pancake; and (b) Kansas.

And second, a surface topography:

Figure 4. Surface topography of Kansas and of a pancake.

They conclude that on a measurement of 1 being perfectly flat and 0 being perfectly round, a pancake comes in at 0.957 and Kansas at 0.9997.

I then included an image of what this can look like in real life:

Going back to the topic of ‘my country’, I noted that I live in Toyama now, but that most of the people in the audience do, too, and I didn’t think that was why I was invited to present at the Global Cafe.

After this, I explained that the place I’ve lived the longest, and where I have my one and only house is Nagano. Then I just talked about Nagano, which is what I wanted to do all along anyway.

I explained that one thing I quickly discovered is that, particularly in Japan, where people are expected to visit seems to be largely predetermined, and that if you take the time to step off of the beaten path, you can find all kinds of amazing and interesting wonders. I noted how one of my past times was finding agricultural roads through the mountains, and that I would tend to cycle those, although I’ve walked many of them as well. I noted how those roads lead to hidden gems such as the Jindaizakura, a 1,200 year-old cherry tree, and that there are all kinds of other interesting treasures out there to find.

The Jindai Zakura                                                        Photo Credit:

I then went through a series of photos of my life in Nagano, which you can see in the slideshow itself.

I was pretty happy with my presentation overall and it was quite well received. The only person I feel a bit bad for is the coordinator whose email I quoted, and who kept apologizing for the wording of her message. I feel bad that she felt bad, but I didn’t think there was anything specific wrong with what she wrote; she was writing from a common perception of people’s identity, particularly in Japan, and I was more interested in challenging those assumptions than going along with them. I felt that yielded a better presentation overall, and that challenging my audience’s assumptions about place and identity would be an excellent overall goal for my presentation that night. Also, in her defense, the Japanese definition of country seems more based on translating from Japanese into English than it does the other way around; it seems to only deal with the ‘country’ side of the definition, including concepts such as place of birth and citizenship, but not residence, in contrast to the Webster definition. Also, the Japanese lists country as first, rather than the open expanse definition Webster uses. I could be wrong, though; my Japanese isn’t far enough along to understand all the nuances of the kanji in the definition:

Country, a translation into Japanese                                                                                                                                                                       Source:

What treasure have you found near where you live? Please let me know in the comments.

Coming to grips with epistemology

Long time no blog. I’ve been mostly working on my PhD manuscript, but decided to take some time away from it today to reflect a bit on one aspect of it that’s been eluding me for most of the time I’ve been doing it, the issue of epistemology, or the stance toward knowledge I take in my thesis. This is mostly me thinking out loud, but getting it down helps to cement the knowledge a bit better in my mind, and if it leads to an interesting conversation, then all the better; there a very few people in Toyama that I can discuss these kinds of things with.

I was reworking my PhD’s Research Methods chapter for most of April, and one of the (many) issues I’ve been struggling with is the stance taken in my thesis toward what is knowledge, or epistemology, which my supervisors have said wasn’t well formed enough in my initial version of the chapter, and which they felt was still too focused on methods rather than methodology in the subsequent writing I tried to do on it.

The advice, as usual, was to do more reading, and I was skeptical that reading even more on the topic would help me to break through the coded language that seems to surround the topic. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I was wrong.

The paper that finally helped me to get a glimpse of what the discussion of epistemology concerns, even if figuring out how to write about it myself remains a challenge I haven’t come to terms with yet, was Agger’s 1991 paper on critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism:

Agger, B. (1991). Critical theory, poststructuralism, postmodernism: Their sociological relevance. Annual Review of Sociology, 17, 105–131.

I think what made the manuscript more approachable was partly that Agger is based in the US, and so the vocabulary he uses is easier for me to wrap my head around; he also appears interested in introducing the schools of thought and some of their historical developments to people who aren’t already familiar with them, rather than some of the other work I’ve read, which assumes familiarity with these different ways of thinking and uses that as a jumping off point for discussion and argumentation.

Specifically, the term ‘method’ and the related terms ‘method’ and ‘methodology’ appear 61 times in the paper (I love Mendeley Desktop‘s ability to annotate and quickly search PDFs). Throughout the manuscript, Agger is constantly saying that one of the assumptions of social science to date is that the ‘problem’ of research and researchers was to identify and implement the best possible ‘methods’ for their research, i.e., the research tools used for the circumstances of their investigations, to answer the research questions asked. He points out that critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism are tools that allow for questioning more than the methods used; they allow researchers to query the assumptions that lie behind their research methodology, or the research questions they are asking, assumptions that are (generally invisibly) guiding their research.

As I was reading, I kept running across the term methods and wondering what Agger was trying to get at by constantly problematizing the methods of research, and a some point in my reading of the manuscript, I finally saw that he was trying to say that setting up a research project to explore some phenomenon inevitably results in making assumptions about how the world is organized, and that not questioning those assumptions results in an implicit agreement with said social organization. Deep into the paper, on page 113, he gives a concrete example of this:

Where the status-attainment researchers of the Blau-Duncan (Blau & Duncan 1978) tradition defined mobility with respect to the occupational status of one’s father, a deconstructive reading would reveal the profound assumptions about the gendered nature of work as well as about male supremacy that underlie this methodological choice. More recent feminist scholars (e.g. Bose 1985) challenge the operationalization of occupational status in terms of father’s occupation because, they argue, this represents a powerfully ideologizing subtext that (a) leads people to think that only men work, or should work, and (b) misrepresents reality where, in fact, women work outside the home for wages.

As an example, this helped me better understand what he was getting at. There are further insights that can be read into the assumptions made in the example above, such as that status is merely a measure of one’s ‘occupational status’, that unpaid work, such as child reading, is left out of the research equation, and that there are merits to measuring the accomplishments of children against the career status of their parents. It isn’t that making any of those assumptions is necessarily the wrong thing to do in research, but to not make what assumptions were made in the research explicit is what Agger (and the theorists in the different schools of thought he reviews) point to as problematic.

Well, OK, some of the theorists would go farther and say the way of thinking in positivist research is fundamentally problematic, but while acknowledging some of the more radical interpretations of the research traditions he discusses, Agger appears more interested in taking a middle road of explaining that opening up research to critique of the assumptions underlying that research (critique of its epistemology)  is a net positive for the research field overall, as it allows for questioning how society is organized, rather than exclusively perpetuating the current social organizational order.

As he puts it on pages 114-115:

Methodology can be read as rhetoric, encoding certain assumptions and values about the social world. Deconstruction refuses to view methodology simply as a set of technical procedures with which to manipulate data. Rather, methodology can be opened up to readers intrigued by its deep assumptions and its empirical findings but otherwise daunted by its densely technical and figural nature. To put this generically, deconstruction can help reveal the values and interests suppressed far beneath the surface of science. This politicizes and democratizes science by opening its text to outsiders, allowing them to engage with science’s surface rhetoric more capably as well as to contest science’s deep assumptions where necessary…

I would agree that, particularly in an investigation of authors writing for academic publication, the topic of my thesis, it is important to try to bring the assumptions underlying the research to light, and to address issues of methodology (epistemology, or the assumptions underlying the research questions asked) in addition to the issues of the methods of the research (the decisions I made with respect to how I conducted my investigation to answer the research questions asked). So well done to my supervisors for telling me to keep reading.

What was it about this particular paper that finally opened my eyes to what the debate is about? I think part of it is that Agger, in 1991, was writing for a US audience that (he seems to assume) isn’t that familiar with the different schools of thinking that he discusses. His paper is fundamentally trying to tip an established order, but it reads like that order is already tipping, and he’s offering researchers tools to upset it further, tools that he’s imported from European schools of thought and which he feels could find fresh purchase in US sociological circles.

He also deals with some of the history of the ideas; who wrote about them, and what the relationship is between some of the main characters. That’s the kind of story I can relate to, rather than a more abstract discussion of the ideas disembodied from the people who came up with them, which is how much of the research I’ve read seems to treat the material. That he explains who is with and against who, and some of how the different schools have fractured and intermixed, helps me to understand the story of how some of the thinking on this matter has evolved, which makes it easier for me to wrap my head around what these schools of thought appear to be seeking to accomplish in terms of questioning dominant paradigms of academic research.

Finally, his language is approachable, at least in my opinion. He uses methods and methodology a lot, but he picks those words and sticks to them, rather than slipping into the jargon of philosophy. He uses epistemology only three times, and ontology not once. That may make what he has to say sound simplistic to those authors I’ve read that strew their texts with these more sophisticated terms, but it also makes it possible for me to parse what he has to say without my eyes glazing over at particularly complex stretches of prose.

Do you have another reading on this topic that you would recommend? Do you think I got some detail wrong here? Let me know; I would be happy to have a conversation that deepened my understanding of this topic even further, as long as it doesn’t take too much time away from my thesis writing.

CUE ESP Symposium 2017 – Call for Posters: Deadline June 30 for September 16 symposium

John Adamson and I gave a plenary talk for the JALT CUE ESP Symposium back in 2013, I think. The symposium has continued to be help annually since then, and this year will be at Keio University in September.

One of the organizers of the symposium just sent me the advertisement materials for it. I wish I could make it myself, but I thought someone may be interested.

They are currently accepting proposals for people to give poster presentations. Key dates are listed below, along with contact information for the symposium organizers.

The JALT CUE SIG ESP Symposium welcomes submissions of posters in English or Japanese on various aspects of ESP, including needs analysis, materials development, methodology, data-driven learning, corpus linguistics, summaries of ESP research, or other topics of interest to those teaching in an ESP context. Submission deadline is June 30, 2017. 

Submissions are to include the following information:

  1. Contact information: Poster presenter’s full name, affiliation, and email address
  2. Poster title: No word limit
  3. Poster summary: Maximum 75 words – for use on the website only
  4. Extended abstract: Maximum 200 words – will be included in the symposium handout
  5. Presenter biography: Maximum 50 words 

Poster boards measuring 160cm tall by 113cm wide will be available, and can accommodate A0 landscape or A1 portrait poster sizes. Presenters are discouraged from using multiple A4 size sheets in lieu of a poster at the symposium.

 Successful presenters should submit their poster as a PDF on or before September 10, 2017.

Poster presenters are also encouraged to provide a 1000-word description of their poster for the conference proceedings by September 24, 2017.

In the case of both poster pdf. and submissions proceedings, early submission is welcome. Posters and articles will be available on the CUE ESP Symposium web page following the event.

Please submit all documents to:

For more details on the event:

English language learning motivation symposium at the University of Toyama February 2017

The University of Toyama is going to have a free to attend English language learning motivation seminar Sunday February 19. There are two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. While it’s free to attend, RSVPs are requested. Details follow.

Download English flyer for University of Toyama English language learning motivation seminar February 2017

Download Japanese flyer for University of Toyama English language learning motivation seminar February 2017

There is also information on the University of Toyama’s Center for International Education and Research’s websites, in both English and Japanese.

Call for papers for ESP Across Cultures

This just in:

Proposals for papers would be most welcome for volume 14 (2017) of ESP Across Cultures (

The deadline for submitting an abstract of 250-300 words is 31 October 2016, with delivery of the completed paper by 28 February 2017.

Abstracts, papers and enquiries regarding the volume should be sent by e-mail to the editor Christopher Williams:

In February 2014 Italy’s National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research (ANVUR) awarded ESP Across Cultures with a CLASS A rating, the highest ranking available.

ESP Across Cultures is now freely accessible online at Free accessibility of the journal online considerably enhances its visibility and impact factor.

Since there is no charge for online access, the costs of running the journal will be borne by the contributors themselves. Contributors will be asked to pay a small fee for their contribution to be published only if it is deemed worthy of publication by the referees following the double-blind reviewing process.

Payment will range between a minimum of 210 euros and a maximum 300 euros, on the basis of the GDP ranking of the country of affiliation according to the Global Finance website ( as follows:

– Country ranking 1st to 50th: 300 euros
– Country ranking 51st to 100th: 270 euros
– Country ranking 101st to 150th: 240 euros
– Country ranking from 151st onwards: 210 euros.

In the case of a paper written by two or more contributors coming from different affiliations, only the ranking of the country with the lower GDP will be taken into consideration. Payment is to be made per contribution irrespective of the number of contributors. In other words, a single-authored contribution and a co-authored contribution have the same cost. Naturally, no charge will be made for any contribution that is not considered worthy of publication.

For guidelines concerning formatting etc. please go to

To purchase a copy of volumes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 of ESP Across Cultures please go to

Volume 12 (2015) is freely available online at

Journal of Asia TEFL Call for Papers

I received a welcome legitimate solicitation for paper submissions from a journal this morning and wanted to share:

The Journal of Asia TEFL is waiting for your papers.
Dear Asia TEFL Members,

As many of you are aware, the association publishes a quarterly journal, The Journal of Asia TEFL, and this is to encourage you to consider contributing to the journal. The submission deadline for each issue is as follows:

Spring- October 31
Summer – January 31
Fall – April 30
Winter – July 31

We accept articles and book reviews that are concerned with EFL/ESL in Asian contexts. While we encourage scholars from all regions of Asia to contribute to the journal, we would particularly welcome submissions from distinguished scholars from South Asia,. The length of an article should be between 5000 and 8000 words and that of a book review, between 500 and 800.  Submissions should be made at the journal website (, and any inquiries regarding submissions and the journal should be sent to the editors at  No fees or paid membership is required for submission. We publish online only, with no print issues.

Our journal is SCOPUS-indexed and has been accepted for coverage in the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI, It is currently going through the SSCI and AHCI journal selection process.


Andy Kirkpatrick, Editor in Chief

Copyright(c) 2003 All rights reserved.

An update on using videos in the language classroom

Not distracting vs. Distracting classroom behavior
Not distracting vs. Distracting classroom behavior

I originally wrote about my use of videos in my language classroom teaching here. However, with a new semester came a new challenge. With last year’s first year students, I was sharing personal stories based on Tim Murphey’s split storytelling technique. As these are Pharmaceutical Science students, from this year I wanted to go from more general interest stories to projects that were more science-based, continuing to use the principles of dividing the stories into two parts, but basing those stories on published scientific research reports. Ultimately I’m hoping to have students select their own articles to turn into video projects, but as it’s only the third week of the semester, we’re still at the beginning stages of this process. The first project I had them do was based on a research article that I selected and explained in class, then asked them to adapt into a video. I quickly realized that much scientific research can be divided into a setup of the methods of the research and an explanation of possible outcomes as part 1, and that students can suggest their own hypotheses regarding what they think the results will be. Then in part 2 I can explain the actual results of the research and students can see whether their predictions came true or not.

Well, the groups I assigned finished their part 1 videos in class today, based on Sana, Weston, and Cepeda’s article titled ‘Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers’. I would explain the research, but I was astounded at the excellent job one of the groups of students did summarizing the gist of the research as I explained it to them, and so I’ll let them do the rest of the talking for me:

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the remainder of the semester turns out regarding this teaching experiment.

What’s your opinion of my students’ video? Do you have any suggestions for further improving the activity? Feel free to share your ideas and reactions in the comments.

My newest paper is online on analysis of author editor interaction in writing for academic publication

I already mentioned I’m going to be presenting in May at the Third Annual ESBB Conference. I’m also happy to announce that my paper based on my presentation for them at their first annual conference in Izmir, Turkey is now online. In it I share some of my data from my PhD on authors corresponding with editors regarding their writing for academic publication, and some of the themes and issues that came up in those interactions. In particular, I consider how in one case problems arise in the interaction through apparent differences in expectations between one author, Kathy, and her editor, contrasting her experience of that paper with her experience publishing another paper, and a second author’s experience. Interested in the topic of the paper? Feel free to ask about it in the comments below.

I also added the paper to my profile. Thanks to all of my contacts there who provided feedback on an earlier version of the manuscript. Your comments and suggestions were really informative.