Prof. Robin Yang Ruo-wei
School of Education and Languages

Start Where You Are and Use What You Have: An Interview with Prof. Robin Yang Ruo-wei

In this issue, Prof. Robin Yang, Professor in the School of Education and Languages, shares her tips for success in a research funding application — using what one already possesses to develop a feasible research project.

Prof. Yang’s research proposal — entitled “Analysis of repair practice and its relationship with L2 Chinese learning in online tutorials” — was awarded a grant by the Research Grants Council’s Faculty Development Scheme. The study investigates the ways in which students’ grammatical correction and organisation of repair (i.e. to keep the interaction going on) in classroom interaction are related to language learning. While there are studies which look at repair practice in ordinary conversation, Prof. Yang addresses a knowledge gap by studying repair in talk-in-interaction in the L2 (learning Chinese as a second language) classroom.

Prof. Yang said that she had carefully assessed the feasibility of the project when developing the research proposal. First, the research approach — conversation analysis — was not new to her, as she had used it in one of her previous studies. “Now the method is just applied to another subject population,” she explained. In terms of the data used, the study employs video recordings of online tutoring sessions, which had already been recorded and archived in the online learning environment (OLE). This allowed her to give a strong justification for the availability of data for the proposed study. These factors had become the building blocks for Prof. Yang’s success in her funding application.

Prof. Yang encourages young scholars to conduct pilot studies as one of options for preparatory work before submitting a proposal. “It is not necessarily costly to do so, and is sometimes easier than it seems,” she said. “Take my previous research studies as an example. If I want to look into classroom interaction, I can start to collect data in daily teaching practice by paying attention to the dynamics in class.” When you make this attempt, “you will find out which parts of your research design are not practicable and thus need amendment. When one mentions the obstacles encountered during the pilot and proposes ways of addressing them, the proposal will be much more convincing for reviewers.”

While it is important to persuade reviewers that a research project is of a high enough quality to be funded, Prof. Yang reminded colleagues to also think about its feasibility from their own perspective. For example, according to her experiences, it is easy to underestimate the time it takes to collect or process the data.“Although research support staff can be recruited to assist the project, time is needed to train them to become competent.”

In response to their research funding applications, academics may receive comments such as “the applicant lacks expertise in using the proposed methodology”, and “access to data may be a potential issue that needs to be addressed.” Such comments point to the importance of taking the feasibility of a research study into consideration when planning it. In this regard, Prof. Yang’s advice is important and timely. The Research Bulletin hopes that colleagues will benefit from her experiences in obtaining research funding and producing fruitful research outputs.



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