Epistemology, theory,methodology and methods

This week has been challenging since I have been pushed to be at my desk and assume the position of a PhD student at ANU. In a month’s time I have to present my Thesis proposal review, which consists of a written paper and an oral presentation, so I have been working on the theoretical underpinnings of my research together with the corresponding alignment to methodology and methods. And as the cherry of the cake, the week ended up with a workshop  at CEDAM by Monica Kennedy focusing on exactly the same issues: Epistemology, theory,methodology and methods. More food for thought!

Epistemology, theoretical framework, methodology and methods, all this needs to be clearly stated, defined and elaborated in your PhD. It is not just a  matter of a procedure you have to follow as part of your PhD , but  it is fundamental as part of the research process. This is absolutely fascinating, but so challenging sometimes. This is my attempt.(so far)

What is truth? A collective construct that we share and make sense of it  by means of language and other cultural artifacts. It is rooted and evolves as part of the culture and society we live in and are part of.

What is reality? A collective interpretation that we make sense of  by means of tools. It is changing and dynamic.

What is the purpose of my research?  Understanding, knowledge for the sake of it, is not enough. I support the tradition of Socio Cultural theory (SCT)  it does not separate understanding (research) from transformation (concrete action).

Which epistemological perspective is  my research based on? I believe that “knowing, thinking and understanding” come from participating in the social practices of learning in specific settings and situations.  Using Kare Johnson’s words “Teachers learn and grow out of participation in the social practices they engage in, and what they know and how they use that knowledge is interpretative and contingent on knowledge of  self, setting, students,curriculum and community” (2009 p.13).

Is my research project coherent and consistent?

My research Aim:This research seeks to explore English as a foreign language teacher education in Chile. This study will illuminate the activity of learning how to teach EFL in Chile.

Research question:

How do pre-service teachers engage in the activity of learning how to teach English in the Chilean context?

Secondary research questions:

  1. How has the activity of learning how to teach EFL changed in Chile?
  2. What are the social practices pre-service teachers engage in to learn how to teach EFL?
  3. What appears to be enabling and impeding pre-service teachers to learn how to teach English?
  4. How do pre-service teachers understand how to learn how to teach EFL?

Research objectives:

  1. Analyse the cultural-historical origins of EFL teacher education in Chile
  2. Scrutinize social practices student teachers engage in learning how to teach EFL.
  3. Examine the contradictions within the activity of learning how to teach EFL
  4. Explore student teachers’ beliefs of language teaching as they mediate their engaging in the activity of learning how to teach.
  5. Develop a heuristic model to analyse EFL teacher education
  6. Explore alternatives of improvements in the activity of learning how to teach EFL


This is a qualitative research which will explore EFL teacher education in Chile. I will use Activity theory as a heuristic  “to understand the relationship between human mental functioning on the one hand, and cultural, historical, and institutional setting, on the other” (Wertsch, 1995, p. 56). I will delineate the activity of learning how to teach EFL, identify the activity setting, the motive of the activity, sociocultural history of the activity settings, and the activity’s boundaries.

The identification of an activity system’s object and the analysis of its developmental cycle are not simple tasks. “the activity is not immediately accessible consciously, so you cannot interview people about their activity directly through rote questions but must interpret their actions and opinions after some careful reflection.” (Christiansen, 1996, p. 178) Thus, it seems that (Scribener,1985) that the ideal primary data for an application of activity theory should be collected through ethnographic methods of participant observation, interviews, and discussions in real-life settings.

Activity is a process that we can approach by unfolding the task as stated [in the behaviour, verbally and in all other ways] by the actor, through historical inquiry, observation, and interviews. (Christiansen, 1996, p. 177)


Ethnography of trouble

A.Ethnographic methods.

  1. document analyses
  2. interviews
  3. fieldnotes
  4. Observations

B. Participants

1. Student teachers

2. Heads of the teacher education programs

3. teacher educators

4. teacher mentors


About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.


  1. Tanisha

    I was wondering how to articulate my epistemological perspective. This is well structured. Thanks for sharing. ‘[You] blog therefore I/we learn’

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