Saturday, January 21, 2012

Putting it Into Production

Hubby and I had an enjoyable dinner of tapas at a restaurant in nearby Conshohocken tonight.  That's "Conshy" to the locals ... or "Pleasant Valley", as translated from the language of the Lenape (the original locals).

Our dinner conversation ranged all over the place, which is probably appropriate, since our food varied quite a bit as well!  At one point, we were recalling our days in engineering. Both of us have changed careers after more than 20 years -- he has switched to accounting and I to teaching ESL.  A little bit of good-natured banter always arises because we both worked at AT&T but he worked in production at the IC manufacturing plant ("the fab" or "the works") and I worked across town in R&D.  The back-and-forth tends to generalize along the lines of the Ivory-Tower-Head-in-the-Clouds types in research vs. the Practical-Rubber-Meets-the-Road people in engineering. (Actually, I wasn't in research -- I was in development, which is halfway between the Tower and the Road ... but the folks at the plant tended to lump all of R&D together.)

Why do I bring this up on an ELT blog?  It occurred to me that teaching and engineering have something in common.  Teachers and engineers both take the work of researchers and put it to practical use.  Teachers and engineers must often find compromises ... they must deal with the needs and deadlines of customers/students today, whether recent research is there to back them up or not.  Sometimes they're inspired by work in  progress; sometimes they inspire it. Teachers and engineers have practical insights that may be overlooked too often by researchers (and administrators).  I've always thought that my career switch was really quite radical, but perhaps not!

For decoration, here's an old picture from a bike ride near historic Gettysburg, PA.  I manipulated the original photo to better reflect my impression at the time ...


  1. A common criticism of ELT research is that it has very little application to the classroom - research deals in generalisations while teachers' work is always situated in a unique context for which generalisations rarely apply. Clarke calls this the dysfunction of the theory-practice discourse. I would suspect that the same couldn't be said of engineering? (there are laws of physics that can't be broken!)

  2. Yes, I would like to see more ideas for practical application of recent research and I'm sure I'm not alone!

    I'll have to read Clarke, because I think the same theory-practice friction arises in engineeering. Researchers look for a "pure" understanding, engineers want to apply aspects of that understanding in specific contexts, just as teachers do. They have customers with unique needs and deadlines and other practical concerns ... There's sometimes a big gap between this and the research!