Investigating innovation in English language teaching : three case studies at a junior college in Taiwan
This qualitative research study attempts to investigate innovation in general English language teaching/learning as perceived by English teachers at a private vocational junior college in Taiwan, a Chinese-speaking context. The underachievement reported in the literature highlights the important issue that innovation is always constrained by many factors at all levels, in terms of institutional, educational, and cultural levels, etc. (Kennedy 1988). Recently research on innovation has been moving from a method-oriented understanding to broadening perspectives beyond language and classroom (Holliday 1996). In this context, this research aims to identify the mechanisms of three ELT innovation projects and investigate the factors affecting their success on many levels. The method adopted was ethnographic research that gave a thick description of how the teachers participated in the ELT projects leading to innovation. The three ELT projects to be examined were carried out on a school basis and located in the same context. One was initiated entirely top-down, one from both directions, and the other bottom-up. The first one aimed to implement a new teacher role of teacher-cum-researcher, the second to integrate technology into the English program, and the last to improve teaching through better materials. These projects were non-aided and independent of expatriates, and in this way different from the expatriate-aided ELT projects in the literature. Besides, unlike many projects that are designed and evaluated by their change agents, these projects were examined from the perspective of the end users (teachers), and in this way provide insights from a different angle. Several conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of the outcomes. It is found that the rise of the double centre-periphery innovation model in the field of education was ineffective in helping under-informed implementers to develop their change capacity. Dalin's four barriers (1983) are inadequate to address the barriers to innovation effectiveness, without taking the communication barrier and local negative rhythms into account, as they also inhibited the success of innovation. This study also shows that it seems naYve to expect that success is more likely in bottom-up innovations than in top-down innovations. In fact, if innovations, whether top-down or bottom-up, are to succeed, they require the same favourable conditions to facilitate their success, such as the development of the change capacity and effective conflict management.