Teachers and Pre-Service Teachers as Researchers?

Ng Chi Wui

When I first attended an academic conference in the second year of my undergraduate studies, most of the presenters and attendees that I met were either academics or research postgraduate students, and hardly did I see any teachers attending the conference. Nevertheless, when I co-presented with my senior secondary student in the CITE Research Symposium 2024 in May, I saw more and more in-service and even pre-service teachers proactively promulgating their work. In my opinion, practitioners should be encouraged to conduct scholarly research for the sake of educational development.

Research conducted by educators is believed to bridge the recurringly discussed gap between theories and praxis. It is controversial whether educational theories can be directly applied to authentic classrooms. In the field of applied linguistics, Chapelle (2007) and Rose (2019) underscored the essence of practical implications of any piece of second language research while Magnan (2007) believed that research ought not to be neglected merely because of its lack of immediate pedagogical applications. Knowing their instructional context well, teachers are capable of identifying relevant research strategies that carry potential to improve pedagogical practice. In the context of Hong Kong, some teachers are motivated to conduct educational research on innovative pedagogies by the Educational Research Award Scheme launched by the Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals (COTAP).

A renowned applied linguist Professor Gerald Nelson, however, held a reserved attitude towards teachers serving as researchers. In a private conversation several years ago, Professor Nelson illustrated his view using the distinction between biology teachers and biologists: biologists discovered the structure of DNA, which is then taught to students by biology teachers, and never do biology teachers explore the DNA structure themselves. The same applies to any other disciplines. He argued that conducting research was simply not teachers’ responsibility. Professor Nelson’s argument is probably grounded on the assumption that teachers lack research skills. In this regard, Sato et al. (2022) suggested providing more professional development for teachers so that they can be equipped with the requisite skills for conducting rigorous academic research and benefit from the process as well as outcomes.

Two other obstacles to teachers and pre-service teachers acting as researchers include ethical issues associated with experimentation in classrooms and school leaders’ opposition to conducting classroom-based research. Ethical concerns may reduce the feasibility of randomized controlled trials, which involve random sampling of participants from the population, random allocation of the sample to the experimental and control groups, and exclusion of other variables (Morrison, 1993).  Experimental designs may deny the control group’s access to certain treatments, or even negatively influence students’ performance in standardized assessments. Second, in certain educational contexts, such as Hong Kong, school leaders generally do not welcome classroom-based research in their own schools as they are afraid that these additional elements beyond the standard curriculum may disrupt teaching and learning, triggering parental complaints. In order to promote research among educators, these two concerns have to be addressed.

The two following proposals are introduced. It is suggested to incorporate qualitative research designs into classroom-based research and challenge the mindset that quantitative research is superior to qualitative research. Grounded upon different ontologies and epistemologies, qualitative and quantitative research are distinct research paradigms that ought to be equally valued in the academic world (Johnson & Christensen, 2019). It is also recommended that school leaders become more open and receptive to school-based research. In such a vein, a research culture can be cultivated in the entire school.

Pre-service teachers are now often required to complete a research project in the final year of teacher training. Having been equipped with research skills, they should be provided with regular opportunities to apply those skills to advance educational progress.


Chapelle, C. (2007). Pedagogical implications in TESOL Quarterly? Yes, please! TESOL Quarterly, 41 (2), 404–406. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40264362

Johnson, R. B., & Christensen, L. (2019). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Magnan, S. S. (2007). Gauging the scholarly value of connecting research to teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 41 (2), 400–404. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40264361

Morrison, K. R. B. (1993). Planning and accomplishing school-centered evaluation. Norfolk: Peter Francis Publishers.

Rose, H. (2019). Dismantling the ivory tower in TESOL: A renowned call for teaching-informed research. TESOL Quarterly, 53 (3), 895-905. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/45214962.pdf?casa_token=8q3XH4ob3z8AAAAA:YNOBtgv5kZTMa6_kKK6CuYp_ZjFiQ1gxltDFmXhqnyK5Hr-Y45yQUQmBJGkgZ7iYUBJNIf-5K0l8MHdwjN85FRV-KdRYpKzV3XegJYLA_UTXASNt736ILA

Sato, M., Loewen, S., & Pastushenkov, D. (2022). ‘Who is my research for?’: Researcher perceptions of the research -practice relationship. Applied Linguistics, 43 (4), 625-652. https://academic.oup.com/applij/article-abstract/43/4/625/6482030

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