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News & Press: AAALetter

1st Vice-President’s Report

Tuesday, December 20, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim McNamara, The University of Melbourne
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It is an exciting and busy time as preparations continue for the upcoming conference in Portland, Oregon, March 18-21, 2017. We were overwhelmed by the number of proposals received, nearly 2000, about 15% more than for recent conferences. This meant that the acceptance rate this year, particularly for individual papers, was lower, as unfortunately we have a fixed number of rooms and time slots for presentations. We have tried to achieve a better balance across the different strands, to reflect the number of proposals in each strand. The new Vocabulary strand attracted just under 50 paper proposals, in line with several established strands, and there are now plans to make it permanent. The experimental ten-minute shared shorter paper format has proved popular, with about 91 proposals received. In this format, presentations are restricted to ten minutes, with much more time allocated to discussion of the three papers in each session. We are interested to see how this new format is received by presenters and audience.

We have taken two initiatives to reflect the distinctive Portland location of the conference. Portland State University will host a special event on the evening before the conference opens, Friday, March 17th. A colloquium entitled ‘Applying a Sociocultural View of Second Language Learning District-Wide: The Portland Case’, organized by George Bunch and Aída Walqui, presents an ambitious effort to bring coherence to the education of English Learners in the Portland School District. Building on sociocultural notions of second language learning, the work encompasses district leadership, teachers, and an elementary school demonstration site. Presenters represent the diverse groups involved in the work.

Portland has also been in the news recently as one of the cities where reaction to the election of Donald Trump as President was given dramatic expression. Given that the voting outcomes in the past six months both in the US and in Europe have overturned many of the assumptions of current political and social life, I have asked Terry Wiley, President of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC, to convene a special invited colloquium for an exchange of views on the question of our professional responsibility in such times and how we, as applied linguists, educators, and language professionals, can better reach broader audiences and stakeholders while impacting public and educational policy. This will be held during the lunchtime slot on Saturday March 18th. There will be short presentations with plentiful opportunity for discussion.

In an era of rapid change, an underlying goal in drawing up the program of plenary speakers and invited colloquia this year has been to advance the theoretical edge in our field, and to reflect fully the range of socially relevant contexts in which applied linguists work. To this end three of the plenary speakers are from outside applied linguistics. Janet Wiles is an engineer, working on communication with and between robots, and automatic procedures for conducting discourse analysis. Shaun Gallagher, a philosopher, has worked for many years on embodiment in cognition, an interest that resonates deeply with work by Chuck Goodwin and others in applied linguistics. Carolyn Miller’s work on genre has been one of the most significant influences on the teaching of writing; her plenary will explore the extension of rhetorical approaches to genre into the visual realm. In addition, there are three plenary speakers from within Applied Linguistics: Li Wei on translanguaging; the Swiss SLA researcher Simona Pekarek Doehler on the development of interactive competence in a second language; and Suresh Canagarajah on the spatiotemporal dimension of professional communication in a second language. There are 10 invited colloquia in all – a rich feast.

Topics in the invited colloquia include sexuality and gender, the role of language in the current crisis around asylum seekers and refugees, ethnographic research methods, and transdisciplinarity as a frame for research in Applied Linguistics, along with many others.
The two preconference workshops have seen strong enrolments. The one organized by Jim Lantolf and Kees de Bot, ‘Sociocultural Theory and Complex Dynamic Systems Theory: What can we learn from each other?’ is already fully booked. The other, to be conducted by Luke Plonsky, ‘Applying Research Synthesis and Meta-analysis in the Language Sciences’, still has places available.

Portland is a lovely and interesting city, and the conference venue is well placed for easy exploration on foot, on the excellent public transport and of course by bicycle. Make sure you allow time to visit the exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum which will be on at the time of the conference: ‘Constructing Identity’, an exhibition of African American art; and ‘Rodin: The Human Experience’, an exhibition of 52 bronzes by the artist to commemorate the centenary of his death. For details, visit the Portland Art Museum website.

See you in Portland!

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