In this interview with TIRF, Dr. Polina Vinogradova, 2008 DDG recipient and winner of the Russel N. Campbell award, talks about her past, current, and future research interests, and discusses her postion at the American University in Washington, D.C.
TIRF: Dr. Vinogradova, in 2008, you were the recipient of TIRF’s Russell N. Campbell Award, which is given to the most outstanding applicant each year. The topic of your study was “Digital storytelling in ESL instruction: Identity negotiation through a pedagogy of multiliteracies.” What were the main findings of your study for us in a few sentences?
Dr. Vinogradova: In my study, I looked at how a pedagogy of multiliteracies can be introduced to the ESL curriculum using digital stories. I also explored the ways ESL learners negotiate their identities through multi-modal ways. The findings revealed the presence of situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and to a lesser extent transformed practice – four principles of a pedagogy of multiliteracies – in the process of digital story production. ESL learners who participated in this study, enthusiastically brought their interests, knowledge, native languages, and life outside of the classroom into the pedagogical process. They also were critically reflecting on cross-cultural content of the ESL class they were taking and were analyzing how multimodal messages can be composed and interpreted.
At the same time, some students were quite critical of overt instruction, as they initially desired a more traditional approach to English language learning which included repetition, memorization, and grammar-focused exercises. But gradually they immersed themselves in the process of collaborative learning and started to critically evaluate their own progress as language learners. In digital stories that the students produced as final projects, they negotiated multilayered and fluid identities and positioned themselves as storytellers and producers, children, parents, siblings, world travelers, people who serve their countries, and cultural experts. But none of the participants articulated as central an ESL student identity, which was quite an important finding.
TIRF: What did you learn about doing research in the process of completing your dissertation?
Dr. Vinogradova: Perhaps the most important thing that I learned was that it is extremely difficult to be a teacher and classroom researcher at the same time. I collected my first set of data while teaching a class, and it was quite a challenge to be an effective teacher while collecting and filing data. I was often worried that the research part was taking away from my teaching, and teaching was taking away from my being a careful and thoughtful researcher. I collected my second set of data in a class taught by a colleague, and was able to truly enjoy classroom research without the pressure of being a teacher in that class.
TIRF: You have recently taken the position of Director of the TESOL Program in the Department of Language and Foreign Studies at the American University in Washington, D.C. What does your work involve?
Dr. Vinogradova: I am responsible for the overall management of the TESOL Program and for program and curriculum development. Our program offers a number of TESOL-related events open to ESL professionals in the Washington DC metro area, and I develop and organize those with great help from our Graduate Assistants. I also work with TESOL faculty members, with TESOL students as their academic advisor, and with prospective students and alumni. Working with graduate students is exciting and rewarding, and I am truly enjoying it.
TIRF: What plans do you have for future research and how did your dissertation influence them?
Dr. Vinogradova: I would love to continue working with digital stories. Some American University faculty have been using digital stories in their classes where the students have been discussing and responding to digital stories produced by ESL students at UMBC. The response has been amazing, and I plan to explore how the use of digital stories as instructional texts and writing prompts influences the development of academic writing skills. Also, prior to starting in my position at American University, I worked closely with staff of the Center for Applied Linguistics on the use of technology and digital stories in particular in Heritage Language Education. I plan to continue this work as well. All these research plans are continuation of digital storytelling work I started as part of my dissertation research.
TIRF: What did receiving the TIRF Doctoral Dissertation Grant mean to you?
Dr. Vinogradova: It was such a terrific validation of my work! It was an affirmation that what I was doing was interesting and valuable for the field of TESOL. I think as researchers we often wonder if our work is relevant and important, and I have always hoped that in addition to enjoying the process of learning and exploration, I could meaningfully contribute to the field. Receiving the grant indicated to me that I was on the right path. Also, the grant was a very important support for me as I was able to attend a number of conferences, present my work, and get very valuable feedback. In addition, I was able to purchase necessary software without which it would have been very difficult to work with my data.
TIRF: What advice would you give people who are just beginning their doctoral research?
Dr. Vinogradova: I think it is important to stay focused and believe in yourself. It is important to know why you are doing this research and how it will influence your future. I also recommend going to conferences and talking to TESOL and Applied Linguistics scholars. As young researchers, we are often hesitant to approach people whose books and papers we read in class or for our research. But many are interested in talking to PhD students, and can offer great perspectives and advice. Pursuing a PhD is not easy and it takes a lot of determination and hard work, but it is also a great source of joy.
TIRF: What would you say to someone who is considering donating to TIRF?
Dr. Vinogradova: Your donation can really make a difference for a PhD student, especially now when the funding for PhD research is so limited. You actually will contribute to important cutting-edge research in TESOL, and a PhD student might be able to finish her/his research and dissertation sooner. It is also a great emotional support, as receiving a DDG from TIRF is an honor that can inspire someone to move forward. Thank you for your generosity!