When you reach the methods part of your research, you have to choose to go with the qualitative or quantitative method, though some researchers like to mix them. Generally, researchers are in favor of one over another. If you like talking with people, and then exploring their reponses, then qualitative is the one to choose. If you like to work with data, analyze it and find correlations, then you would usually choose quantitative methods. However, it all depends on the research questions that you raise in your research. And the picture that you want to get after you have all the data.
I chose the qualitative, because it was important for me to understand the experiences of learners in online learning. Some of the challenges that I faced were to design an interview questions in order to get answers to my research questions. I was struggling to develop good series of questions for my interviewee to open up, and share his experiences. Also, it might be little demotivating, when you hear that people do not want to participate in your research. That discourages. And we do not like hearing no.
I chose a qualitative method since I wanted to understand experiences of respondents to the research questions. Semi-structured interviews were developed for that. As Creswell (2014) says: “Qualitative research is best suited to address a research problem in which you do not know the variables and need to explore.” In this study, I learned a lot about personal experiences of the participant. However, it would be difficult to extrapolate these findings to the general public.
This small scale study assisted me in practicing how to take interview. I saw that some of questions need to be better written, since the participant did not provide a good enough response for the purpose of my study. From that I need to develop my questions more thouroughly in order to get quality responses.
Creswell, J. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Writing a thesis is not an easy task. It’s not a matter of a day, nor of a week. To begin with, as one of our professors said, you have to be passionate about the topic of your research. Choosing a research topic may be hard, since there are so many ideas floating around, each of them worth exploring. However, the best topic would be the one that matters the most to you. This is usually the one that you confront on a daily basis in your school or a classroom. Since I am a language coordinator, the interesting issue to explore for me was to understand what teachers go through when they teach content in the second language, what are their challenges and what are their inspirations.
Once you chose a topic, narrow it down. It is easier to focus on certain aspects of the matter that you want to explore. Or you will be struggling with oceans of information, not knowing where to start and where to head. In my case, I narrowed my topic to “Teachers’ experiences in teaching History and Geography in the second language of instruction”. Then, I was able to concentrate only on these two subjects. They are taught in Kazakh as the second language of instruction. Also, I only look for teachers’ experiences as area of my research interest.
Then, my advice would be to read, read and read. Print and read. Read a lot on your topic. Learn how to use our university library system. Find papers and dissertations that are connected with your topic. If you struggle with it, ask your librarian to assist you in finding the necessary literature. It is very important. Really! Google for literature overviews on your topic. And then, read them all. That’s the single most effective way to be competent in your research topic. While you read, make notes, extract main ideas, collect them into one large document organizer. This is the most time-consuming part of your thesis. Therefore, it should be your first strategy when you start writing your thesis.
Once you did what was suggested previously, the rest is not that frightening. All you need is to put everything you collected (in your memory and your notes) into a readable and approvable research template. The remaining work related to field work and data gathering should not be very hard if you did your homework.
Saying goodbye is always sad but let’s summarize the main aspects of my covered study.
- Following the topic for research. From the first days of my study at Nazarbayev University I was ready to investigate the issue which was important for me during my work period. Each session and each course helped me how to explore the topic. In this case I think that it’s better to inform students who are going to be accepted by university on master programs about their desired theme to research in advance.
- Time management. During my study on bachelor programs I never met the problem with deadlines and here I faced some difficulties with the certain period of time for each assignment. Also it was new for me because even at work I have my personal assistant who is in charge of planning my day. It took quite a lot of time to adapt when only me is responsible for the right distribution of time. This challenge is solved only by the student and permanent practice which is given by our instructors.
- Real motivation to study. Looking through all my assignments that I have done, I really understand that at the each step I was inspired to read articles of different researchers and scholars and I started to think critically. I really enrich my knowledge with the help of information provided by our instructors. From each course I tried to take the best things and represent it for my further discussions in assignments.
- Self-study. Each course, especially the distances courses, encourages us to study by ourselves. Unfortunately sometimes I really doubted if I interpreted the theme correctly. And the recommendation here is to be in contact with the instructor who supports and directs you. It seems that they are 24 hours a day online and ready to help you. The main thing is not to ignore their help and address to them when it is necessary. We are not alone in study process.
- Further development. I really incline to not stop and develop further. This experience at university motivates me to perform, offer and realize other plans and recommendations how to improve our education!
Finally, in this phase of my study I’d like to prompt future students not to be afraid of hard study, on the contrary, be ready for a new knowledge, unforgettable experience and exciting feelings!
Last year thesis writing was a very far event, nevertheless seeing my colleagues, spending most of the time on reading and writing it, impressed me greatly. I said to myself that I would manage the time and spend every suitable moment to read and write. The reality is different…
The first thing I ‘d like to advise is learn to make preferences in executing work duties as well as urgent issues. When you are responsible for a lot of things to do at work and do not have opportunity to look through the university mail, you have to choose the important and not very important affairs. Advice: look through the whole list of work, deadlines and make own calendar, but do not forget to look at it and follow it.
The second, leave the time to read and learn at home mostly than at work or do it at work during the break. The difficulty is to make yourself arrange time and strictly follow the deadlines.
Challenging questions for me are: time-managements and seeking for the articles for the literary review. During October and November I have to look for the readings twice. At first I found enough articles about team teaching, but there were no appropriate ones from the point of view of national and international teachers, working together. Majority of information was connected with team teaching in inclusive classrooms or in schools where migrant children study. Only last week I came across what I needed: research works reflecting the experience of Asian countries.
One more struggle is the APA-style, the more I try to follow it, the more problems I have, but again it maybe only my struggle with the time.
The thing to improve should be the time of deadlines, because one week is too short time to do tasks, the approximate time is 10 days.
This semester was full of useful information and enjoyable assignments which really helped me to enhance my research and language skills. One of the things which was valuable for me is my Instructor’s feedback. According to feedback given on time, I could try to prevent them next time. As a teacher I was motivated to use blogs in my teaching practice and conduct mini-thesis about the use of blogs.
Despite the shortage of time, writing mini-thesis and reading supplementary materials on each section were truly beneficial for my main thesis. For example, this week I have known how to write findings and results section.
One of the issues I am facing with now is lack of free time and energy to write full thesis. But I understand I should manage my time. So I will find time to continue my data collection process.
Online learning requires responsibilty from students to meet deadlines and self-manage. Therefore one of the advice I can give to online learners is to manage and plan their work beforehand. One of the mistake I did last year was postponing of completing assignments for the last day. Due to that, I was always nervious and stressed. This year I try to do them as earlier as possible.
If I were the Instructor, maybe I would give assignments which were relevant to my online learners’ practice and thesis topic. For this pupose I would conduct survey and found out the most common topics and areas to investigate.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my Instructor and groupmates whose energy to teach and learn, and support motivate me to love this course and programme.
The first aspect which reminds me chasing a wild goose is that everything is being done in a great hurry. The deadline is expiring and you are chasing trying to catch this goose’s tail (the deadline) at the last moment. The issue of quality is ranked to be number two in the best cases, in some worse cases it goes after good time, after good length, after APA, so number four!
The second issue is that the author like me is rushing in different directions simultaneously. In a real life conditions we are not choosing topic first, then making introduction, state research question, procedures etc., NO, we are doing everything at the same time, at the opposite order sometimes. I mean I first can make conclusion, then research question, then introduction. Believe me, I can! And this is not a breakthrough, the same happens with people, who find it more interesting to read a book from the end.
The same wild goose chasing for literature review part. The schemas and tables are left for theorists of thesis writing, real conditions provided us with different experience: read as quickly as possible, if you just smell the idea you need you are ready to make conclusion on what the author believes or what this author insists on etc. After your paraphrasing no one would be able to oppose it and let’s hope that the author, which you cite, would not read your thesis.
At the same time the thesis wild goose chasing deteriorates with other kinds of disturbance: endless problems at work and with family, friends and hobbies feel abandoned, so together they are greater force to leave you thesis for the last moment. Even best students in the priority list put family and work first, so theses the highest rated to be number three!
So, what to do with the situation? Just trying to do your best in the chase, as we are gifted and experienced, so we are able to do what hasn’t been done before!
I thought the first year of studies at GSE was the most difficult because of many reasons. Firstly, it was challenging to find a place to stay during the period of studies and reading articles and analyzing the texts overnight was overwhelming. Then the process of understanding syllabuses began as well as understanding the objectives of professors and the courses. Then the summer came and I thought “The first year of studies has finished and finally we will enjoy the process of enlightening the minds in a less stressful way”. However, this August at GSE showed how much I was mistaken.
Before this semester, we had never had four courses at the same time when every professor wants assignments to be completed almost in the same week. This would not be so difficult if we were not working full-time as teachers at schools where many issues should be discussed also in the first months of academic year. Adapting to new conditions took much time and efforts both for students and for professors.
Surprisingly, I cannot say that I am disappointed or feel that some of the courses should be taken away. I am happy because every course presented a new perspective and empowered me as a researcher and as a teacher. I took many technologies from peers when discussing teaching tools in blogs; I improved my writing skills because of timely and professional feedbacks of instructors and I encouraged my students to use blogging to improve their English.
For next online learners and instructors of the course I would suggest discussing deadlines with all professors who work at GSE. This will reduce the amount of frustration and increase the quality of assignments. In addition, I would suggest seeing the connection between Full Thesis and Mini-Thesis research areas, because the advice from instructors on combining two themes in one was fantastic, but unfortunately, I could not use it for my project and now I feel that I have missed a great opportunity. As for students I would advise them to read blogs of their peers as there they will find wonderful thoughts and ideas, also when they feel exhausted at least one blog post will definitely inspire and remind of reasons for starting this NUGSE journey.
In conclusion, I must admit that English for Thesis Writing made me reflect on my writing and teaching skills, understand the importance of feedback and share a bond of one learning community with peers.
We are coming close to the end of third semester and this last post will help us to reflect on what we have been doing till present time. So, in this last post I would like to share the challenges I faced being an online learner. Afterwards I will provide my readers with my own opinion about “English for Thesis Writing” course with follow-up recommendations.
There were several difficulties I have encountered this semester. Probably the biggest challenge for me was combining motherhood and study. There is no doubt that motherhood plays a crucial role in my life; however, education also takes a significant role. I think that my study increases my sense of fulfillment and intellectual stimulation. Both roles are important, but they can be in a conflict. The support from my family, especially from my husband, empowers me not to drop out. The second issue I would like to point out is no absolutely time for main thesis project. Since I came home, I did not open it up even for looking through the comments of my supervisor. However, during “Thesis Seminars” course we finished three chapters: introduction, literature review and methodology.
Undoubtedly, the assignments were created for the sake of helping us in writing main thesis. However, according to the comments of my supervisor I am more successful in my main thesis rather than in mini-thesis project. Honestly, I was referring to my main thesis all the time while writing mini-thesis… Besides, I still have difficulties in formatting papers according to APA style. Thanks to my instructor I began to pay attention even to details in order to avoid slight errors.
Although the course could have been less intensive I liked it, especially blog writing. I was very engaged in the process of looking through the thoughts and experiences of my master peers and commenting on them. I suppose that blog writing fosters such skills like openness, responsibility, and creativity. Besides, blogs facilitate us to give constructive feedback to each other. Next recommendation I would give is to create a learning trajectory for every student separately, perhaps by differentiating the tasks. The only suggestion I would give to future students is to know what you want from the programme and to take the best from it.
In the beginning I did not know how to start and where to go. The questions that stated in my head were how to cope with this task and make it compatible with task requirements. It started well and I have done the first part which was generally theoretical. I had my idea and was interested in this topic. To tell the truth, I think I made it hard and that was my first challenge that I faced. The task was to find people who ever created online teacher professional portfolio. That was the uniqueness of research. However, talking to different persons I barely found about 2 people. Another challenge was to find suitable time and place to conduct the interview.
Since it was small scale research I did not have a lot of questions. But during the interview I have learned a lot of new information about online teacher professional portfolio. Teachers shared their ideas about its benefits and challenges. Moreover the conclusion of the conversation was to develop that branch and emphasize its necessity in educational arena.
It was valuable experience for me and I would suggest following advice to my peers:
- Listen carefully your interviewee, it will help you to grasp the most important things;
- Make some notes even if you use Dictaphone, it is beneficial to ask targeted questions during the interview;
- Do not stick to your questions only, let the conversation take its flow, however be careful to lead conversation to wrong direction; Keep the topic;
- Support your interviewee, smile or nod; I consider it useful and helps to get more information;
- If you use your mobile phone to record interview, it is better to switch to offline regime, if somebody calls you conversations will not be recorded;
- You can praise you interviewee with chocolate to encourage them;
I wish good luck to all my groupmates with data collection process. It is the most important part of the study.
Online learning is very profitable tool to study any topic you need at any time and place but with set deadlines. Online learning helped me to go through the thesis writing procedure which I consider very beneficial. The only struggle that I faced is time that I need to complete tasks. It is hard job to take together your work and master program, however it taught me to juggle my time and prioritize everything. The systematic work will give success in online learning. This experience of online learning will help me to write a thesis. This online course was fully embedded to the application of thesis writing process.
There are few tips how to complete tasks in online learning:
- Read the tasks carefully;
- Follow the task deadlines;
- Devote at least three hours per week to complete tasks;
- Read the teacher’s comment to improve the quality of your work.
I would like to thank our instructor Phillipe, who guided us in online learning and provided descriptive feedback in order to improve our English and a make it academic.
This year has been especially hard in defining priorities and setting the right time to do the most important tasks. However, I am glad that it was almost done for one of the major fields we all used to keep in our minds every week. I remember my phone blowing up from conference-messages of my groupmates discussing the assignment content and dates. That was also good in keeping the bonds between the people from different places that were never close before the actual course.
I have never tried blogging before the actual course. Now I can look back and see myself panicking the very first day, when I was unable to register to the course. Hopefully, those days have passed.
Sometimes the course was very challenging too. I remember the times, when I could not find time to complete the assignments from on-going seminar and the blog. I was close to give up. Then the inspiration came.
The instructor of the course was helpful and quick to respond to every of our needs. It also helped us while struggling against the difficulties with course requirements and time management.
It was interesting to read the viewpoints of my group mates. Every time we were assigned new tasks to do, my group mates were quick and innovative to find different approaches and present the information in the way I have never thought before. I especially liked the one on teaching technologies. I shared many of them with my colleagues at school and they were happy to get these materials.
I would like to suggest several ways to improve the course for the next cohort of students:
1. To define the amount of work that the students receive from on-going courses and online courses in order not to create the issues related to time-management and poor quality of submitted works.
2. To set a connection with schools and verify the fact that the students are not assigned to do any tasks related to work. Otherwise the prioritization between two, leave the students with the work as more important.
3. To involve more of interactive exercises into the content of this course. This way the students will get a chance to ask questions they do not have an opportunity to ask the instructor.
In a nutshell, I would like to say that this course has been extremely helpful in defining both strong and also weak points in my knowledge. I will miss the course and the input of my classmates.