Monthly Archives: October 2017

Conference Response Vlog: «Values, wellbeing and innovation for the future of education»

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Link to Vlog

This year I had a great opportunity to attend the IX International Research-to-Practice Conference «Values, wellbeing and innovation for the future of education». This conference brought together different people including global leaders in education, policymakers, and practitioners from primary, secondary and higher education. All of the participants had a great opportunity to discuss teaching practices in education which in its turn will help the Republic of Kazakhstan to drive forward new reforms in education.

As a “junior member” of the academic and professional community I was happy to see Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, scholar. He is a professor from Arizona State University, Yuri Belfali, Head of Early Childhood and Schools, OECD, Phil Lambert, Adjunct Professor, University of Sydney, Carolyn Adams, a director of strategic development and execution. International Baccalaureate, Gordon Neufeld, Director, Neufeld Institute, Tan Oon Seng, a director of the National Institute of Education, Singapore.  This made the conference a stimulating, enjoyable, and valuable. In particular, as a junior member I had an opportunity to make contacts with these well-known researchers in order to pursue my research goals and to inspire myself to learn on-going educational projects.

One of the most interesting, thought provoking, and inspiring speeches was given by Tan Oon Seng who is a director of the National Institute of Education, Singapore. He is also a convener of the World Educational Research Association in the international research network on Teacher Education. The topic of his presentation was Values-set and Competencies of the 21st Century Teacher Professional. This topic is relevant both to my academic and professional interest because I used to work as an English teacher and my current research study is related to teachers’ professional education. The speaker addressed the problem of teachers’ education. I liked his words on education as it is the most important investment in the long haul and the quality of education impacts on nation building, people’s capacity for adaption, value creation, innovation. Teachers need to be in touch with real-world challenges in the society. The ability of educators to use problems creatively is a major aspect of educational innovation (Tan, 2003, p. 74).

“To move into an inventive culture, education and training should look at all kinds of problems and learn from problem solving, whether there are situations in need of improvement, better ways of doing things, closing information gaps, understanding a new phenomenon, or new designs or inventions” (Tan, 2003, p.82). These words inspired me as a professional to think of the teachers’ education from a problem-solving process as it is one of the important cognitive processes in everyday life. It helps us to solve our everyday issues as efficiently and effectively guide learners in the learning process.

I learn some new sources “Teachers educational frontiers International perspectives on policy and practice for building new Teacher competencies”. I think that this source will be useful for my research as I would like to include Singapore in my literature review The speaker justified the significance of the problem by mentioning the 21st century challenges such as developing the 21st century competencies and skills necessary for students to thrive in a fast-changing world, understanding the learning needs of the new generation, teaching in a culturally diverse learning environment.

Overall I would rate it on a scale of 1 to 10 scale as 10. I really liked the way the speaker has presented his ppt. He was very active and tried his best to interest the audience. Eye contact and the slides were concise and informative.

I see a networking potential because my thesis is related to teachers’ professional development training. I had an opportunity to talk to Tan Oon Seng and ask him some questions related to my thesis work. I can apply this theoretical knowledge in my thesis work.

Overall all of the participants had an interesting topics which were related to the current educational reforms in Kazakhstan. However, I would like to give some suggestions to the participants to review their research in terms of the research methods and findings. Finally, local presenters should try not to rely completely on their slides and texts and should focus more on audience as the international experts did. They had a great eye contact with an audience. And didn’t rely on their texts, slides.

As for the venue and facilities I would rate on a scale of 1 to 10 as 10. The conference was held in the new Congress hall in Astana which in its turn is a very convenient, comfortable, and modern building. The venue was very convenient for me in terms of its location, its comfort and facilities, and the catering was excellent. I also was surprise to see laptops where people could download all presentations from the conference. I have never seen it before at other conferences.

I would like to express my gratitude to NIS school for organizing such a great conference and for providing us another great learning experience. I would also like to express my gratitude to our instructor Phil Montgomery who inspired us to participate in this conference and gave us a valuable information on how to reflect, evaluate, and effectively give feedback on a conference.

What my research methodology has to tell you

I had seen and read and written the word “methodology” dozens of time before I understood its meaning to the full extent and finally decided which one suits my research. In order to make the right choice I first wanted to know what I want to tell my audience, and then how I want to do it.

The main purpose in my research is to learn where teachers see themselves in the process of inclusive education of orphan students, what challenges they face and what kind of opportunities and maybe benefits they find. There are not many schools in Astana that practice inclusive education, so I have decided to take one in particular that has inclusive education of orphan students for sure. Then, the circle shrunk even more as I needed only teachers that give lessons to the students of my interest. There is a certain number of these teachers. Moreover, some of them might not be willing to participate in the study. So, eventually I will have specific number of teachers that will share their stories about the process. They will tell me as a researcher their opinions and attitudes towards it, and may share some of the aspects that need improvement or have been successful so far. Consequently, my research is undoubtedly qualitative because I don’t need and have no reason to look for generalizations as it is usually done in quantitative method. In addition, I am going to investigate one specific school, which makes it case-study design. All in all, every story is unique, so is the story of the case school I am going to investigate. With the help of right methodology my research will tell the audience what is happening in fact with the IE of orphans in one particular school. Thus, strengths and areas for improvement can be identified. This might further help different stakeholders to take actions accordingly.

The NIS conference: reflection

The main purpose of any scientific conference is to provide personal and professional development for its participants and speakers, to share with new ideas, as well as to give a chance to meet people who are “stars” in this field. I can firmly say that all these aims were reached in the NIS conference which has been in this week.

When I studied in bachelor’s degree for me all scientific conferences were associated with boring, vague meetings where people are forced to participate beyond their desire. However, after being accepted to the Master’s degree, my attitude to the conferences started to change. I assume that there are two reasons which impacted on the change in my attitude: the first reason is that I understood the importance of science not only for theory but for practical usage, while the second reason is connected with my self-awareness of being the member of this scientific world.  I started to realize that from such meetings a person can get a huge experience, new ideas, and even an inspiration.

Regarding the NiS conference, I liked everything starting from the organization and speakers to scientific significance of the conference. The most unforgettable moment was the speeches of two foreign educators from Finland and Singapore. Both of them showed the excellent examples of presentation skills which have to possess each professional educator. The contact with the audience, relevant jokes and personal stories which is successfully integrated into the theme of presentation, simple but comprehensive visual aids, even singing songs all these aspects of a presentation made the unusual atmosphere. I deem that particularly these skills and such attitude lack in our context not only among scientists but among teachers who work in different levels of education.

In conclusion, each experience which we face during our life facilitates the professional or personal development. From exploring others practices and experiences we can be inspired or change our way of thinking. As it says “practice makes perfect”, therefore, the most important thing is to go ahead even it is small steps.

 

Theory… Research… Let’s apply this knowledge in practice… Work-based learning is the answer!!!

As a master student of Multilingual Education, I think a lot about the acquired knowledge in terms of its practicality. We learn and review various concepts that are used in relation to multilingual education and society, as well as reflecting on them analytically, sometimes even critically. However, how would any university program change if to apply work-based learning (WBL) into a course curriculum or whole university program?

What is work-based learning? It is an educational strategy that gives students an opportunity to apply academic knowledge in real life settings. Work-based learning is beneficial in terms of students’ motivation, career options, and competencies required to be a good employee.  This type of educational strategy motivates students creating a career awareness. Theory and practice always go together, mostly seen as two key dimensions of WBL.  European Commission introduces WBL as a functional tool to be used in vocational training. However, I believe that WBL is helpful not only in vocational training but also in university life. It is like a gate that opens a door to the world of the highly competitive labor market, where practical experience is an asset. Personally, I had an experience of facing this educational approach during my bachelor’s degree program. For the final exam on Marketing Research, my groupmates and I had a chance to work in a bank and explore its services (a. Different groups chose one particular service; b. Anonymity: there was a concrete bank). The experience of applying theoretical knowledge in a real-life context helped me to build a picture in my mind about a career choice, competencies that I gained as the result of this opportunity, and,  most importantly, to understand the nature of a workplace.

How can we link it to our program? In one of the courses on Educational policy across contexts, we talked about curriculum and textbooks in Kazakhstan. We raised different issues about textbooks and came to the conclusion that collaboration between teachers, researchers, and policymakers is important. This is the case where WBL could be applied in order to reach targeted goals. Sometimes, I am quite disappointed that some policy documents of Kazakhstan do not necessarily rely on a previous research or literature in general. The role of different stakeholders might not be mentioned sometimes. What if we could apply WBL into our programs to use our knowledge and really help our country in difficult times? Why do scholars do research for the sake of it? How their voices will be heard if there is no collaboration between different stakeholders? If not WBL, then what other approaches can be considered?

 

Let’s say “NO” to stress!

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October 20th, 2017 was a date highlighted in red on the calendars of the majority of my course mates. That was a deadline for Ethics form’s submission to the GSE Ethics Committee for obtaining permission for data collection. For some students days which preceded were marked with anxiety, sleepless nights, drafting and proof-reading. During English for Research class, we were divided into groups and asked to rate from 1 to 10 the degree to which we were worried about our ethics application. It was indeed surprising to find out answers which varied from 2-3 to as high as 7. This made me think of how different people perceive certain things and how they possess control over their emotions.

Researchers propose different strategies to cope with stressful or uneasy situations: eat healthy and well-balanced meals, get enough sleep, talk to other people about your concers and fears. Undoubtedly, above mentioned recommendations are useful; however, they could be applicable even when we are in a normal state. When our mind is haunted by a certain idea and we are extremely concerned about it, we need something more to battle distress. From my own experience I can tell that altering the way you think about certain issue and taking some preparatory actions are the most helpful techniques to avoid stress. For instance, ethics application is indeed a significant assignment which needs diligent work and careful attention. However, if to plan everything in advance and think through it carefully, it will not cause any discomfort. Most importantly, we needs to understand that that there is nothing frightening and even in the worst case scenario we will only have to make some alterations and resubmit our application. Hence, the most important is to command your mind and “make it believe” that the task is not actually worth stressing out.

Overall, although it might seem difficult, controlling emotions is possible if some easy steps are followed. Usually we are afraid of something we don’t know about, but once we uncover it, everything becomes crystal clear. To avoid stress and anxiety we simply need to have a clear understanding what we are required to do and how it can be done. This is my “recipe” for coping with stress. Some may find it useful, others may claim its inefficacy, but I’m welcome to hear your thoughts on this topic.

 

Photo credit to http://wellness.truman.edu/mental-health/stress/stress-managment/

The Beauty of Research

In this discussion post, I would like to share my opinion about the importance and relevance of different research approaches and designs. There are two general approaches to data collection process – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research explores the issue in breadth while qualitative research seeks depth in personal perceptions and experiences. As for the question which approach serves the researcher best, I believe that both approaches are significant and the value of each is dependent on the research question and purpose. The choice is primarily defined by the interest that those who are affected take in it. Though, practitioners may take greater interest in exploring the depth of a particular case whereas administrators  gain more benefit from numerical data in order to set forward recommendations.

As for the educational context in Kazakhstan, I think that the best way to appeal to the policy makers and administrators is to use solid numerical data in order to set positive changes in motion. People tend to believe numbers because, as many believe, they do not lie. However, as Mark Twain, a well-known American writer once wisely noted “Figures do not lie, but liars do figure”. There is no doubt that any form of research is embedded into highly ethical intentions and rigorous procedures to reveal the true state of things.

The choice of my research methodology has been defined by the research aim to explore teachers’ perceptions and experiences of differentiated instruction in a secondary school in Kazakhstan. In order to reveal teachers’ attitudes towards diversity of learning needs in their classrooms and the practices that they employ to meet those needs, the case study research design was selected. I will triangulate the research data by interviewing teachers, observing their lessons, and analyzing the subject documents. The triangulation approach will help me to understand the reasons of their professional choices and show how their understandings shape their teaching practices overall.

I believe that the selected research design will be beneficial for my school community as differentiated instruction has become one of the prioritized directions of teachers’ professional development at school. Teachers talk a lot about differentiated instruction and their practices are usually restricted by mere retrofitting practices. However, according to the vast body of knowledge and research, differentiated instruction is not about having a set of strategies up in one’s sleeve which come handy whenever an unexpected classroom situation occurs, but it is a teaching philosophy deeply grounded into personal and professional values.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the beauty of research lies in the truth that it seeks. It helps to formally articulate the truth so that things eventually change for good. Another fascination about research for me is that it allows to reconsider the mundane issues from quite different perspectives, thus gaining deeper understanding. As Albert Szent Gyorgyi, a Hungarian Nobel Prize winner once said “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought”.

Why Methodology?

methodsPhoto credit: https://ideas.darden.virginia.edu/2015/11/whats-new-in-project-management-a-hybrid-methodology/

Methodology section of any research paper is arguably the most important part of it. Mainly because the ways of data collection determine whether the research question will be answered or not. Besides, research methods influence the interpretation of the findings. The qualitative study focuses on understanding thoughts, reasons, and opinions of participants; whereas the quantitative study deals with numerical data, statistics, and facts.

Choosing the right methodology is a challenging process which should be viewed through the lens of the practical application of the research findings. In the local context, statistical data is of particular interest among the administrators and policy-makers due to giving a clear overview on any topic. Qualitative studies are often seen as subjective, their findings are difficult to generalize, and therefore cannot be used as widely.

Personally, I prefer qualitative methods because they allow deeper and more meaningful investigations. This is exactly what I what from my research experience: engaging with participants, collecting data in direct interactions to fully capture and share their stories. Therefore, planning to study the aspirations for higher education across vulnerable student groups in Kazakhstan, from the beginning I decided to follow the qualitative methodology, namely, the critical ethnographic research design.

Methodology section, if consistent with the introduction and literature review, can inform the readers about the nature of the research just as well. Critical ethnography, for instance, focuses on advocating for marginalized groups in certain cultural or social scenarios often constructed by the society in limiting ways. Thus, by following the critical ethnographic design, it is clear that my purpose is to potentially empower vulnerable students to receive higher education reflecting on the first-hand experience of others in the context of Kazakhstan.

I believe there is no right answer about the most effective or productive type of research. Afterall, the intention of researching is to draw attention and start a discussion on problematic topics.  Any research design if applied properly manages to do that. Right choice of methods just makes the process easier by providing necessary tools.

A short review on a podcast

Debates on creating one universal language have a long story and still keeps being multifaceted in terms of viewpoints. A podcast of Freakonomics Radio called What Would Be the Best Universal Language? is a recent compilation of various perspectives of academics from different fields dealing with languages.

The podcast attempted to raise an overwhelming discussion about the language that could have been the best means of communication if humanity could start over in a world as presenters call “Earth 2.0”. Guest speakers of the podcast provide a historical background of the development of a universal language all over the world. However, the main emphases were given to English, Indonesian and Esperanto as the languages with a potential to become universal.

Mainly, the authors of this podcast tried to inform the listeners by letting them to get involved in the dialogs between respectable scholars sharing their knowledge and viewpoints. The content of the podcast is informative in a way that it gives a historical facts about the languages mentioned. For instance, a speaker narrates how and by whom the Esperanto language was created and sheds light on its contemporary heritage which is 130 years old.

Since the aim of the podcast is informing, it reached this goal through presenting the issue from technological, historical, social and political perspectives. One presenter gave the examples of several countries like India and Kazakhstan comparing their successfulness in implementing English as a means of integrating to the global arena. And what was new to me, as Shlomo Weber claims, Kazakhstan shows better results in this attempt than India does. According to Weber, Indian people have stronger attachment to their native language which lets Hindi dominate over English. Whereas Kazakhstan’s formula for success in accepting the implementation of English is a strong government. But what surprised me is that Bollywood and its movies have contributed to the tremendous development of Hindi. And here I would like to pose a question which is unfortunately not relevant to the focus of the podcast but related to its content. How do you think, would the growth of Kazakhstani cinematograph have the same positive effect on the development of the Kazakh language as it took place in India in terms of Hindi?

Qualitative or Quantitative?

There are a number of reasons for conducting research. Doing research contributes to revealing lies or truths, building knowledge and efficient learning, as well as testing the validity and reliability of certain claims. Research becomes a must to uncover the issues unnoticed or hidden by society. And thereby it brings positive alterations into the life of the community.

There exist qualitative and quantitative research methods that aid to achieve the aforementioned goals. Each of them has its own benefits and drawbacks. Hence, it is difficult or even impossible to claim that one method is more valuable than the other. But more importantly, they need to be used in a balanced way so that they can provide a fuller context for the current situation.

Kazakhstan acknowledges the importance of research and, therefore, has devoted increasing attention to its development in all realms of life. As a student who reads a lot of research papers on different topics, I have become convinced that the country concentrates more on carrying out a quantitative research study. Most of the articles I have found contain statistical data. For instance, if we talk specifically about Inclusive education, there are numerous papers which tell about the overall number of children excluded from going to school, or about the amount of finance allocated to train teachers or to improve the conditions of facilities at schools. Consequently, the quantitative research instruments usually provide numerical descriptions that can be generalized to some larger population but are limited in details. Thus, there is a need to apply qualitative research method which would give more detailed and deeper explanations of certain issues happening in the country.

Qualitative research aims to analyze the deeper meaning of people’s behavior, experiences, beliefs, perceptions, feelings, and emotions. This method gives people a certain degree of freedom and confidence and creates the right atmosphere to enable people to express their voice through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and focus groups. That’s why I have chosen to apply the qualitative type of research for my thesis which touches an issue of training pre-service teachers. In my work, I am intending to include teacher educators as participants whose views and beliefs are not taken into consideration in designing policy reforms. By using qualitative research, I can give them more freedom and allow spontaneity rather than make them select from a set of “pre-determined responses”. I believe this investigation will help policymakers, researchers, teachers and me, as a future leader in education, realize the actual reasons of arising problems around the preparation of pre-service teachers.

Qualitative & Quantitative research types

Conducting educational research is explained and followed by choosing one of the two existing tracks of writing any research: quantitative research, qualitative research or mixed methods. The qualitative research is largely based on collecting numeric data from a large number of people with research questions and hypothesis that are precise, narrow, measurable and observable (Creswell, 2014). As for the quantitative research, it is commonly characterized by detailed understanding of the central phenomena, collecting data from a small number of people to get their opinions and points of view and analyzing the data using text analysis (Creswell, 2014).

One cannot confidently say that one of this existing types of research is the most valuable and significant. It is necessary to say that researchers choose the type of research depending on the issue they want to explore and research questions they intend to answer. I remember one of the professors who taught Research Methods last year saying “once the instrument for qualitative type of research is ready, it is really easy to conduct this type of research”. However, as I have mentioned above, it all depends on the nature of a research.

Taking into account the nature of my research topic, which mostly demands people’s attitudes, opinins and experiences the current research will use qualitative research type. As the research deals with a particular school setting and requires participant perceptions and experiences, the case study research design is found relevant to get in-depth analysis of phenomena (Zaynal, 2007). I was interested to know if teachers in my school setting know about Universal Design for Learning. Moreover, I wanted to explore if they use multiple means of representation, expression and engagement in their teaching practice. Hence, I choose the qualitative type of research in this study. As my supervisor says “your research is your story”, so I want my story to be beneficial for the community where I work and make learning and teaching processes successful for both learners and teachers.

 

References

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Zainal, Z. (2017). Case study as a research method. Jurnal Kemanusiaan5(1), 1-6.