All posts by dayanabalgabekova

That is it…

This is the end… Hold your breath and count to ten… With these words from a famous song by Adelle I will, probably, enter the classroom on the day of my master thesis defense. Just less than two years ago on August 11, 2014 (my first day at NUGSE) this day seemed to be so far away… And now there is only a month and a half left till that moment of Viva Voce. As my thesis supervisor says, “Well, don’t stress around, just think that in less than two months you will be done with everything and, hopefully, receive that nice piece of paper (diploma)”…

This spring session at GSE was quite different from our previous sessions. There were no regular classes, and there were no entire group hours. This made me feel a little sad. For me the schedule this time was very convenient since due to the reason of having a three-months-old baby I would not be able to attend the classes all day. However, I still missed those long hours of lectures and all the fun we had with my unique and wonderful groupmates.

Today is May 1 – the last day of the English for Thesis Writing II course. I can say that I learned quite a number of useful things in this course. The best part of it for me was sharing my writing with my groupmate for peer revisions. I am very thankful for my amazing groupmate, now a FRIEND, Gulnara Duskaziyeva for doing any pair or group work with me from the very start of our studies. Without her support and sense of humor, my days at GSE would not be so memorable and exciting. Special thanks to Philip Montgomery, the greatest online course instructor and best ‘feedback provider’ for teaching me many secrets of successful writing 🙂

I will end my writing here with these words: Let all of us be free and happy on June 16, 2016!

Almost there, but not yet…

Three semesters at NUGSE are over for me. Now I am in the process of working on my final project – master thesis. It was not easy for me to choose the topic of my dissertation. While attending lectures by NU GSE professors every semester, I kept changing my mind about what I want to explore in my research study. Finally, during the fall semester of 2015, I decided to work on the issue of mentoring beginning and newly appointed teachers in Kazakhstani schools. The topic of my dissertation is “Mentoring experience: beginning teachers’ and mentors’ perspective”.

I ended up having a very strict supervisor, which I find useful since she pushes me in the process of writing the thesis. By the end of November, we were supposed to have written first three chapters of the dissertation: Introduction, Literature Review and Methodology. The main challenge for me was the Literature Review chapter. I have read a number of articles on mentoring, tried to analyze them and then put it all into a fifteen-page chapter. It is not difficult to organize the literature, the main issue is the ability to analyze it critically. I still do not understand how to make the literature review not a descriptive narration but a critically analyzed argumentation. I hope that by the time I am to finish writing my thesis, I will have a decent literature review chapter.

In December, I went “to the field” for data collection. I found interviewing quite interesting this time. All of my respondents were so eager to participate in my study and gave me extended answers to the interview questions. Now I have enough data to analyze for the Findings and Discussion chapters of the thesis. Right now, I am in the process of transcribing the interviews, which is not an easy thing to do. It is time-consuming and requires a lot of patience to re-play the recording over and over again. By the end of March, I am expected to start writing the Findings chapter. Until then, I plan to work on “polishing” the first three chapters of my thesis.

It all comes to its logical end…

I remember the first quite intensive summer session at GSE. At that time it seemed such a challenging and stressful thing to me because of huge piles of readings to be completed within one night and so many written pop-up quizzes and papers. I thought that after such an intensive course with so much pressure in it the rest of my life at GSE would be much easier. And it really was… till the beginning of the second year…

This semester has been very intensive and in some sense stressful. The fact that we had to deal with writing final assignments in three elective courses, weekly writing in the online course, and working on the master thesis at the same time made me understand that the first year at GSE was just like paradise. Anyway, I have to admit that I have learned a lot during this semester, in the online course in particular. English for Thesis Writing has provided me with deeper insight into the process of working on my research project. It is a great course, which must be included in every graduate program I believe. The only suggestion I would give is to have this course in the second semester of the first year of master studies instead of introducing it in the second year. If students practiced writing a mini thesis project before starting their real thesis, I think, they would be more experienced in conducting research (even if it is small-scale) and, as it is obvious, they would not be “torn into parts” doing their best in working on two research projects at the same time. Overall, as I mentioned before, I really appreciate the content of the course and I would like to express my gratitude to the course instructor, Philip, for always being available and for providing a quick and constructive feedback on every piece of work.

And now last but not least… It was during this fall session that I have realized the fact that studying at GSE is getting closer to its end… “Wow, finally!” one would think… However, to be honest, this makes me feel sad. Of course, I am happy that I won’t have any more deadlines, that I won’t be spending almost every weekend working on the endless assignments, and that I finally will have all my free time for myself, my family and friends. The thing that prevents me from being happy to its fullest is the fact that there won’t be any more of those fun intensive sessions with my amazing and unique groupmates. GSE has introduced me not only to the world of research, it has also given me the people who, I believe, will definitely bring some significant changes to the world of education. I would like to thank all my groupmates for always being supportive and ready to help. I am sure we all will do well in competing our thesis projects. Good luck, dear friends and colleagues! 🙂

Data collection experience

For the first time, I experienced conducting an interview for research purposes in the first year of studying at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education. During the fall session, our Inquiry Methods course professors gave us a group assignment that consisted of two parts: quantitative and qualitative. The qualitative part of that small-scale research focused on exploring challenges faced by NU undergraduate students during their first year at university and strategies they used for coping with those challenges. With the rest of the group, we created questions for the interviews and “went to the field to collect data”. It was not difficult to find participants for our mini-research since the NU atrium is always full with students. Each of the group members was supposed to conduct two interviews. As I remember, the whole process took me of about an hour and a half, and in the end, I had two interviews recorded on my phone. Later, with my groupmates we went through all the steps of data analysis and succeeded in drawing conclusions based on our findings. That experience was very useful and helpful in terms of guiding me further in working on other assignments, especially, on my real thesis.

For exploring the perceptions of 2nd year NUGSE students about using blogging in academic writing in a foreign language I also decided to follow the qualitative approach and use an interview as an instrument. Based on the previous experience, I can say that interviews are a great tool of receiving in-depth information about a particular phenomenon. However, this instrument of data collection has its own weaknesses as well. It is obvious that interviewing is quite a time-consuming process, which cannot be conducted spontaneously at any place. The place for the interview should be quiet and convenient for the interviewee in order for the researcher to obtain enough information. To be honest, collecting data for the mini-research this time was much more challenging even in terms of recruiting the participants. All my groupmates were too busy working on their assignments, therefore, it was a little problematic to find time and place convenient for them. Fortunately, two of my groupmates agreed to participate in the short (5 questions) interview, and I was able to record their answers on my phone. I was lucky because both participants had experience in blogging and gave in-depth and extended answers.

I have become more experienced in conducting interviews while working on the mini-thesis this time. In my proposed thesis research project, I am also using qualitative approach with semi-structured interviews. Of course, the interviews for the real thesis will contain more questions, and therefore, more time will be spent on the process. I am also thinking of creating some follow-up and directing questions in case I end up having interviewees who are not very eager to provide extended answers or lose focus easily.

SMART board as a tool for engaging lessons

Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U05WeXPGlk

My math teacher in High School was a person who always was in search of new creative and interesting ways of delivering lessons. Once we entered her classroom and found a new ‘inhabitant’ there. That was the first time I saw an interactive SMART board. As a student who was used to writing on the blackboard with a piece of chalk, I was looking forward to using this amazing tool at our lessons. We played various math games, did quizzes, watched video lessons, and showed presentations with the help of the SMART board.

Today, interactive SMART boards may be found almost in every classroom. This wonderful innovation helps modern teachers make the process of learning fun and engaging. For example, elementary school children might find the touch function of the SMART board entertaining since at their age they learn better by seeing and touching the objects. Moreover, this tool provides teachers with the opportunity to incorporate video materials into the lesson. It is obvious that the little ones would love to sing songs supported by video clips that call for performing some physical exercise. Secondary school students might find the SMART board useful in terms of visual representation of mathematical 3D shapes and figures, digital tours to some historic places, etc. Also, this mode of learning can assist teachers in conducting assessment such as whole-class quizzes without having any paperwork to be marked and graded later. Both elementary and secondary school students favor the individual handheld remote clickers.

However, even though the SMART board offers so many ways of improving teaching and making students’ learning interesting, not all the teachers use it effectively. In most classrooms, this innovative tool is turned on only when it comes to presenting information through a PowerPoint presentation or showing a video on some topic. Probably, such cases occur due to the lack of knowledge and practice in using a SMART board. If the school administration organized special lessons for teachers on how to use this technology during the lesson, I believe, all the money spent on this high-cost equipment would bring its benefits.

Another way to learn about all the functions of the SMART board is by watching tutorials online. There is a plenty of videos on this topic. They are very helpful and explain everything in detail. Since at the school where I work no special workshops were offered on this topic, I have learned about the SMART board through watching the videos on youtube.com.

My experience of writing a literature review

The first time I heard about a literature review was in August, 2014 when I started the Inquiry Methods course at GSE. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we had only two sessions devoted to the topic of writing a good literature review. I still remember how confused, lost and frustrated I was when the professor passed around the work schedule for the time when we are back home. We were supposed to have a written up literature review from five to seven pages long by the next intensive session in October. Since I did not understand much of the information received during those two sessions the only way out was to study on my own and search for the answers to all the questions I had in mind.

First, instead of reading all those books on research in the field of education I looked up video sources on http://www.youtube.com. One of the videos has provided me with a brief overview of the process of writing a good literature review. The authors of the video suggested following some basic steps in order to succeed. The first thing was to identify the keywords. Having decided on the topic of my future thesis, I picked some of the keywords and started looking for the sources. The search engine has shown a couple of pages with articles, books, and reports on my topic. So, I started looking at each source and downloading the ones that I found useful for me. The first stage was completed. I had a number of credible sources for writing my literature review.

However, the great challenge came when I started looking through the sources and got completely lost in all the information I had. I understood that just summarizing each article is not going to construct a successful literature review. The video proposed to organize the sources by analyzing them, selecting the key points and ideas, and having a summary table of all the sources. It was a time consuming process, however, having spent an hour and a half on one article every day resulted in a very informative table that included information on each source with its brief summary, key ideas, notes and important quotations. Later, following the advice of our professor, I divided the sources into categories based on the themes. For this, I created a mind map with the key concepts and ideas. The mind map helped me to identify the gaps in the literature and possible areas for further research.

After this long and tiring process of organizing the information into themes and identifying the literature gap, I started writing the literature review. It was not so difficult to do since I already had most of the work done. The only thing left was to put all the information from the table and the mind map into well-structured and logical sentences.

I got a high grade for that literature review assignment. The topic of my thesis is going to be the same, therefore I do not struggle much in extending my literature review. I found more sources and now I follow the same steps as I did last year. I hope that the result will be as good as it was before.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CITING…

images

Image source: http://blaugh.lockergnome.com/cartoons/061013_internet_citing1.gif

During my final school year, I was studying in an American High School. Even though I was an exchange student, I still had to write a graduate paper as the main assignment for the English language course since it was the requirement for all senior students at school. That was the first time I was introduced to referencing and citing sources in a proper way. Our teacher provided us with many printed pages of the guidelines to using MLA style in academic writing that became our ‘bible’ for the whole semester.

For me it was difficult to understand why people need to spend so much time on the format, the structure, and especially the reference list of the paper if the main thing is the content of the piece of writing. The ‘enlightenment’ came when I started looking for the sources. The proper structure and the uniform style of other scholarly works has saved my time in the process of searching for resources for writing my paper. Also, organizing the paper in an academic way has developed my logic and analytical skills. Now, every time I write an essay or a paper I think about the logical structure and the proper organization. Furthermore, remembering about giving credit to other authors in the correct way all the time has increased the level of responsibility for all the actions I take no matter whether it is about my studies or work.

As a graduate student at GSE, I have learned how to use APA style in academic writing. At the very beginning of my first year of studies, I struggled a lot with citing secondary sources and those that lacked some important information such as the author’s name, date, page numbers, etc. There were cases when I even had to give up on a very good source only because I was not sure whether I was citing it correctly or not. It seems to me that too much attention is given to all those commas, brackets, cursive, etc. As for me, it would be much better if it were enough to cite a source just by providing a link to it. It is obvious that such suggestion can refer to electronic sources only. However, even this little improvement could save a lot of time and make the life of students easier.

When it comes to my own tips of citing and referencing, I would suggest using www.googlescholar.com. This tool provides you with a full reference at one click. Moreover, it has options for referencing in various styles of academic writing. However, you should not rely on it all the time. It is more secure to check with a credible manual when time allows.

ONLINE LEARNING: Where is it headed?

Rapid proliferation of the Internet has provided learners around the world with more opportunities for receiving education through online learning environment. Higher Education Institutions nowadays offer online courses in a variety of disciplines. Such mode of learning is considered beneficial in terms of place and time independency, cost effective learning environments, and student autonomy.

The study conducted by Kim and Bonk (2006) focuses on the exploration of future trends of online education. More specifically, the authors suggest possible changes in the roles of online instructors, e-learning pedagogical techniques, and student expectations and needs. Kim and Bonk (2006) claim that in order to improve the quality of online education instructors must give preference to such methods as collaborative tasks, group discussions, guided learning, case-based strategies and problem-based learning (PBL), which tend to facilitate development of student interaction, critical thinking, evaluation and assessment skills. Furthermore, the study indicates the importance of blended learning and proposes a view that this type of learning might be “a more significant growth area than a fully online learning” (Kim & Bonk, 2006, p.29). As recommendations for further research, the authors suggest to have a deeper insight into the aspects of blended learning, its types, and activities that make such mode of learning successful.

Mupinga et al. (2006) propose the study that investigates the learning styles, expectations, and needs of students engaged in online learning for further improvement in the organization of the learning process. Based on the results of the free online Myers-Briggs Cognitive Style Inventory personality test two types of common learning styles emerge: extrovert and introvert in terms of interaction patterns, and judger and perceiver regarding life construction patterns. When summarizing the expectations of online students, three aspects are mentioned most frequently: 1) regular communication with the professor, 2) constructive feedback from the instructor, 3) challenging online courses. In addition, the needs of the students taking an online course include the following: technical help (logging on to the university network and navigating through the course management platform), flexible and understanding instructors (in terms of deadline changes), advanced course information, provision with sample assignments, the same course management platform for all the online courses, equal recognition with on-campus students. The authors believe that the students’ journey into Web-based learning will be more effective and productive when the needs, expectations and peculiarities of the students’ learning styles are taken into consideration.

It is beyond doubt that online learning is a great innovation in the world of education. This mode of learning provides more student independency and autonomy, gives an opportunity for obtaining education to the students unable to attend on-campus courses. However, online learning is not possible to take place without the access to the Internet (which is a common case in the remote regions of Kazakhstan). Moreover, it requires computer and technology literacy skills that are often in deficit among older generation. Apart from that, through the courses offered for studying online it is not always possible to know the level of student engagement within the study process. Finally, Web-based learning lacks face-to-face communication and does not establish much interaction among students.

As a distant master student, I have seen the above mentioned strengths and challenges of online learning in my own practice. What about your experience?

References:

Kim, K., & Bonk, C. J. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education: The survey says. Educause quarterly29(4), 22. Retrieved September 10, 2015 from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eqm0644.pdf

Mupinga, D.M., Nora, R.T., & Yaw D.C. (2006). The learning styles, expectations, and needs of online students. College Teaching, 54(1), 185-189. Retrieved September 10, 2015 from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3200/CTCH.54.1.185-189

Family Structure and Student Performance at School

When it came to choosing the topic for my thesis I was thinking of looking into the issue that could be related to the students I work with. Having examined the portfolios of the students I found that there is a number of students coming from single-parent families. I have read some articles on the negative influence of single parenthood on students’ performance at school in Western countries. However, there is no research on this topic in Central Asia and Kazakhstan in particular. Therefore, I decided to study the relationship between family structure and student academic performance at secondary schools in one of the regions of Kazakhstan. The research will focus on identifying the difference in academic achievement of students from single-parent families and traditional two-parent households. Furthermore, I tend to examine whether such factors as family income and the level of parent-child interaction affect educational success of students in the two types of families.

It is generally acknowledged that family has an important role in a child’s life. More specifically, family can affect social development and academic experiences of a child (Schneider, B., Atteberry, A., & Owens, A., 2005). Family composition is the fundamental characteristic that has significant effect on children. Moreover, family structure can support or limit parents’ involvement into the process of positive influence on their child’s future achievements (Amato & Keith, 1991).

According to Barajas (2011) “almost 50 % of children born today will spend significant time living with only one parent” (p. 19). The increasing divorce rate in today’s society brings changes to the number of children raised in single-parent families (Abudu & Fuseini, 2013; Center for Marriage and Families, 2005; Kiernan, 1992). Currently Kazakhstan is also facing the issue of high divorce rate. The Agency of the Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan indicates that the marriage-to-divorce ratio in Kazakhstan was 3:1 in 2013. The number of divorces has increased almost by 30 % over the period of 13 years from 2000 to 2013 (Ministry of National Economy, 2013). The statistics also show that in the period of four years between 2006 and 2010 every fifth child was born to a single-parent household (International Labour Organization, n.d.). It is obvious that with the growing amount of divorces in the country the number of children living in single-parent households tends to go up as well. Therefore, more research is needed to identify what effect a family structure, single parenthood in particular, can have on a child’s social and academic development.

I believe, the results of the study will have implications at various levels. First, they will be useful for school administration and teachers in terms of determining factors related to high or low academic achievement of students. Also, parents may find this study helpful as they will see what impact such factors as family income and the level of parent-child interaction can have on the academic success of their children. Finally, the conclusions of the research will contribute to the body of knowledge in this area.

   References:

Abudu, A.M., & Fuseini, M.N. (2013). Influence of single parenting on pupils’ academic performance in basic schools in the WA Municipality. International Journal of Education Learning and Development, 1(2), 85-94. Retrieved from http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Influence-of-Single-Parenting-on-Pupils%E2%80%99-Academic-Performance-in-Basic-Schools-in-the-Wa-Municipality.pdf

Amato, P.R., & Keith, B. (1991). Separation from a parent during childhood and adult socioeconomic attainment. Social Forces, 70(1), 187-206. doi: 10.2307/2580068

Barajas, M. (2011). Academic achievement of children in single parent homes: a critical review. The Hilltop Review, 5(1), 13-21. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1044&context=hilltopreview

Center for Marriage and Families. (2005). Family structure and children’s educational outcomes. (Research Brief No. 1). New York, NY: Institute for American Values. Retrieved from http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/researchbrief1.pdf

International Labour Organization. (n.d.). Work and family responsibilities: the Republic of Kazakhstan. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/eurpro/moscow/info/publ/waf_resp_kaz_en.pdf

Kiernan, K.E. (1992). The impact of family disruption in childhood on transitions made in young adult life. Population Studies, 46(2), 213-234. doi: 10.1080/0032472031000146206

Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan Committee on Statistics. (2013). The number of registered divorces. Retrieved from http://taldau.stat.kz/ru/NewIndex/GetIndex/703864

Schneider, B., Atteberry, A., & Owens, A. (2005). Family matters: family structure and child outcomes. Birmingham, AL: Alabama Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.alabamapolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/API-Research-Current-Family-Structure.pdf