All posts by dostantryinghishardest

Checkpoint 3 Blog Post

Wow, this has been a very long course, definitely the longest we’ve had as part of our program and probably the longest course I’ve ever taken. I think it is safe to say that all of use learned a lot of new things about writing, whether academic or less formal (like this post, for example). I think I speak for everyone when I say that this course really helped us to improve our writing skills. It was especially useful to me in that it opened my eyes to the flaws in my writing.

What I appreciate about this course it how open everyone was in sharing their experience and parts of the sacred thesis. It was always a pleasure and often a great deal of fun to read your posts and thesis sections.

I really hope that we will have the time and fortitude to actually apply this knowledge in writing our theses, because many of us are very limited in time. I also wish (and this opinion may not be very popular) our supervisors would pay more attention to the writing. Sometimes I know that the flaws in my writing will go unnoticed, and it wakes the lazy person inside of me, so I just ignore them.

I also hope we will continue to post news from our lives through blog posts. They are the one thing I will miss the most about this course.

I wish everyone a good viva. I spoke to some graduates of our school, and they say it really isn’t that scary.

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I really did try my hardest

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image source: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01123/astley_1123027c.jpg

Dear all,

Seeing as this is our final blog post, I would like to include in it all the ideas I wanted to share with you but never got around to.

First of all, I know that almost all of our projects got approved by the committee, so congrats on that! I know it has been a long and difficult way, but we’re nearing the end, so I wish everyone strength and perseverance. I for one did not find this journey easy. For one thing, I changed the topic of my research at least twice before I was sure I had picked one I was passionate about. Secondly, I really struggled with my litreview, for a number of reasons (not understanding what a litreview is, difficulties finding sources, problems with the organization of ideas). Also, doing the whole thing online was quite a bit of a challenge: boy was I wrong when I thought I would have time both for work and my studies. Most of the time it was one or the other. And finally, I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling that many of the steps I have to do in my research are not really necessary. The litreview, the problem statement, the APA style – I just thought that I would get all the necessary information by conducting the interviews.

This course, however, helped me deal with some of those challenges. I now understand that without all the mumbo jumbo it is not possible to have any reliable findings, and that the effort that goes into it is definitely worth it.

I do have a couple of recommendations to the instructors, though, and I think most of my fellow students will back me up on this. First of all, since we’re learning how to write a thesis, maybe we could spend some more time analyzing examples of good theses next time. Also, with the writing assignments it was difficult to fit all the information into the word limit. Finally, I think this course could have been less intensive. We have our big research along with the electives, not to mention that all of us are employed full-time. At times I felt that I was spending more time on my mini thesis than I did on my main study.

With that said, I think this course has been very well organized, and I will probably never have another instructor who gives feedback as fast as Philip.

P.S.

To the students taking this course after us: plan ahead, do your readings, and always keep in touch with your groupmates. Some of them might feel like dropping out, so be there for them. We missed at least two such cases because of the crazy amount of work, but I think everyone will agree with me that this program, and this course in particular, is definitely worth completing.

Diamonds are made under pressure.

My first experience conducting interviews

Image source: http://www.educationnews.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/GraduateInComputer_Bk.jpg

In my mini-thesis, I investigate the perceptions that managers with hiring power in Kazakhstan have on online degrees when they are looking for employees. In order to gain some insight into the matter, I designed a semi-structured interview and set out to find some employers who would be willing to participate in my little study. What follows is a brief description of my experience conducting the interviews: the challenges I faced, the advantages and disadvantages of the data collection method I chose, and how this experience will inform my thesis.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I had was finding managers outside the educational realm willing to participate in the study. I emailed a few representatives of the bigger companies in Kazakhstan, but failed to receive any positive answers. I ended up having conversations with two vice principals working for the network of school where I am currently employed and a fellow master’s student at Nazarbayev University.

After conducting the interviews, I found out some of the weaknesses of this method. First and most hindering, was the realization that some people do not always feel confident in one-on-one conversations. With one of the interviewees it was like pulling teeth: I could see that they were honestly trying to help me with my research, but they were so uncomfortable that I had to rely on probes after each question to elicit full sentences. Another disadvantage was my lack of skills, which I now realize might at least partially explain why one of the participants did not feel particularly at ease during our conversation. I did not record the first interview on audio, so for the good part of it I struggled to listen, analyze, and take notes at the same time. Also, one of the interviewees had a nasty habit of trailing off topic, and for fear of being rude I just let them go on. Because of that, the interview lasted almost twice as long as I had originally planned.

However, in the long run the advantages of interviews as a data collection method far outweigh the disadvantages. If carefully planned and well executed, interviews are guaranteed to either give you the answers you were looking for or tell you that you are looking for them in the wrong place. After all, no matter how difficult it was, I did manage to get enough information to form some understanding of how online degrees were perceived in Kazakhstan.

It was my first time conducting an interview for research purposes, so it was a good way for me test the water. I am now aware that it takes a long time to prepare good interview questions, and that it takes some serious skills to make the interviewees feel relaxed and ready to share their opinions. I will definitely use this knowledge to organize the interviews for the big research I am doing this year.

BYOD – an initiative worth taking

The Bring Your Own Device policy, or BYOD, was first introduced in the early 2010’s. The idea behind it is that students learn better when they are allowed to use their personal laptops, tablet PC’s and smartphones in the classroom. It was designed to address a few issues that hindered the use of technology for learning, and to help students feel more at home when they are at school.

Schools that have adopted this policy report that it is proving effective. Tony Pontes, Director of Education at Peel District School Board, is an avid advocate of BYOD, claiming that when implemented in an organized way it can make technology more accessible, promote cooperation in the classroom, and unleash the creative potential of students (PeelSchools, 2013).

There are numerous reasons to believe that more schools will be adopting the BYOD policy in the near future. First, and probably the most appealing to school boards, is the fact that it saves a lot of money: if students bring their own electronic devices to school, there is no need for the school to buy any. Secondly, students are more familiar with their own devices, which makes them easier to use. Also, they have full administrator rights to their laptops and smartphones. This allows students to install and update software freely without having to contact the school’s IT team. We all know how frustrating it can be not to be able to access a useful website simply because Java cannot be updated due to lack of admin privileges on a company-owned computer. And finally, many students own devices that are far more advanced that the ones owned by their schools, and for many teenagers, settling for a first-generation iPad is not a viable option.

There are, of course, some challenges that schools need to address if they are to implement BYOD. Perhaps the most serious of them is the problem of security. Students’ personal devices are almost impossible to monitor for IT specialists, which leads to all sorts of risks and dangers. For example, students can catch a virus on their own device and spread it onto school-owned computers through network connection. Another potential risk is that students who do not have tablet PC’s or laptops may feel disadvantaged or insecure.

However, in my practice I have not had any problems with students using their personal electronic devices in the classroom. Many students are more informed in the matters of technology than their teachers, so usually it is the latter who brighten the days of the IT staff with professional challenges. Students are usually experienced enough to know not to click on any suspicious links or answer strange emails. As far as inequality goes, even students from poor families now own smartphones with decent capabilities. In fact, these days children will prefer to wear old clothes so they parents can afford to buy them a good phone, so I do not really feel that this is going to much of a problem for schools looking to adopt BYOD.

All things considered, as a technology enthusiast, I am sure that we are bound to hear some very positive things about BYOD, and hopefully, more schools will be turning to this policy in the next few years.

References

PeelSchools. (2013, January, 23). Why BYOD? [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7zHdGfN530

Litreview – my journey so far

Image source: http://www.gwu.edu/~litrev/road2.gif

As part of my studies for my master’s degree I have to conduct my own research. I am now at one of the first stages of writing my thesis – literature review. I do not have a very clear idea of how I am going to organize it yet, because I have recently found out that I am not good at writing literature reviews at all. In fact, when I submitted my research proposal, the only thing that was wrong with it was the literature review. I had completely missed the point of the literature review and received zero points for it, so now i am in the process of redoing it.

My literature review will focus on the implementation of shared leadership in school context. The only challenge I have encountered so far is the lack of research on this or any similar topic in Kazakhstan. I think that the majority of my fellow students will face the same problem – there just doesn’t seem to be any serious research on anything in Kazakhstan’s context! Other than that, once I finally got a good grasp of how a literature review should be done and what the focus of mine will be, the journey has been relatively easy. There is plenty of research on the implementation of shared leadership and a clear gap in research specifically on my topic, and I have access to all the resources I could possible need thanks to the university’s wonderful library. I really doubt that I will have any serious difficulties with my literature review.

I have already selected the papers that I will cover in my literature review, and got the list of papers approved by my instructor, so I am pretty confident that I am on the right track. The only thing left to do now is to follow the guidelines, and hopefully, by the end of September I’ll have my literature review ready.

My reflections on APA style

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APA style is used by writers, students and educators all over the world. It is widely recognized as the preferred way for academics to organize their papers in a meaningful way. As a graduate student, I have had an opportunity to experience the pros and cons of writing in APA style, and this post is my reflection on that experience.

To me, and probably to many other people, the most important thing about APA style is the fact that it exists. Even with its shortcomings, which will be discussed later in the post, the very existence of a uniform style recognized by so many people and institutions is simply amazing. Besides, the guidelines of this style actually make a lot of sense and make the intricate process of writing far less frightening, especially for those without much experience.

There are, of course, some difficulties associated with it. For example, many people complain that it is not particularly helpful in fields other than social studies. I for one cannot relate to this problem. I have written about a couple of dozen papers and articles as part of my studies, and so far APA style has been very helpful. I will concede that it may seem too complicated at first, but once you receive feedback on your writing from someone who has a good understanding of it, it gets easier with every paper.

If I were to give a few tips to other students who are just beginning to use APA style, I would recommend them to keep in mind that it was designed almost a century ago, and with so much technological progress done in the past couple of decades it may very soon become irrelevant or obsolete. I would encourage them to try to make APA more modern. For example, I think that we can modify the APA guidance for making references. Almost any piece of serious academic writing is now available online, and we can use this as an opportunity to simplify the process of referencing. I think it would be easier to use QR codes, custom pictures, or even an interactive button to cite and refer to sources.

To sum up, I believe that APA style has served its function well but it might be about time some modifications were made to it.

The overlooked aspect of online learning environments

image credit: http://www.gainprofitincome.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/building-trust.jpg

As the name suggests, online learning usually occurs without much face-to-face interaction between the instructor and the learner, or among the learners. Consequently, people tend to neglect the psychological and emotional issues associated with this type of learning. The results may range from low student performance to feelings of exclusion and insecurity. Two academic articles I have read recently focus on this problem and provide some insight into the ways that different people interact with each other when their learning happens online, and stress the importance of trust among them.
Pavalache-Ilie & Cocorada (2014) conducted a survey among 175 students engaged in online learning, and were able to identify some psychological factors affecting the performance and behavior of online learners. Their study revealed the following findings:
– male students tend to be more independent in online courses
– in their second and consecutive years, students are more likely to choose tasks requiring less collaboration with other students
– introverts require more support from their teachers
– students who have the need to be in the field are prone to feeling disoriented
– learners with good reflective skills benefit more from this mode of learning than other students
Wang (2014) recognizes the importance of trust in online learning, and identifies three trust-inducing qualities of online course instructors based on the analysis of a survey conducted among some 361 students:
– assertiveness
– responsiveness
– sense of care and community
The majority of the respondents of the survey also believed that more face-to-face time with their instructor would go a long way in promoting trust.
The two studies confirm that personal characteristics of students as well as instructors have an impact on their online learning experience, and factors like this cannot be dismissed simply because of the untraditional nature of this mode of communication.

References
Pavalache-Ilie, M., & Cocorada, S. (2014). Interactions of students’ personality in the online learning environment. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 128, 117-122.

Wang, Y. D. (2014). Building student trust in online learning environments. Distance Education, 35(3), 345-359.

Different understanding of shared leadership among staff groups at NIS Pavlodar

Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Pavlodar has opened its doors two years ago. It is part of a large network of schools tasked with the approbation of the latest ideas in the field of education. The very idea of NIS entails that a lot of projects will be run within the school, and it goes without saying that without strong leaders, successful completion of these projects will be very unlikely. The school will need to form and nurture a culture of leadership that is distributed among different employees, from the principal to non-teaching staff. However, a recent survey conducted by a department head shows that there is a difference in the perception of shared leadership by different staff groups. The formation of a strong distributed leadership culture is impossible without an agreement on what the term means in school context,  My study aims to find out exactly the differences in understanding of shared leadership by different groups of employees, to determine its causes and provide some possible solutions drawing on international literature on the implementation of shared leadership in schools.

As a middle manager struggling to organize the activity of nearly a dozen projects run by different staff members, I am heavily invested in the outcomes of this study. I have come to believe that the most contrasting opinions on this subject are those between teachers and the administrative staff. I feel that this problem is not peculiar to my school alone, and it affects the performance of other NIS schools as well, and hopefully, my research will be an interesting read to the decision makers on the school and network level.

Perhaps the biggest limitation of my study is the fact that I do not have a lot of experience in research. However, what I lack in knowledge and skill, I am willing to compensate with passion and dedication.