All posts by kairat5

Academic Crossfit

What do you need to succeed? If anyone thinks about an answer for this question would say to oneself an infinity of various external factors such as proper resources, good environment, flexible schedule, etc. This list of desires for your personal success may be really long but nothing will happen… unless you start working on your own weaknesses, thereby transforming them into your personal strengths and skills. During last semester an effective combination of traditional learning and regular online learning eliminated routine and challenged me every week and session but it helped me to identify my gaps and focus on them.

I believe this semester has become a real booster in pushing us closer to the thesis and its preparation in more meaningful way. The research terms and notions, which first were incognito for most of us, were on the lips of my group mates. During last semester I was hearing “sampling strategy”, “data collection instruments”, “ethical issues”, “observation protocol”, “research design” not from the University professors but in debates and discussions of my group mates again.

What I do appreciate in the courses is that we have had a fair opportunity to get a constant feedback on performed writings and other works with their further reasonable assessment. It’s one thing to get marks for completed tasks but it’s another thing to obtain luculent explanation of a result and get recommendations from the supervisors and also your peers on how your work and its design may be improved and what mistakes should be avoided.

As a result of collaboration with supervisors and peers the frame of my thesis is absolutely clear for me. I know that I have to keep working with the literature review and constantly enhance it focusing on the analysis but not the summary, what I would also advise to other graduate learners. Overall, I am quite optimistic about my research project and looking forward to completing it.

So basically my knowledge and experience acquired during this semester has become richer and comprehensive. I was pleased to learn and understand that this knowledge could be beneficial and contribute to the content and correct design of my research and could be applied at my work as well. Although not everything was so smooth, the high level of intensity and lack of time for doing weekly tasks have become a real challenge for me. Fortunately, I have made good conclusions from this experience.

 

First interview practice

The fall session has been very informative and educational in terms of provided knowledge and acquired skills on data collection. Also, I had a good opportunity to test my originating research skills and have interview practice at NUGSE. All this work and practice helped me to revise the content of my mini-thesis and direct it in more meaningful way. In fact, this session became a critical point in identifying the purpose of my mini-thesis including the research design and methods for its data collection and data analysis.

Originally, my research project was oriented to examine the effect of online courses using blog posts on students’ performance at NUGSE. However, after going more deeply into the relevant literature and further discussions with the supervisors I realized that it would be difficult to determine the correlation between these two variables. So, I decided to look at my primary work from another qualitative angle and explore graduate students’ attitudes towards compulsory blog writing at NUGSE.

To address the research questions of my current mini-thesis I have decided to use the one-on-one semi-structured interviews for collecting the data. According to Braun and Clarke (2013) interviews “are best suited to exploring understandings, perceptions and constructions of things that participants have some kind of personal stake in” (p. 81). That was exactly what I was focused on: to obtain in-depth personal data from students in terms of their experience and perspectives on weekly blog writing by asking them open-ended questions. I was agreeably surprised that I could already practice those data collection instruments in the field at NUGSE. It was a sort of my first research experience and I was excited about it although I did not totally understand the purpose of that task in the beginning. I found this experience of practical learning effective and helpful as it gave me an opportunity to act as a real researcher, on the one hand, and contribute to my knowledge, on the other hand.

Following the recommendation of Creswell (2014) the data collection was conducted with “the use of standard procedures and ethical practices” (p. 187). The basic principle of selecting participants was their agreement, availability and willingness to be involved in the study. Research volunteers were fully informed of the nature and objective of the study. I also reminded the participants of the anonymity and confidentiality of information received during the one-on-one interviews. Then I asked for participants’ permission to audiotape the interviews and none of them minded in this regard. After the interview finished I thanked the participant, assuring him/her of the confidentiality of the responses.

Referring to my real research project, actually, I was thinking to change its topic and continue working in the concept of online learning tools, specifically, blog writing and their impact on students’ academic writing skills. However, I realized that I was not an expert in this field and not a real online user, so that I made a decision to keep working in my primary direction related to languages.

References:

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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

Innovative classrooms.

This is a very clear and vivid demonstration of a future classroom with sufficient implementation and effective use of various progressive technologies. Although this video does not contain a single word it shows how students can be actively enrolled in the learning process and how greatly they show zeal for education and gaining knowledge. I believe that students from this type of innovative classrooms and schools are going to be many steps ahead comparing with students with more traditional approaches in teaching and learning, as well as they are going to be more prepared for real fast-changing life in global village and succeed in it.

This video has also empowered me to use innovations in my own classes, despite the fact that I belong to more conservative type of teachers, who prefer usual group work or error correction and feedback than googling and web-chatting. I realized that innovations and new technologies should not be taught in our Kazakhstani schools as a separate subject but should be implemented and additionally used in all subjects to help learners use up-to-date gadgets effectively. However, it does not mean that innovative technologies are solutions to all the problems in schooling but they may become very effective tools to foster the current situation and connect the education with real life and real students’ needs to get ahead in it.

In case of our country, the issue may be that the government and the Ministry of Education make big investments in these fields and provides schools with new and modern technologies but there is a lack of specialists who can deal with these innovations. So, computers and Internet are used for entertainment or simple chatting in social networks, smart boards are used as whiteboards, IPods for watching films. For this reason teachers should be properly trained how to use these innovations for maximum effect and benefits.

There is always something you can improve and update! This is literature review.

The first time I heard about a research was at the Inquiry methods session. After primary skimming and further scanning of Creswell I came to conclusion that a research process cycle consists of six main steps (Creswell, 2012). Personally, I was expecting that the part of collecting data with its following analysis and interpretation would be the hardest and most challenging element of my research on the impact of using mother tongue in EFL classes. Now I believe that it is going to be the most exciting and captivating piece of my study.

Whereas, the most boring and time-consuming part I have faced is the part of reviewing the literature which I first thought was the easiest and minor component in my study. ‘This is no big deal’, I was thinking and I was wrong. Why? Because instead of reading two or three articles related to my topic I had to read about twenty and I still need to keep on working on it; and instead of grasping information from different or secondary sources I had to focus on primary ones and look for scholarly literature vs. non-scholarly literature as well. Also, at the time I was not even aware of Google Scholar or any other useful academic library databases but I mistakenly assumed that Google.com was the only tool for searching any literature I wanted. The only thing I managed to do write was identifying proper key words for my research. I chose the most important words in the title, which represented key concepts of the study, and they were ‘mother tongue’, ‘EFL classroom’, ‘L1 use/L2 use’, ‘language acquisition’. Then, I used Boolean operator, which I had not been aware of before the session, and it proposed me different articles which I started to select, read, and analyze. However, this work is still in progress and requires more time and mental efforts.

Fortunately, this work of writing a thesis, drafts has been under regular control of our professors and tutors. I have received many different comments already how my piece of work could be updated though this critique sometimes offends. Recently I have received the vital literature review chapter draft guide and I am going to change, review, and rewrite my current literature review section with the requirements of the above document as it is a better and more logical way to do it.

References

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research, 4th ed. Boston: Pearson.

Don’t plagiarize! Improve your APA!

“Don’t plagiarize! Do not plagiarize even if there is only one day left, even if you haven’t started your assignment yet!..” It sounds ghastly, doesn’t it? However, this is what all of us have heard from the university professors’ and advisors’ lips. Although many of them say about the risk of plagiarism only some of them remind us of a tool or format or guidelines which can help us to avoid plagiarism in our academic works and give credit to the original source where we borrow the information from.

In this case APA style is essential and prerequisite. This unified format helps us not to put at risk of plagiarism our own writings when we combine personal thoughts with ideas or findings of others. By citing the sources we give credit to an author of the source and used data, as well as we distinctively point out if a research or work is based either on our own conclusions or it includes implications of a third party. So, instead of learning how to plagiarize effectively we need to learn how to cite and paraphrase appropriately.

My first experience with APA style was not easy. By contrast, it was very hard and I assume it is going be much harder to apply APA principles during my thesis writing. Hopefully, it will align with the uniform system and will have correct citing and referencing compared to my first practices.

I have to admit that a lot of support and contribution in improving our writing skills and writing styles was from our professors and advisors. Even though they challenged us and gave some weird tasks with further feedback, it helped. Gradually, step by step, we were getting ahead. Little by little, we were getting rid of common errors and mistakes in writing academically, in summarizing, in quoting as well. This can be a piece of advice for anybody – work in collaboration with your tutor, a person who is responsible for your final product. Don’t get lost, don’t ignore the feedback and if you struggle, ask for professional support, ask your professor even if it is the fifth or tenth time, look for solution. “And never, never plagiarize! Or you will fail out of the course!” That is why, we should improve the APA style.

From something in mind to something in kind… NU case

My current study at MSc Programme at Nazarbayev University has given me a great opportunity to experience, enjoy and often challenge an effective combination of traditional and online learning. I have to admit that I have never done this type of learning and teaching before and I have discovered that both of these instructional approaches have important aspects in common. The main point for me is that I have the necessary support I need from the University professors and all of the dedicated staff in the classroom and online as well. Our Academic Advisors are willing to help us and navigate our academic career. Also, even being out of the university doors I have the access to university facilities and resources. However, the significant advantage of online courses is that I can take online classes wherever and whenever I want, what is a perfect match to my schedule as well as to the busy lifestyles of many other learners of the 21st century. Hereinafter, I would like to reflect briefly on how critical thinking can be taught through online discussions and how blogging can be used as an effective ‘web based communications tool’ (Williams & Jacobs, 2004, p. 232).

The main goal of any educational process and faculty is to provide learners with new and helpful skills and knowledge which they will be able to apply successfully in life. According to MacKnight (2000), one of the commonly chasing objectives of educational strategies is to contribute to learners’ analytical skills, intellectual growth and improve their critical thinking. These competencies will help them to comprehend, analyze, determine, qualify, and employ information or knowledge deduced from reasoning, considerations, experience, or feedback (MacKnight, 2000). In this case, “online communication offers the potential for collaboration as well as increased participation in the learning process, reflection, peer tutoring, monitoring of student learning as it is taking place, and extension of the classroom learning” (MacKnight, 2000, p. 39). That is exactly what I have experienced and faced with during the sessions at university. Working on different projects and tasks in cooperation with groupmates, meeting and discussing online, sharing ideas within the set groups sharpened our analytical skills and thinking and helped us to achieve better and higher results meeting all the deadlines and standards.

In terms of effective tools that can be used online in education sector Williams and Jacobs (2004) draw their attention and focus on ‘blogging’ – a “form of micro-publishing” (p. 232), which “has the capacity to engage people in collaborative activity, knowledge sharing, reflection and debate” Hiler (2003) as cited by Williams and Jacobs (2004, p. 232). From the research findings described in the article we can see that blogging is a good aid that can be used in addition to main subjects, as well as enrollment of students in this practice can help them to improve their knowledge and different skills. I am currently experiencing this exciting practice and, hopefully, I will benefit from it a lot as in these circumstances my level of knowledge, writing, reflection is under constant control of my advisors and professors.

References

Williams, J. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247. Retrieved from http://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/view/1361/731

MacKnight, C. (2000). Teaching critical thinking through online discussions. Educasive Quarterly, 4, 38-41. Retrieved from http://eac595b.pbworks.com/f/macknight+2000+questions[1].pdf

To speak or not to speak… English, Kazakh or Russian…

The role of using mother tongue in the educational process is significantly high as it is the language which teachers and students use for thinking and communication in teaching and learning. However, debate and polemic increase when researchers and educators discuss the importance of using mother tongue in English classroom whether it is beneficial for foreign language acquisition or should be totally minimized or excluded in the class. Inspired by personal teaching experience and various outcomes in this field of study I have decided to conduct a research on the impact of using mother tongue in EFL classrooms in secondary schools in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The English language is essential to succeed in life (Sharma, 2006) and it has become the most widely learnt foreign language in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Education and Science of the RK places special emphasis on extension and implementation of EFL development programs and reforms in Kazakhstan. Although the attempted measures are supposed to make a great contribution to current level of English among the population there are only 15,4 % of citizens who are able to understand conversational English, 2,6 % of people can read, 7,7 % of Kazakhstanis can read and write (Yerkembay, 2014). The question then becomes what does not work in the EFL teaching process when learners realize the importance of knowing English well.

Describing myself as a teacher with wide experience in teaching English to different ages and different level learners, I have noticed in my lessons that when I was teaching in groups with a little reference to L1 the learners of those groups demonstrated more constant progress and deeper knowledge of English. And groups where I allowed myself and learners as well to switch to mother tongue as soon as there was an obstacle or chance for this, they demonstrated less precise understanding of what was happening in the classroom in the near future. In contrast with the “no mother tongue” groups, they simply used to forget common instructions; they easily put a Russian or Kazakh word in their English speech; every time those students met an unknown word they needed its urgent translation otherwise the whole learning activity would stop.

Some researchers believe that one of the reasons which hinders the progress of learners in EFL classes is the overuse of mother tongue. For example, Swan (1985) as cited by Cole (1998) takes up the position that the use of L1 hinders target language acquisition (Cole, 1998). Cole himself suggests that “during speaking activities there is little justification for using L1” (Cole, 1998, p. 2). So, this issue requires proper attention and investigation within the Kazakhstani context. This research is oriented to study the degree to which mother tongue is used in the EFL classroom and how it influences on the progress of secondary level students in Kazakhstan.

References

Cole, S. (1998). The use of L1 in communicative English classrooms. The Language Teacher. Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/old_tlt/files/98/dec/cole.html

Sharma, B.K. (2006). Mother tongue use in English classroom. Journal of Nelta, 11, 80-87.

Yerkimbay, A. (2014, April 1). Сколько казахов знают английский? Retrieved from https://www.neweurasia.net/ru/culture-and-history/skolko-kazahov-znayut-angliyskiy/

To speak or not to speak… English, Kazakh or Russian…

The role of using mother tongue in the educational process is significantly high as it is the language which teachers and students use for thinking and communication in teaching and learning. However, debate and polemic increase when researchers and educators discuss the importance of using mother tongue in English classroom whether it is beneficial for foreign language acquisition or should be totally minimized or excluded in the class. Inspired by personal teaching experience and various outcomes in this field of study I have decided to conduct a research on the impact of using mother tongue in EFL classrooms in secondary schools in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The English language is essential to succeed in life (Sharma, 2006) and it has become the most widely learnt foreign language in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Education and Science of the RK places special emphasis on extension and implementation of EFL development programs and reforms in Kazakhstan. Although the attempted measures are supposed to make a great contribution to current level of English among the population there are only 15,4 % of citizens who are able to understand conversational English, 2,6 % of people can read, 7,7 % of Kazakhstanis can read and write (Yerkembay, 2014). The question then becomes what does not work in the EFL teaching process when learners realize the importance of knowing English well.

Describing myself as a teacher with wide experience in teaching English to different ages and different level learners, I have noticed in my lessons that when I was teaching in groups with a little reference to L1 the learners of those groups demonstrated more constant progress and deeper knowledge of English. And groups where I allowed myself and learners as well to switch to mother tongue as soon as there was an obstacle or chance for this, they demonstrated less precise understanding of what was happening in the classroom in the near future. In contrast with the “no mother tongue” groups, they simply used to forget common instructions; they easily put a Russian or Kazakh word in their English speech; every time those students met an unknown word they needed its urgent translation otherwise the whole learning activity would stop.

Some researchers believe that one of the reasons which hinders the progress of learners in EFL classes is the overuse of mother tongue. For example, Swan (1985) as cited by Cole (1998) takes up the position that the use of L1 hinders target language acquisition (Cole, 1998). Cole himself suggests that “during speaking activities there is little justification for using L1” (Cole, 1998, p. 2). So, this issue requires proper attention and investigation within the Kazakhstani context. This research is oriented to study the degree to which mother tongue is used in the EFL classroom and how it influences on the progress of secondary level students in Kazakhstan.

References

Cole, S. (1998). The use of L1 in communicative English classrooms. The Language Teacher. Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/old_tlt/files/98/dec/cole.html

Sharma, B.K. (2006). Mother tongue use in English classroom. Journal of Nelta, 11, 80-87.

Yerkimbay, A. (2014, April 1). Сколько казахов знают английский? Retrieved from https://www.neweurasia.net/ru/culture-and-history/skolko-kazahov-znayut-angliyskiy/