All posts by marinadoktorova

It’s time to say goodbye…

In this last post I am glad to reflect on my learning and share about challenges I have had in the course this semester. Here are my personal perspective on online education in the context of online English learning and small-scale research writing, and recommendation for online students and course improvement.

Perhaps the greatest struggle for me was lack of time, and I guess most of my group mates will agree with this. I was writing blog posts, small-scale research project assignments, final papers for the courses I had in summer session, and working on my Master’s thesis at the same time. Even with perfect time-management evenings and weekends were not enough to cope with the amount of work I had. Writing mini thesis turned out very time-consuming and distractive; therefore I got an opportunity to work on my actual thesis only when being on campus. Despite the above-mentioned difficulties, my overall experience in mini-thesis writing was valuable. The highlight was interviewing people for my project, as it gave a great opportunity to practice before conducting interviews for my big research and drew my attention to areas I need to focus on. Reflecting on the online English course in general, I need to confess that I did not believe in effectiveness of blog writing at first. The fact that we were supposed to comment on posts of two group mates seemed imposed. However, as time went by, I realised how exciting it was to read blog posts of other students, learn from them, and share my own experiences. I also think if we were not full-time working students blog discussions would be even more lively and vibrant than they are at the moment.

Now, as I have almost got through it, I am happy to give two, I believe, the most pertinent pieces of advice to current and future online students. First, if studying is not the only thing you are dealing with at the moment (especially if you are studying online and working full-time), plan your time accordingly. You cannot guess at the future and you never know what is going to happen the next day; therefore if you have several hours/days of free time, write your assignments. One thing that worked perfectly for me was doing tasks ahead. It saved so much time and gave a relief when I got busier at work but had my papers written. The other thing is contacting your instructor every time you get a question or concern related to the task. It is always better to ask than try to guess whether you are on the right track. Remember that your score and successful course completion partly depend on the quality of papers you submit.

Finally, there is one thing I would change if I were the instructor of the English for Thesis Writing course. Instead of writing a mini thesis I would make student focus on their main thesis. To help them in the process of writing I would give assignments directly related to Master’s thesis. For example, the ones with an emphasis on paraphrasing, synthesis writing, and cohesion and coherency achievement would be helpful for the majority and supportive of those having difficulties.

Data collection for my small-scale research project

Apparently, one of the greatest things about a number of online courses offered by the Graduate School of Education is that full-time working students have now received an opportunity to learn anywhere and to access education even from their workplaces. However, every coin has two sides, and it turns out that full-time employed students have difficulties with online leaning due to the factors other than the language constraints (most of the courses are taught in English).

My small-scale research project aims at exploring challenges full-time working students of Graduate School of Education face with online English learning. Qualitative approach has been selected to answer the research question and develop better understanding of the central phenomenon. One-to-one semi structured interview was used as an instrument to collect the data. Each interview lasted for about 20 minutes and was audio-recorded (participants were preliminary informed about the procedure).

The obvious strength of this instrument is that it helps to investigate the depth of the problem and to use personal experiences of respondents to answer the research question. Besides, if an interviewee was sharing something directly related to the research question of my study, I could ask a follow-up question to find out more about that. Thus, when the responses of participants had been analysed, I answered the research question and found some unexpected details that might have been beneficial for the study. The weakness is that interview is a time-consuming data collection instrument and the findings of my study cannot be generalized to all GSE students due to a small sample size. To address this limitation, I selected participants employed by various organizations to check if their responses would demonstrate challenges specific for employees of different businesses. I was also thankful to my group mates who showed their willingness to take part in this small-scale research despite their busy schedule.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for me was to design proper interview questions, as I kept in mind that the research findings would entirely depend on the questions I asked. I put much effort into designing questions for the interview that would be aligned with the research question. It has been a great experience of being an interviewer that I believe will be of great help when collecting data for my thesis.

Unfortunately, this small-scale research project is not related to my actual thesis. However, I would be interested in investigating the topic of online education in Kazakhstan and issues associated with it. Furthermore, since there is a lack of studies on online education in our country, it would be a great thesis topic for GSE students.

Edmodo – technology you want to have in your classroom

Edmodo is, actually, a social network and a learning platform created for educational purposes. The fact that children love social networking sites is obvious, so why don’t we, teachers, use it for good? Edmodo is available in different languages and is actively used by millions of people from all around the globe, and today teachers, students, and even parents can have equal access to the platform.

The video I have shared is a tutorial on how to use Edmodo in the classroom. Step by step it shows how teachers may create an account on the platform, make posts, create groups for learners, and join Edmodo communities of different interests.

The utmost advantage of this social network is, undoubtedly, its educational content. Introducing Edmodo to the classroom enables teacher to engage students into a very exciting learning process. Teachers have opportunities to make quizzes, share digital resources, and post assignments with the help of the platform. Students, in their turn, can post in groups, comment on each other posts, assess works of their peers, submit assignments, share information with each other and the whole class, and, finally, join various groups that engage them in learning things they are keen on.

In my school we are actively using Edmodo in the English language lessons. Children enjoy having it as a part of everyday learning experience.  Furthermore, it is a great tool for students studying a foreign language. For example, our children write posts and give feedback to their class mates in English, and it is obvious that these activities improve their writing and reading skills and general knowledge of the language. The network also enables them to communicate with international students and learn about their culture and language.

Beside all the above-mentioned, a number of obstacles to Edmodo’s effective use in school can be identified. Unfortunately, this digital hub cannot be introduced to every single classroom, first of all because in Kazakhstan not every school has classrooms equipped with computers. I believe it is possible for a school to have at least 1-2 computer labs, however, usually subjects like ICT and robotics are taught there. It is difficult to imagine teaching subjects other than that in such classrooms, and this fact makes the platform inaccessible for most teachers and students of mainstream schools of the country. Another pitfall is that such innovative technology may be a struggle for computer illiterate teachers. A person should be an advanced user of a computer and the Internet to use this tool as a part of his/her teaching effectively.

Finally, there is no doubt that the platform’s advantages outweigh potential pitfalls. Moreover, it is a perfect tool for students to have fun and be engaged in active learning at the same time, and for teachers – to assure variation.

P.S. It would be great to learn about your experience if you have been using Edmodo in your classroom for a long time.

References

Rader, K. (2012). Using Edmodo in the Classroom [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyvqoLYRyVI

Literature Review – a cornerstone of thesis writing

The final product of Master’s Studies is a scholarly paper called a thesis and based on reseach conducted by a student. General topic of my thesis is massive departure of teaching staff from public schools in Kazakhstan. Last year I did research proposal on this topic, and having penetrated deep into the problem related to this I decided to continue investigating the issue in my thesis.

If I were to identify the most challenging part of thesis writing I would choose a literature review. First, there was a lack of literature on the topic reporting about studies conducted in Kazakhstan. Frankly speaking, I didn’t manage to find anything somehow related to the area of my focus; therefore it was identified as a huge gap in literature. Second, I had no idea of how to organize a bunch of resources I had found into coherent and logical writing piece. Finally, I divided literature into two chunks according to two research questions that had been formulated. Research questions were the following: -What factors influence teacher departure from public schools to NISs in Kazakhstan? -What are the motivations of teacher retention in public schools in Kazakhstan? Thus, first body of sources was a description of studies that scrutinized factors of teacher massive departure from mainstream public schools, whereas second group of articles explored motivations of teacher retention in the same kind of schools.

A literature review reflects how the research I am conducting fits with studies that have been done earlier.Besides, the important part of literature review is to find scholarly and reputable articles related to my thesis topic, therefore I have searched ERIC, Sage Journals, and EBSCO databases looking for peer-reviewed papers based on primary data. For the past two weeks I have been working on selecting papers that can be added to ones I have already reviewed. I have had fifteen articles from the last year research proposal, and have recently found about ten more studies. Next step is to review the recent sources and assign them to a relevant chunk of my literature review. However, I believe it is an ongoing process, and I can always refer back to my review if there are any relevant papers.

APA Style Formatting: When? How? What For?

APA style first appeared in 1929 and was created by a group of psychologists, antropologists, and other scientists willing to ensure clarity and presicion of written material presentation. Numerous attempts to establish common rules of academic writing that would be understood by every human being resulted in introduction of generally accepted system of scientific writing including such elements as references citation, font and heading choice, table of content design and figure insert (About APA Style). Today this uniform system is popular all over the world and widely used by students and scientists.

As for APA style importance, I believe it is of great help to people dealing with scholarly paper writing. Formatting using the style is indeed a piece of cake, although it may seem user-unfriendly at first sight. Also, it is extremely important and difficult at the same time to paraphrase in a way it wound not be counted as plagiarism. One should have rich vocabulary to convey a message delivered by an author in the original source without placing direct quotations and to avoid plagiarism.

There are, of course, a number of shortcomings concerning APA style. For example, APA standards are getting updated with the course of time; therefore a user should always have updated computer software, otherwise it is impossible to embed newly introduced things in accord with APA style in a piece of writing .

While writing my diploma work at a university I struggled a lot with formatting the paper. My groupmates and myself did citing, reference list inserting and table of content editing in Mc Word manually. Can you imagine that a tiniest little error could make us repeat the process of formatting again and again? Today it became much easier and less time-consuming, as I learned to use APA style in writing.

I am also happy to give a piece of practical advice to current and future students specifically struggling with proper citation of references. I have noticed that many students have no idea of how to use the uniform system built in Microsoft Word when citing; therefore it takes them a lot of time to format reference list and add in-text citations. Instead of citing sources manually, one can go to a “references” tab and select “insert citation” option; and it will be added to the writing automatically after detailed information about the source is indicated. Once an academic paper is written, a student goes to “references” tab, selects “bibliography” dropdown list and clicks “insert bibliography”, and list of references will immediately appear at the end of the writing peace in accordance with APA style.

To summarize, I totally support the idea of using widely-recognized style of scientific writing, that is APA, although some of it’s elements may be changed or adapted to meet needs of people today.

Reference

About APA Style. (n.d.). Retrieved 19 September 2015 r., from American Psychological Association: http://www.apastyle.org/about-apa-style.aspx

Online Education: Best Practices, Potential Pitfalls

online-education

Image from: http://e-gov.by/ivents/opening-up-education-kak-es-budet-stroit-cifrovoe-obrazovatelnoe-prostranstvo

An article exploring online education peculiarities I consider worth reading is “Teaching Online Courses in Linguistics” by Rebecca Day Babcock, Elizabeth Bilbrey McMellon, and Sailaja Athyala. The article is a qualitative case study of University of Texas San Antonio experience in teaching an online linguistic course. The authors aim to identify factors influencing teaching successful online courses. Although they consider success a subjective concept, the following definition has been given in the paper – “success is the prosperous achievement of something attempted; the attainment of an object according to one’s desire’, therefore, the success of a course is determined by the teachers and students themselves” (Babcock, McMellon, & Athyala, 2014). Bablock, McMellon, and Athyala begin their study with literature review about students and teacher characteristics and features of online course design. The research has been conducted by thorough examination of course content and rubrics and email and phone interviews of students and teachers involved in online teaching and studying.

The findings show that reading and writing skills, personal qualities, good command of computers and time-management have positively influenced students’ achievements in online courses. The authors also identify characteristics of successful online students and instructors. Thus, students should be dedicated, initiative to ask questions, committed to a course, and have self-discipline, time-management and prior knowledge of the subject to succeed in the course (Babcock, McMellon, & Athyala, 2014). Teachers may contribute to the success of students if they give timely feedback to students, contact students personally by phone or email, encourage teacher-student interaction, and support those having difficulties (Babcock, McMellon, & Athyala, 2014).

Finally, the researchers argue that to create positive online course environment, its design should include life chat to organize group discussions, reading and audio/visual materials, namely textbooks, articles, written lectures, Power Point presentations, and video clips or lectures. Face-to-face conversations are also encouraged, especially for students having difficulties with course content (Babcock, McMellon, & Athyala, 2014).

“Online Education: Best Practices to Promote Learning” is another article that provides an overview of high quality experiences related to online education. The paper is a literature review on the topic of online education. Online education is seen as a powerful instrument that connects human factors and ergonomics professionals with students from all over the world. Moreover, a variety of methods of content delivery together with limitless opportunity of using technologies make online education equal to or even surpassing traditional form of teaching and learning, as it is written in the article “…as compared to traditional classrooms, the reliance on computer mediated communication (CMC) creates a unique environment that alters the interaction between learners, between the learners and instructors, and between the learner and the content of the course. Therefore, the use of theoretical frameworks and evidence that address the unique nature of the online teaching/learning environment and the learning needs of the online student is necessary to construct and implement a successful online course, rather than extrapolating from theories and research related to the physical classroom environment” (Finch & Jacobs, 2012). However, to assure online students progress more attention should be paid to course design and quality of its delivery.

Both articles will be of great help to those interested in exploring components of successful online education. The papers argue that potential drawback of such mode of learning may be lack of face-to-face conversations and different learning styles and attitude towards the Internet among online students. However, modern technologies promote education to the competitive global arena and help to achieve better learning outcomes on condition that online course is accurately designed and its content is carefully scrutinized. Having experienced pros and cons of online mode of studying I agree with the above-mentioned and can conclude that online education is a great opportunity for universities to enter global competitive arena and for students to get access to world-known higher education institutions.

References

Babcock, R. D., McMellon, E. B., & Athyala, S. (2014). Teaching online courses inlinguistics. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities , стр. 1-12.

Finch, D., & Jacobs, K. (2012). Online Education: Best Practices to Promote Learning. PROCEEDINGS of the HUMAN FACTORS and ERGONOMICS SOCIETY 56th ANNUAL MEETING, (стр. 1-4).

Runaway Teachers!!!

Teachers-on-strike

        “Teacher departure from Kazakhstani public schools’ is the topic of my thesis. The purpose of the study is to research factors influencing teacher transition from Kazakhstani mainstream public schools to Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) and explore motivations for teacher retention. The problem is that massive departure of teachers to schools for gifted children increases deficit of well-qualified teaching staff and teacher attrition in public schools. Shortage of teaching staff in public schools has significantly increased and teacher shortage became even greater over the last five years. Thus, in 2009 deficit of teachers in mainstream public schools in Kazakhstan reached a number of about 2,5 thousand people (meta.kz, 2009).

First, the deficit of staffing requirements in public schools almost doubled from 1076 in 2013 to 2076 in 2014 (“Statistics of education system of the republic of Kazakhstan”, 2014). As a result it might negatively affect the quality of education and academic achievements of students in public schools since the deficit of teaching staff provide worse conditions for the learning process. This might be provoked by government’s interest in developing potential of human resources by reforming and improving education, especially secondary education. It has been identified that in this time period 9 Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) for gifted and talented children were founded. The pedagogical staff of new schools included around 1000 teachers (History of Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools).

Second, it can be assumed that one of the potential reasons of teacher departure from mainstream public schools may be low salaries in comparison with income of teachers’ in NIS, however, I believe there are much more other reasons behind this. I am committed to exploring the ways and policies of teacher retention in public schools in Kazakhstan and hope my contribution will help to reduce the deficit of teacher workforce there.

References

(07 August 2009 r.). Retrieved from meta.kz: http://meta.kz/428848-v-novom-uchebnom-godu-nekhvatka-uchitelejj-v.html

History of Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. (б.д.). Retrieved from Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools: nis.edu.kz/ru/about/history

“Statistics of education system of the republic of Kazakhstan”. (2014). Retrieved from Official Site of the Ministry of Education and Science of Republic of Kazakhstan: http://www.edu.gov.kz/en/analytics/statistics-education-system-republic-kazakhstannational-collection

Reflecting on the first year of studies…

Referring to the last year courses, Educational Leadership course was the most helpful from my perspective. As far as we major in Educational Leadership, the course was of great significance, as it gave general insights into what leadership is and how it can be distributed in school.

First year was literally a struggle for everyone, but we learned to manage both work and study, set everyday priorities and use time effectively. However, I feel like second year will be even more demanding in terms of time and effort we have to put into studies, and we also have more responsibilities this year. Master thesis will be the final product of the programme and at the same time an opportunity to contribute to research in Kazakhstan.