Category Archives: Inclusive Education

My perspectives on research

Any field needs research. Through research it is possible to reveal some facts, make innovations, add to what is known and solve existing problems. Research also helps to make progress in any sphere. Progress for better and peaceful life. Therefore, good quality research should be highly valued in our world. But does it refer to any kind of research? And is research valuable in all countries? In this post I would like to touch upon some issues around research in our country, and which are important for me.

As I mentioned, there are different purposes for research to serve for. For me, the most valuable research is the kind of research which aims to solve an existing problem. In other words, if the results of a research assist in solving some practical problems in reality or at least, contributes to the knowledge of how to find solution to the problem, that type of research would be interesting for me to read. For example, I would rather appreciate a research exploring reasons and motivations of teenagers to commit suicides, rather a research which explores the lifecycle of clown-fish. The results of the first research may greatly contribute to decrease of suicides among teenagers, whereas the second research just adds knowledge, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it does not mean, that the lifecycle of clown-fish is totally unnecessary information, maybe it is valuable among biologists, and I just do not understand the whole meaning of it.

In our country there is another picture on what is perceived as valuable research. People who have power to change something in our country mostly value quantitative research which is about statistics, numbers and concrete data. Maybe it is the influence of our past, when concrete sciences like maths or physics were more valuable, maybe it is peculiarity of our people’s mind to perceive more concrete data, I do not dare to judge. But anyway, it remains obvious that without qualitative research any data becomes superficial and not sufficient.

In conclusion, I would say that no matter what kind of research and what purposes it serve, it will be always valuable if it is a good quality research.

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BP4: Distance Learning: Pros and Cons

 

Firstly, I would like to say that I am very happy that NUGSE offers programs based on distance learning. Due to flexibility of distance learning in time, schedule and place, it is very convenient for students with jobs, family duties, etc. Nowadays, distance or online learning is very popular among students, since it gives opportunity to obtain knowledge for those, who cannot participate full time due to various reasons. Nonetheless, like a coin with two sides, distance learning has several limitations as well, and I would like to share them from my own perspective later in this post.

Unlike ordinary educational program, distance learning allows to pursue jobs along with learning programs, which is mainly suitable for graduate students. Furthermore, you can decide by your own when and where to do you assignments, so, time and place depends on your own comfort. This kind of programs is very comfortable for students with parental duties and students with high multi tasking skills. However, lack of face to face interaction with instructor could result in technology dependence, since you contact via emails, the lack of discipline and the learning curve for some students.

Personally, I suspect that I fall into the category of students, for whom distance learning resulted in the ‘learning curve’. Sometimes it is very hard to manage time for the online assignments after hard working day. And if you miss one work, you start to perceive late submissions as an OK thing. While on intensive courses you try to do every single assignment on time. Therefore, I need to manage properly my time for online discussion and posts next semester. Nonetheless, it totally depends on the personality itself to gain quality education from distance based learning, and some students are able to make the most from this pattern of learning having jobs and family duties.

To conclude, I would like to advice for online learner and myself as well, to properly manage the time for successful outcomes from distance learning.

BP3: Research methods in the local context

The nature of the human being involves constant search for the answers in the process of discovering new knowledge. Thus, researches are very crucial to shape some understanding in societies. While societies and people are diverse, requirements for the research designs are also different in different countries. For instance, in Kazakhstan, the governmental officials and researchers mainly value facts and numbers. If you want to change something and prove that your statements are true and worth to pay attention, then bring numbers and statistics to the Ministry of Education and Science. This is the way research is valued in Kazakhstan.

In my viewpoint, there is a reason for this pattern in the country. There are so many reports and papers educational department deals with each day, and quantitative data is the most effective way to simultaneously demonstrate the significance of the study and it is also effective in terms of timing. I made this claim based on my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Statistics. However, this kind of attitude towards research in the country lacks a various aspects, such as details, circumstances, and perceptions, which could be found in qualitative research designs. Therefore, I strongly believe that both sampling ways should be paid attention.

To be honest, being Statistics teacher and having degree in Mathematics, I valued studies supported with numerical data more, than qualitative ones before. However, after Research Methods courses, I changed my attitude. There is important detailed information missed in numeric statistics. Though, the first one is usually easier to analyze. My thesis on alternative assessment and curriculum alignment, which is a case study, will be based on numeric data showing performance of students, and will include qualitative data with the help of interviews. I think this is one of the effective methods in sampling, since it involves both quantitative and qualitative data.

BP1: My thesis topic

 

Last year, I had child with cognitive disability in my classroom, who was constantly struggling with concentration and, therefore, could not write an ordinary exam on the lessons. I knew that his abilities are beyond the results he shows on exams, since he demonstrate good knowledge when he is asked verbally. Thus, as an alternative solution for him, I proposed to use alternative assessment approach, which was also part of my work-based project last spring. The results of my students significantly improved after application of alternative approaches, especially in Mathematics, which was a motivation for me and the turning point to change my research topic to “The alignment of Mathematics curriculum and assessments applied for students with special needs and its connection to student performance in one of the schools in Astana, Kazakhstan”.

According to the legislative documents, students considered as having special needs should be taught by individualized programs. Nonetheless, due to vague instructions, students with special needs and disabilities studying at mainstream institutions are taught and assessed in accordance with state standards. As a result, they mainly show underachievement and poor performance, which negatively affects their personal esteem and motivation to study. Thus, I would like to suggest making a study on the alignment of national curriculum, instruction and assessment for students with cognitive disabilities, and observe how performance of students changes after using alternative assessment methods. I believe that in this way Kazakhstani curriculum and assessment could be modified and accommodated according to the needs of students, and it will show progress in results as well.

Though, I have very limited experience in the field of education, work-based project I made and the research studies conducted before show that this area needs further study. Especially, in Kazakhstan, where child oriented approach and inclusive education in general are on their initial steps. To conclude, I am very excited about my thesis work, and hope that it would be beneficial in the inclusive education field.

Research

Today I’d like to share my thoughts on research.  Personally, I think I haven’t  discovered the phenomenon of the research to a full extent yet.  For me it is still a big unfound treasure.  Why treasure? Needless to say, how many benefits resesrch can bring to the society. Researchers need to conduct them for the sake of the science.  What is the most valuable form of the research?  Well, there are two of them: quantitative and qualitative. The first form explores the issue using numerical data, while the latter explores the issue from the perspective of personal  experiences and perceptions that give a researcher  a deep comprehension of the central phenomenon.  Both forms are crucial  and their value is relevant according to the purpose and questions of the research. It depends on what and how we should answer to the questions.

The topic of my thesis is “Preparedness of teachers for inclusive education in private supplementary tutoring center in Kazakhstan”. In order to answer the research questions, a qualitative interview-based design will be used. The primary reasons for choosing exactly this approach lie in the fact that a qualitative interview-based research design enables the researcher to hear the participants’ voice, see their emotional state, reaction, mime and gestures that in turns leads to a better understanding of the teachers’ answers. Listening to the participants’ thoughts and opinions from them personally and being confident in their transparency and sincerity increases the quality of the data which will give real outcomes afterwards.

In terms of other educators in Kazakhstan, I think for practinioners qualitative research influences more than the quantitative since they wish to see the process, emotions, reactions, attitudes. On the contrary, administrators need to see numbers in order to monitor the dynamics.

I’d like to say that I can observe some changes in my attitude towards research since  the beginning of the courses in this program. I used to think that only results  and other formalities matter most, but now I realize it is not so. Bearing my current knowledge and experience on research, I can say that research is a story, a journey, an adventure. It is not an end or final destination. Everytime I learn something new, tell it in more details, and face some obstacles on the way to make my “story” better.  For example, my methodology section is one that I like most because it is a heart of my work. Here, I try to justify every idea, every step so that my readers could have no questions why I am doing so. For instance :”Since the study is of a qualitative descriptive character, a purposeful sampling technique will be used. It means that the researcher chooses the participants and the site him/herself and beforehand since they can provide us with valuable necessary information and thus, increase the effectiveness and validity. Creswell (2012) claims that in purposeful sampling “Researchers intentionally select individuals and sites to learn or understand the central phenomenon” (p.206). To this regard, it becomes significant to choose the participants according to certain criteria. That is why maximum variation sampling is relevant in the context of this study, as it allows “researchers to explore the common and unique manifestations of a target phenomenon across a broad range of phenomenally and/or demographically varied cases” (Sandelowski, 2000, p. 338)”.  As you see, there are references and citations to support my actions.

I hope that my study will contribute to the knowledge in the field of  inclusive education, particularly to the community in the selected  site where I am going to conduct research.

Quantitative or Qualitative?

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In the process of defining what form of research is the most valuable, I would answer that it is not a matter of the value. Sometimes, it is better to use qualitative methods while in other cases the research requires to apply quantitative forms. I insist it depends on the aim of a research. The better choice is the one dictated by the data, the research questions, the depth of knowledge a researcher aims to achieve as well as the skills a researcher has in each of these main research methodologies. Besides, the available time for the completion is a very important factor in this process. For example, we all understand that qualitative research and analysis is more time consuming than quantitative. On the other hand, in quantitative methodology, doing statistics, working with the tables and special programs also require additional skills which might be very difficult for some researchers.

Another issue a researcher has to consider is the epistemologic paradigm from which they stand. There are various views about viewing and examining reality ranging from phenomenology to positivism. The question is whether there is one main scope of reality or multiple scopes depending on the participants views and experiences. What is the purpose of a researcher? Is it to stress on peoples’ views for a particular issue or to generalize results? It is important to think about the previous question and provide specific answers before engaging in a particular methodology.

Both methodologies have their advantages and disadvantages. Quantitative methods are clear cut but cannot answer “why” things happen, are mostly preferential to examine relationships among variables, neither feelings nor thoughts. On the other hand, the results provided can be easily generalized, something which cannot happen by applying qualitative methods. Using qualitative methods could be used to formulate new research questions when a quantitative research (survey) seems difficult to generate new hypotheses and ideas for a theme. A mixture of both methods (mixed methods research) is an interesting trend which could give answers to many research inquiries especially when used to complement the drawbacks of each methodology with the strengths of the other. This mixed method is exactly closer to me as a researcher. Personally, I feel like the mixed method would achieve the aim of a study fully. I would like to try to make more research in future using mixed method and then perceive the difference and see the results.

In my current research, I came to the conclusion to use qualitative methodology because it fits to the aim of my study in the best way. My research is based on evaluation where it is vital to hear individuals and their thoughts.

Speaking about the researchers in Kazakhstan, I think they all use the methods which is appropriate to their papers. However, I remember from a guest lecture last year, a woman working in Ministry of  Education shared her vision and recommended us, young researchers, to do more quantitative studies in order to persuade the leaders in Ministry of Education to make changes in education by providing statistics and numbers. This method covers a big number of people and shows the existence about the issue.

Globalization and language education

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photo credit: https://theyogalunchbox.co.nz/how-do-i-open-my-third-eye/

How English became a global language? Which language is going to be next global language? How the dominance of language affect education? and other many thought-provoking questions were discussed in the “Globalization and language” course. The term globalization bothered me these two years since I frequently used phrases such as “in the globalized world”, “the global arena”, “in the globalization era”. I took the chance to understand and be aware of what the globalization means, identify its key features, define and apply its concepts and explore its relation to education. As our instructor said, “When you will go out from this room you will look at surrounding World through the global eye” (not word by word) (Sparks, 2017). I will be with you honest, I obtained the global look at what is going on all around the World and why the globalization is important not only for the countries but for individuals as well. Therefore this blog post reveals globalization from my perspectives.

In the discussion to follow, I will present my definition of globalization, drawing on the ideas of key authors writing on the topic. There is a significant consensus that globalization refers to the process of exchanging global ideas, recognizing and adsorbing other ideologies, perceptions, and beliefs addressing diversity in different domains of life (Block, 2010; Byram & Parmenter, 2012; Canagarajah, 2016). Examples of this include Block’s (2010) characteristics of globalization that it is the “ever-increasing interconnectedness of the world” (p. 300). In other words, globalization connects diverse people in the framework of similar policies in the economy, education and cultural relations for empowering the interconnectedness and interdependence. Although there are various interpretations of globalization, in this blog post, I am using the term to mean shifts in education policies that shape new ideologies.

Block (2010) describes globalization through Appadurai’s definition of “types of forces and flows” that calls 5-scapes (p. 291). They are ethnoscapes, technoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes which are ever-changing dimensions (Appadurai, 1990 as cited in Block, 2010). The author emphasizes the influences of migrants, asylum seekers, exiles, and tourists (ethnoscapes); fast intercultural communication through technology (technoscapes); financial and economic relations between countries (financescapes); TV, newspaper, magazines etc. (mediascapes) and flows of ideas about human rights, fear of terrorism, environmentalism etc. (ideoscapes) which build powerful “imagine ideologies” that depicts globalization. Block (2010) differentiates these dimensions and identifies that shifts of education policies refer to ideoscapes that conceptualizes particular domains in the education field.

My discussion will draw heavily on Byram and Parmenter’s (2012) understandings of globalization who emphasize how the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR) became the global education policy which influences changes in other multicultural countries. They assert Dale’s (2007) theory that “initiative for change comes from outside the state, and that the scope includes not just policy goals but also processes”, saying that while launching policies countries consider experiences and practices of other countries and stipulate building new processes of other lifestyles (as cited in Byram & Parmenter, 2012).  Thus, CEFR as the global education policy used by different countries to increase social cohesion and self-awareness in relation to human linguistic rights.

Based on authors’ key features of globalization mentioned above I am building the conceptual definition of globalization which can be defined as the process of intercultural communication, interchanging practices, ideologies and beliefs that stimulates effects on economic, political, cultural and individual changes.   Although definitions of globalization extend to abstract influences of globalization in every demand I am focusing on the relation of globalization to language education.

This definition of globalization and its relationship with education will help me in my analysis as I try to understand and explain how globalization shape identities through education policies which might be borrowed from other countries. Also, it is important to understand how I can create my own conceptual framework and apply in the discussion.

Reference

Block, D. (2010). Globalization and language teaching. The handbook of language and globalization, 287-304.

Byram, M., & Parmenter, L. (Eds.). (2012). The Common European Framework of Reference: The globalisation of language education policy (23). Multilingual matters.

 

Artificial use of artificial intelligence

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence

We are familiar with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our everyday life: smart cars, video games, movie recommendation services and many others (more examples are here). But some countries, like UAE, go even further. It is the first country to introduce the position of the Minister of Artificial Intelligence. Moreover, Emirates introduce AI technologies into the classrooms with the use of advanced software and robots. The speed of technology development and implementation in education is impressive but can teachers keep pace with it?

On one of the recent conferences, Andrew Nolan from GEMS Education surprised the public with the variety of software and hardware used for schooling in Dubai:  Microsoft Imagine Academy, Microsoft Azure cognitive services, IBM Watson, Singularity University, Kinteract; Learnometer that optimizes the classroom environment for better learning; even the robot which in near future will take most of the administrative work and give teachers more time to work with children. This variety of resources allows the development of competencies needed for the 21 century and really shows how valuable technology is going to be in the modern world.

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(Screenshot from a movie “I, Robot” by Alex Proyas)

Although it all sounds fun I was feeling lost in such a variety of technologies. It is like I am in the rally and everybody uses GPS navigator to keep moving and I am looking for breadcrumbs on the ground (credits to Brothers Grimm). So I was wondering if I am so lost in the technology development how are teachers capable of advancing their computer literacy so fast in UAE? I mean, in-service teachers. Are they get trained every half a year? Do they have IT support teams or assistants at schools? Trying to answer all these questions I found the results of the survey of 100 UAE educators which was conducted in April 2017 and revealed that: 

38 per cent of educators do not have the training to integrate technology into the way they teach, while 48 per cent of educators blamed a lack of access to available technology as the reasons for not using ICTs in classrooms. A further 42 per cent of educators said they lack the time to learn how to integrate technology into teaching” 

This data demonstrates that even though it is claimed that advanced technology is widely used in the classroom, not all the teachers have enough skills to realize its full potential. Also, they do not have enough time to explore programs features or even lack the software itself. The sampling is quite small and may not be representative of all the teachers in the country but still provides us with some context of UAE teachers.    

Based on the results of the survey, not only Artificial Intelligence implementation is important but also Natural Intelligence appropriate training. Teachers need support and time to learn new things just as their students. And all brand new shiny machines do not make any difference if teachers do not know what to do with them.

P.S. Additional interesting fact about UAE Ministries is that they have 3 Ministers in the field of education: Minister of Education, Minister of State for Public Education, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills. In Kazakhstan, there is only one: the Minister of Education and Science. Whether such division of responsibilities is beneficial to the quality of education or not is a good area for research.

 

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 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”.