Category Archives: Section 2

Reflection on my learning

 

This seems to be the final post in the blog writing and I want to reflect on the experience that I have obtained.

I have read many articles that are dedicated to one of the most popular mode of learning- online courses. While discussing research findings, many participants of online learning emphasize that flexibility, accessibility and keeping your own track make this learning more effective and independent compared with the traditional on-campus learning.

From my own personal experience, I can say that I partially agree with the mentioned above advantages of online learning. I felt intellectually challenged as I was learning something new. Unfortunately, this was not the only struggle that I had to face.  It was hard at times to balance work, study and family life: the clashes emerged unexpectedly as responsibilities increased but the time was limited. Moreover, the sense of guilt with despair was haunting me: I could not be a good student, teacher and mother at the same time, a dilemma that most modern females have to face in the globalized society striving for life-long learning.

I tried to take the most of my online learning experience though. I read research works that made me mull over the challenges and benefits of online learning. I became interested in this aspect and started delving into it.

Later, I decided to focus on challenges and benefits that students might face in online learning in my mini-thesis. Recent research articles helped to understand the phenomenon of online learning better and contributed to my literature review writing. My group mates took part in interviews and helped to collect the data for further analysis. I had an opportunity to get perspectives on their online learning experience and draw some conclusions.

Overall, I found my online learning as something engaging and worth taking. There are some issues that might arise on your path; however they hardly might diminish the advantages of such mode of learning.

For the future online learners, I would recommend to be well-organized and highly motivated as time management skill as well as personal interest and dedication will turn online learning into a rewarding experience.

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.

What I have learned… Where I did mistakes…Confession of the young researcher

 

Dear friends,

Today I want to share with you my challenges and wins in writing a thesis paper, provide you with a piece of advice to improve your online learning experience and propose some recommendations to advance this course.

First, to my fortune, I easily chose the topic of my research that I am passionate about: teacher leadership. BUT! It was not so easy to identify the focus of research, because leadership is very broad and big phenomenon. Then I decided to compare two perspectives on teacher leadership: principals` and teachers`. Because in most cases the big difference in interpretation and perception can lead to misunderstandings and misleading practice of leadership roles. Next top to climb was the formulation of research questions. It was so hard sometimes to stay focused on research vision and purpose. Different irrelevant and vague questions came to mind. My instructors` supervision and guidance saved the situation. Thirdly, literature review. That was the most challenging mission for me! I have found tones of articles, and all of them seemed so important, I decided to include them all, staying behind the research topic. As a result, primary version of literature review looked as a silly shopping list. Last concern was connected with interview questions. What I need to ask to reveal the valid responses and get reliable findings? The questions seemed very broad and far from the research focus.

However, this course helped to fix some practices in stating the research questions, organizing literature review, selecting and justifying proper measurement instruments and methods. Weekly writing assignments with limited word count, attached guidance and clear instructions helped me to represent the ideas as concise and transparent as possible. I used to apply long and descriptive introductions, where in the surge of hundred words the reader cannot get the main idea and gets lost. Robyn suggested me to wear the potential readers` shoes and use short and simple constructions easy to understand.

The only 2 suggestions I would like to promote is changing the format of this course. I suppose it is rather better to organize it as a blending course. When students can attend face-to-face elective courses and then have some practice at home and submit the take –home assignments online. The second is to practice writing the mini-thesis during the first study year. It would be more beneficial to exercise mini-thesis writing skills before conducting a real master thesis. Otherwise, it is really distracting from the main full-thesis.

If nothing changes and format of the course remains the same I recommend to online learners the following tips to survive:

  • Appreciate the time
  • Do not create any excuses to justify laziness
  • Follow strictly the assignment requirements
  • Any concerns? Consult the course instructors and group mates
  • Write everyday: even 100 words a day on assignment
  • Take a breath: put the draft away. After some period of time, proofread it again with the fresh mind
  • Save all the drafts in Google Drive

 

P.S. Through the thorns to the stars!!!!

 

Factors that help students complete MOOCs

My mini thesis research question is ‘what factors help students to complete Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)?’ The first challenge that I expected was finding such a student that has completed a MOOC.  The percentage of students completing a MOOC might be very low (Yang, Sinha, Adamson, & Rose, 2013). I thought that it would difficult be to find such a student who has completed a MOOC and would be willing to participate in the data collection process. However, I invited my group mates to participate in the interview and two of them accepted.

Agreeing on a suitable time for the interview was not a problem. It took place on campus of Nazarbayev University during lunch time. I planned to conduct the interview for 25-30 minutes, however it took only fifteen minutes.

In my small scale research, I utilized semistructured interview as a data collection instrument, as it is ‘one of the most powerful ways in which we try to understand our fellow human beings’ (Fontana and Frey, 2000, as cited in Creswell, 2014, p 46). I think, this is the most important advantage of semistructured interview. The weak part of it maybe related to the quality of the questions that I constructed. The answers of the respondent is much more dependent to the interviewer’s ability to conduct a good interview.

My thesis research project has some similar features with the small scale study. For example, one of my research questions for thesis is ‘What factors help teachers integrate ICT in mathematics lessons?’. I am going to use semistructured interviews for the thesis too in order to explore teachers’ experience. Experience that I gained from conducting small scale interview will help me to better prepare for the process of data collection for thesis research. One of the lessons that I learned is that I need to include more subquestions for the semistructured interview in order to get more information. The other strategy that I am thinking about is to take a preliminary interview with a teacher in order to test the questions. However this strategy I may apply in the future research, since my preious research design is already approved.

References

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

Yang, D., Sinha, T., Adamson, D., & Rose, C. P. (2013, December). Turn on, tune in, drop out: Anticipating student dropouts in massive open online courses. In Proceedings of the 2013 NIPS Data-Driven Education Workshop (Vol. 11, p. 14).

It’s All for the Best!

I never thought seriously about online education as I always took it for granted. If they said that I had to study online, I just followed this instruction and learned online. However, fortunately with the help of our mini-project on online education suggested by our instructors of thesis writing I really explored this topic in details.

I really liked this experience and with every step (literature review, methodology) of the assignments I understand more how to apply given practice to my thesis. For my mini-project on online education I chose qualitative approach and one on one semi-structured interview.

Let’s start with the main challenges that I faced. Firstly, it was difficult for me to select appropriate number of participants in order to get more qualitative answers. Later, analyzed some expert works I understood that the main thing is not quantity but real quality of responses. And then I met the next difficulty – which questions do I have to ask? I sketched a lot of variants for my questions about online learning and the quantity of questions was enormous. After I realized that all my questions deviated from the stated purpose of research and established research questions. At this stage I remembered the advice of my supervisor who always tell me to follow the real purpose and research questions. Finally, I was full of questions and theory with posed research questions to investigate the reason of implementing the online education and why not all educators use such kind of learning system.

I had the list of questions and was ready to conduct the pilot interview. I decided that only 1 pilot interview is enough, nevertheless later I understood that it would be better to conduct one more interviews. During the pilot interview I realized that I could not really logically lead my participant to the right questions directed to my research questions. There were a lot of unnecessary information from my participants. Next challenge was adaptation to each participant. It wasn’t easy just asking the same question for each person. I was luck that my participants were my acquaintances from university and different educational institutions and they helped me to adjust to more successful way of interviewing.

The easier work was coding. I analyzed again the Creswell book on educational research and in more details I investigated the chapter on data collection of qualitative study. I found that Creswell (2014) mentioned that there are a lot of special programs for coding the information. Eventually I found wonderful special software for qualitative method data analysis. I was happy because it is very useful for my thesis as well.

Overall, mini-project on online education really helps me with my thesis and I learn a lot from this practice. I’m looking forward to our further assignments that lead us to more productive work on our final work with thesis.

Reference:

Creswell, J.W. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4thed.). London, UK: Pearson.

Lessons from data collection process

For my mini thesis project I would like to explore NUGSE graduate students’ perspectives on using blogs to develop self-regulated learning. Self-regulated learning requires from learners to set goals, develop their personal learning strategies to achieve these goals and reflect upon their own learning. And I believe that blogging can aid a person to develop this life-long learning skills. For the purpose of my study I have chosen an interview based qualitative study design. Creswell (2014) states that “a qualitative interview occurs when researchers ask one or more participants general, open-ended questions and record their answers” (p.217).

Despite the fact that it is possible to conduct a qualitative research with few participants, finding interviewees is one of the challenges of this data collectiomn method. I’ve realized that it is difficult to find participants for my data collection as interviews are time consuming as well as data analysis. I struggled with finding time to appoint a meeting with my participants due to huge amount of work at school.

As for the strengths of interviews I would highlight the opportunity to study the issue in depth. Having interviews with graduate students helped me to explore their perspectives on self-regulated learning in detail. Besides, the nature of interviews where respondents’ answers are not resrticted to answer set questions is really useful to get more information from participants.

Actually, in terms of content or topic, this small scale study doesn’t have any direct relations with my master thesis as I’m going to explore teachers’ experiences in implementing the Content and Language Integrated Learning strategies in their lessons. However, from the data collection process of this mini thesis project, which is similar to the data collection instrument for my master thesis, I’ve learned good practical lessons that can be taken into account for the next study.

First of all, I’ve realized that conducting an interview is not a simple process and requires thorough preliminary preparations. Everything needs to be prepared beforehand: starting from appointing interview time and venue and ending with good audio recording device. Moreover, interview questions should be well desinged so that the participants of your study could clearly undestand your questions. Only in this case you can get complete and accurate answers to your questions.

As my small scale study focuses on several students’ perspectives, I would like to know opinions of other graduate students. Let’s find out the aswer by taking the survey below.

References

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

My first interviews

The purpose of my mini research is to explore the challenges that graduate students of Msc School leadership program at Nazarbayev University face over their 2 years of online learning. This study aims to answer one research question: 1)What are the challenges that graduate students of Msc School leadership program face during online learning? To answer this question I utilized qualitative method. The sample for this mini qualitative research was selected purposefully. I intentionally selected my classmates as participants because I found them to be “information rich” (Patton, 1990, p. 169).To collect data, I used individual interviewing. I prepared semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions.I found this instrument of data collection to be suitable for two reasons:

  • Interviews allowed me to gain an in-depth understanding of the obstacles that students faced over their online learning (Lune & Berg, 2012).
  • Interviews provided the opportunity to “probe and expand interviewee’s response” in order to clarify the responses or to get more broader information on the barriers that students experienced during online learning (Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995, p.83).

However, interviewing has its own weaknesses. Personally, for me, it was difficult to assign convenient time and place both for me and for participants. All my classmates were too busy with their intensive sessions. Interviewing is not as survey or questionnaire that participant may answer anywhere and anytime. Therefore, I had to rely on my two classmates as well as colleagues who agreed to take part in my research at weekends in return to my participation in their mini-research.

Overall, this mini research served me as pilot experience for my proposed thesis research, because I am also planning to conduct qualitative research with semi-structured interviewing. In this mini research, I used a Dictaphone in my mobile phone which seemed to be of poor quality with unclear recordings. Therefore, in my large-scale research I decided to use a real Dictaphone.

Reference

Berg, B., & Lune, H. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

 

Hitchcock, G., & Hughes, D. (1995). Research and the teacher: A qualitative introduction to school-based research (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

 

Patton, M. (1990). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

What are the experiences of online learning for graduate students? Let’s find out…

My small scale research aims to investigate the experiences of online learning for graduate students at NUGSE. I am interested namely in the experiences of students who learn online because being a mother of a little child myself and at the same time learn is rather challenging for me.  Therefore I am eager to investigate how my peers combine distance learning and other components of life, probably family or work. The responds of the participants will illustrate how. For the purpose of the study the following research question is addressed: What are the experiences of online learning for graduate students at NUGSE? Qualitative case study research design has been selected to answer the research question and develop better understanding of the central phenomenon, i.e. online learning.

The first step before collecting the data is actually designing the questions that could help me answer the research question. Semi-structured interviews were considered suitable for this study as they allowed me to obtain in-depth qualitative data by probing and asking open-ended questions. Afterwards, as the potential participants of my mini-thesis are graduate students, I emailed my master peers by asking them to take part in my study. After getting few positive responses, I arranged the date and time of the meeting with each potential participant individually. At the beginning of the interview I described the purpose of my study, duration of the study and what is required from the participants. I also emphasized that participation was voluntary, that all interview data would be confidential. Each interview lasted for about 30-40 minutes and was audio-recorded.

According to Creswell (2014) there are following advantages of the interview instrument: participants can tell stories through their words, what is important for them and the interviewer can control the process and guide the participant. However, conducting interviews is time consuming in comparison with surveys or questionnaires. I personally think that quick surveys with closed questions do not allow obtaining in-depth qualitative data. Moreover, during the interviews the interviewer might ask follow-up question if necessary to clarify some moments.

The main difficulty I encountered in data collection process is finding the appropriate time and place for conducting interviews. Firstly, my master peers were overloaded by the assignments related to the elective courses and main thesis project. Secondly, it became even unrealistic to record the interviews in silence as I had to provide interviews in Atrium. Nonetheless, it was a great experience for me which, I am sure, will facilitate me in writing my main thesis.

 

References

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

Data collection process…

As a part of my mini research on online learning I was required to create a small scale survey or interview to administer to potential respondents; conduct the interview or survey and share about the process with you through posting a blog.

So, as we know the advancement of technology, the Internet revolution and development of management systems have contributed to exponential growth of online learning in the higher education environment. However,people have not entirely accepted online learning as the solid alternative of in-class education. They still debate and argue  about the effectiveness of online education. Moreover, there abound misconceptions, misunderstandings and misinterpretations that may prevent students from experiencing this mode of learning.

In my small scale study I am researching online learning  myths or misunderstandings that may prevent GSE students from accepting this type of learning experience. To explore, analyze, interpret and understand how has online learning been misinterpreted and how does this affect GSE students qualitative research design has been chosen. One-to-one semi-structured interview with open-ended questions was applied. Each interview lasted for about 30 minutes and was audio-recorded. The sampling procedure has been used in the study is convenience and purposeful sampling. It means all participants  kindly agreed to take part in the research and students from four programs of GSE participated in data collection: Foundation, Bachelor, Masters and PhD. I selected students from different programs so that findings could demonstrate perceptions of online education specific for students of certain age, background and life experience.

Even I organized probing interview with two of my group mates to be sure that I created the questions properly and the respondents signed the interview consent forms and were informed about the purpose and focus of the study,  I have faced some challenges  during the interview process. The first is that some respondents deviated from the questions, responded too general and I had to address more specific questions or repeat the question several times to get more credible and full responds. As a result, the interview lasted for 10-15 minutes more than I have planned.

Secondly, some interviewees at the last moment refused to participate at interview due to unexpected circumstances. Moreover, one participant even did not come to interview without any excuses and I had to search and find another students who were eager to contribute. It also took time, patience and efforts.

Despite these challenges I could say that it was excellent experience for me to be in a role of interviewer and discover different opinions, fears and values. The most surprising thing is that I have found the answers to my own questions since I’ve had my hesitations about online learning.

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.