Category Archives: Thesis Writing

Any posts related to your successes, difficulties, and advice about thesis writing should go here.

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.

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Keep Searching and RESEARCHing

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Our life is full of information. Every day human brain is attacked by a continuous flow of data from everywhere: the internet, television, billboards, advertisements, newspapers, and books. There are so many new and interesting things and it seems that people can never have enough of them. But is all the information true? Can we trust everything that we are shown and told? And how we can verify the data? There is one and only answer: to do research!

Many of us as young investigators on hearing of “research” may immediately think about a huge written paper which consists of certain parts and necessarily includes working with participants and such kind of stuff. Yes, it is research of course. But the thing is that it is just a small part of a big concept called “research” because research is about our whole life.

So, what is research? First of all, every research starts with a question. The question that no one has asked before or the one to what you have not found an answer yet. For instance, imagine that usually, you listen to a classical music. You feel good and everything is fine, but once you decide to listen to hard rock. You like it and keep listening to it every day. In a week you start realizing that you are not feeling well, you’ve got a headache and it has become easy for you to get angry. Of course, you may take a pill or just ignore these symptoms, but you also may think of the reasons that caused your bad condition and ask yourself: Why did it happen to me? Why don’t I feel well? Can this be because of hard rock that I’ve started to listen? Are there connections between music and my condition? Good questions, right? And if you continue on investigating this issue and searching for the answers, then take my congratulations, because you’ve just started to do a research.

People need research. People need researchers. But do you know what the problem is? The problem is that many people don’t want to do this. They don’t care about the food they eat, movies they watch, fashion they follow. They eat McDonald’s and drink Coca-Cola just because they are famous brands liked by many people. They watch all newly released movies just because they are new and people want to watch them. They buy ripped jeans just because it’s a current trend. Come on, are you serious? Why should we do this? We are not robots or animals, we are humans. We are given brains. Why do we not start thinking? Why do we not research? What has happened to the world?

I really don’t know. But I’m more than sure that research is crucial for our life. Our health, our condition, or family, and even our future depend on it. If you just knew what your gum consists of, you would have got rid of it a long time ago. If you just knew what a destructive impact some movies or computer games, or even mobile apps may have on your health, lifestyle, and perceptions of life, you would have already stopped watching, playing and using them.

Conducting a research, therefore, doesn’t cover only an academic field. Research should be a part of our daily life. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t follow the media. Don’t be afraid of spending additional time on investigating, because then you will be able to make a right choice.

Keep searching and researching.

 

Photo credit: https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-23873998

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.

Not ashamed to admit…

Being senior student in master program we discussed several times the topic of being researcher (What is the role of research in my world? ,Research: before and after, My favourite researcher and others). Thus, we have realized that even though we are not actual researcher now, we are on the way of learning of being a competent researcher. We past definite stages of learning to conduct research. First of all, we had to choose the topic. Remember, without any topic of interest in the field of education we went through all the topics, tried to find what seemed for us interesting and uploaded our outlines. Then, we began writing literature review part. I really lacked for the literature searching skills. So many articles were read and some of which became inappropriate to the aim of the research study. However, only finding or reading appropriate articles were not enough. To analyze the articles, to join sub topics under one general topic and give your own critical view throughout the review are another challenges that we are still facing and have to overcome. But now, the issue of gathering data will be discussed here. Yes-yes, it means we achieved the half of the way and now on the stage of data collection.  And this stage is not without its challenges.

In general, data collection means recruit participants of the study to get data from them. Of course, there are studies without involvement of human being, such as document analysis, but it is not my case. Thus, due to the fact that my participants are teachers, recruiting them required to go to schools and talk with the school principals and administration. I realized that not every school is looking forward to welcome me as a researcher. Frightening talks from previous cohort that some research sites even do not let researcher in to talk with principals made me afraid to go to the sites. But no way I scheduled a day and went to the school. So after waiting about 40 minutes for the principal, I even did not have the chance to tell about my research study. The principal invited me to his/her (cannot disclose the gender, ethics) office, and immediately refused me saying that many researchers conducted their research in this school, let there are other 90 schools to be researched too. The principal added that they do not have time to bother with me. Considering that I am pretty sociable person with good communicative skills I swallowed my tongue for such answer. I expected that the principals can refuse me in case if my research seems for them controversial or sensitive but not refusal without even listening to me. To be honest, this visit to school demotivated me a bit. I thought that perhaps conducting research is not mine and time to give up. See, only one school, only first refusal could make me to have second thoughts. But then, having had time to think, I built up enough courage to go to other schools and finally could receive desirable permissions.

As a freshman in research let me share some useful tips to overcome challenges on the research site:

  • Be ready to severe rejections
  • Don’t give up after the first rejection
  • Prepare all supportive papers such as abstracts, outlines to show your seriousness
  • Try to show your motivation and willingness to conduct research particularly in this site

May be it seems that it is weird to share my fail about data collection, but I believe that it is very essential to know such kind of stories for emerging researchers. Nothing is perfect, no one is perfect. Awareness of such stories will let you know that anything can happen and you should be ready for any obstacles.

If you have any stories, feel free to share.

 

 

 

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.

Let’s say “NO” to stress!

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October 20th, 2017 was a date highlighted in red on the calendars of the majority of my course mates. That was a deadline for Ethics form’s submission to the GSE Ethics Committee for obtaining permission for data collection. For some students days which preceded were marked with anxiety, sleepless nights, drafting and proof-reading. During English for Research class, we were divided into groups and asked to rate from 1 to 10 the degree to which we were worried about our ethics application. It was indeed surprising to find out answers which varied from 2-3 to as high as 7. This made me think of how different people perceive certain things and how they possess control over their emotions.

Researchers propose different strategies to cope with stressful or uneasy situations: eat healthy and well-balanced meals, get enough sleep, talk to other people about your concers and fears. Undoubtedly, above mentioned recommendations are useful; however, they could be applicable even when we are in a normal state. When our mind is haunted by a certain idea and we are extremely concerned about it, we need something more to battle distress. From my own experience I can tell that altering the way you think about certain issue and taking some preparatory actions are the most helpful techniques to avoid stress. For instance, ethics application is indeed a significant assignment which needs diligent work and careful attention. However, if to plan everything in advance and think through it carefully, it will not cause any discomfort. Most importantly, we needs to understand that that there is nothing frightening and even in the worst case scenario we will only have to make some alterations and resubmit our application. Hence, the most important is to command your mind and “make it believe” that the task is not actually worth stressing out.

Overall, although it might seem difficult, controlling emotions is possible if some easy steps are followed. Usually we are afraid of something we don’t know about, but once we uncover it, everything becomes crystal clear. To avoid stress and anxiety we simply need to have a clear understanding what we are required to do and how it can be done. This is my “recipe” for coping with stress. Some may find it useful, others may claim its inefficacy, but I’m welcome to hear your thoughts on this topic.

 

Photo credit to http://wellness.truman.edu/mental-health/stress/stress-managment/

Why Methodology?

methodsPhoto credit: https://ideas.darden.virginia.edu/2015/11/whats-new-in-project-management-a-hybrid-methodology/

Methodology section of any research paper is arguably the most important part of it. Mainly because the ways of data collection determine whether the research question will be answered or not. Besides, research methods influence the interpretation of the findings. The qualitative study focuses on understanding thoughts, reasons, and opinions of participants; whereas the quantitative study deals with numerical data, statistics, and facts.

Choosing the right methodology is a challenging process which should be viewed through the lens of the practical application of the research findings. In the local context, statistical data is of particular interest among the administrators and policy-makers due to giving a clear overview on any topic. Qualitative studies are often seen as subjective, their findings are difficult to generalize, and therefore cannot be used as widely.

Personally, I prefer qualitative methods because they allow deeper and more meaningful investigations. This is exactly what I what from my research experience: engaging with participants, collecting data in direct interactions to fully capture and share their stories. Therefore, planning to study the aspirations for higher education across vulnerable student groups in Kazakhstan, from the beginning I decided to follow the qualitative methodology, namely, the critical ethnographic research design.

Methodology section, if consistent with the introduction and literature review, can inform the readers about the nature of the research just as well. Critical ethnography, for instance, focuses on advocating for marginalized groups in certain cultural or social scenarios often constructed by the society in limiting ways. Thus, by following the critical ethnographic design, it is clear that my purpose is to potentially empower vulnerable students to receive higher education reflecting on the first-hand experience of others in the context of Kazakhstan.

I believe there is no right answer about the most effective or productive type of research. Afterall, the intention of researching is to draw attention and start a discussion on problematic topics.  Any research design if applied properly manages to do that. Right choice of methods just makes the process easier by providing necessary tools.

Qualitative or Quantitative?

There are a number of reasons for conducting research. Doing research contributes to revealing lies or truths, building knowledge and efficient learning, as well as testing the validity and reliability of certain claims. Research becomes a must to uncover the issues unnoticed or hidden by society. And thereby it brings positive alterations into the life of the community.

There exist qualitative and quantitative research methods that aid to achieve the aforementioned goals. Each of them has its own benefits and drawbacks. Hence, it is difficult or even impossible to claim that one method is more valuable than the other. But more importantly, they need to be used in a balanced way so that they can provide a fuller context for the current situation.

Kazakhstan acknowledges the importance of research and, therefore, has devoted increasing attention to its development in all realms of life. As a student who reads a lot of research papers on different topics, I have become convinced that the country concentrates more on carrying out a quantitative research study. Most of the articles I have found contain statistical data. For instance, if we talk specifically about Inclusive education, there are numerous papers which tell about the overall number of children excluded from going to school, or about the amount of finance allocated to train teachers or to improve the conditions of facilities at schools. Consequently, the quantitative research instruments usually provide numerical descriptions that can be generalized to some larger population but are limited in details. Thus, there is a need to apply qualitative research method which would give more detailed and deeper explanations of certain issues happening in the country.

Qualitative research aims to analyze the deeper meaning of people’s behavior, experiences, beliefs, perceptions, feelings, and emotions. This method gives people a certain degree of freedom and confidence and creates the right atmosphere to enable people to express their voice through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and focus groups. That’s why I have chosen to apply the qualitative type of research for my thesis which touches an issue of training pre-service teachers. In my work, I am intending to include teacher educators as participants whose views and beliefs are not taken into consideration in designing policy reforms. By using qualitative research, I can give them more freedom and allow spontaneity rather than make them select from a set of “pre-determined responses”. I believe this investigation will help policymakers, researchers, teachers and me, as a future leader in education, realize the actual reasons of arising problems around the preparation of pre-service teachers.

Quant/Qual Debate

Although choosing the methodology should depend on the nature of the research question itself, certain preferences still exist among policy-makers and practitioners. For example, most of our professors at NUGSE constantly highlight how revealing and valuable the qualitative research is. However, when I had conversations with people in the Ministry of Education, Analytical Center, or with the administration of NU, they strongly suggested focusing on quantitative methodology. When choosing methods for my own thesis, I, therefore, took into consideration a potential audience, but let us discuss these different approaches further before moving on to my thesis.

It is justified that decision-makers such as the ministry or administration often trust quantitative research more, favoring the generalizability. When it comes to policy formation in such a unitary and centralized state as Kazakhstan, its outcomes influence all regions. For example, the state curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education is taught not only in Astana but also in villages in the South, in lyceums or gymnasiums for gifted children and in ungraded schools in remote areas.Therefore, there is a need for generalizability and accountability for the majority expected from the research influencing this decision-making process. It is possible to argue whether such nature of a political system in a country as large and as disperse as Kazakhstan is effective, but the current state of affairs dictates the priorities. A priority now is quantitative research.

Moving away from large-scale activities such as policy-making in the Ministry to small-scale matters such as improving the situation in a particular classroom, the type of investigations needed change significantly. Many practitioners may worry much more about qualitative inquiries that can shed the light on individual cases, perceptions, and in-depth explanations. For example, if a child is not accepted by peers, a school staff member would want to interview these children, asking “why”, “how exactly”, “for what reasons”, or “so what”. These questions would be very hard to be answered via quantitative instruments because they call for a story, not a numerical value. There are multiple cases when a qualitative approach is much more beneficial for the purpose of the research.

In general, this debate between two types of methodological approaches could be well balanced out by the mix method, only if it serves the research objective in general. For my topic on how activists in inclusive education movement contribute to the reform, I am specifically looking for the stories. Therefore, I favored qualitative methodology. This choice informs my audience on what information I find more valuable. It is not the number of people advocating for inclusive education that I try to find, neither it is the correlation between variables, it is about the stories people have to share, even if there would only be two study participants killing the hope for generalizability, I would still want to document their contribution and use it to empower those who can join the movement as well.

Is it possible not to overload yourself, but CREATE? Calling for MOTIVATION!

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Photo credit to @uaxi

  Wake up, warm up.
  Take a mirror, ‘show up’.
  Breathe in, breathe out.
  You will have a great start!

The poems credit in this blog post to Ayana Mukuzhanova

Have you ever thought that you are overwhelmed with all your assignments and writing thesis? Do you wake up and go to sleep with the only thought: “I must do it!” ? You would better say “I want to do it!”. Now I would like to tell you one important sentence. You are not the only one, YOU CAN DO IT! Is it easy to say? Yes, it is. Is it easy to do? (Silence). By writing this post, which is far from academic writing, I would like to support all education professionals who are struggling to write their thesis and papers. I know, this time will probably hit you one day. I am not an expert to give recommendations, but I am a Master student, who could share some pieces of advice and speak from my own experience.

  Great start, heads up!
  Simply have a try out.
  You are making it up,
  And get rid of that doubt.

Firstly, try to see positive moments in your study, follow your OWN progress, and look back. Do you see the changes? This should MOTIVATE you and bring a positive wave into your studying. Do not try to compare your progress with the progress of another person. You are unique, you are different, and you are great!

  You have done, well done!
  Now let’s visit the town.
  Take some time to relax,
  You deserve to break ice.

Secondly, find your hobby. Do not tell that you do not have time for it. You have. Instead of procrastinating by doing nothing, with your hobby you will not procrastinate anymore, you will get a CREATIVE and relaxing product. For me, it is writing various poems. In this way, you will not be overloaded by studying.

  I love my thesis,
  My thesis loves me.
  Let’s create a big deal
  To support the ideal.

Thirdly, you should remember that a substantial amount of people all around the world write thesis papers, and they did this! Think of it as “It is just another paper” (Montgomery, 2017). You should understand how much you are interested in the topic of your thesis. The principle: The more…, the better. The more you are interested in it, the more you will get a joy. After you add your voice on a particular topic, you will get into this field, and become the part of it.

  Time passes by,
  Sometimes I don’t mind.
  If I had another chance,
  I would think of this twice.

Next point to share with you is time value. Do not think of the result and end of the process. Otherwise, you will miss the precious time and all the positive moments which you will never face the second time. In the case of academic writing, write everything step by step. Do not write for the sake of writing, do your best, and you will be okay.

  Never think of some feedback,
  Like it is a huge mistake.
  It is just a third hand
  That will help you till the end.

The last, but not the least piece of advice is to look at feedback that you get from your Professors as a great help, and not a punishment. At first, it was difficult for me to accept some feedback, and I got upset. Now I understand that I am in the process of getting knowledge, and I will learn my whole life. There will always be feedback, both positive and negative. The only think is to LEARN from them.

To conclude, I would like to thank my MA NUGSE id2016 group mates. You are fantastic! All of you will do their best to overcome some difficulties and take out of it only POSITIVE outcomes. I hope that this post would support you and all education professionals.