The sun is shining this morning after several days of overcast weather. The surrounding areas look hopeful and clean. I should be feeling this way also after I gave an hour and half seminar last night about how to use electronic databases with my English teaching colleagues. How nice to get positive, encouraging feedback from the participants after our session. These Kazakh teachers all worked hard to try and follow what I was saying about Ebscohost, J-Stor and ProQuest. Their students, as digital natives, catch on to this and are using these academic journals as sources for their papers. I’m encouraged by my dear Kazakh students. However, I do not feel hopeful or encouraged today, even though it is sunny.
Posts tagged ProQuest
The mournful wail of a Kazakh student living in England grabbed my heart the other day. I was talking on the phone to this student, (let’s call him Zed) who was under great pressure to accomplish a major economics paper of 48 pages for his “dissertation” for a bachelors degree. He wailed, “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!” I’m not sure which university Zed was attending in London, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that Zed was sent abroad ill equipped to accomplish what was expected in his economics department.
Obviously, Zed hadn’t plagiarized much after looking over the text where all the articles were missing. Zed also kept mixing up the irregular verbs of “lead” when he meant “led” in the past tense or writing “felt” when he meant “fell.” Zed also used personal pronouns of “I” or “we” and used contractions such as “can’t” and “let’s.” All considered errors if writing a major research paper for his British profs, especially if this is to be considered his “dissertation.” I still can’t get over that phrase but that is what Zed kept calling it. The title of his paper was: “Discuss the factors behind the 1992-1996 recession in Russia.” An interesting enough topic to me since it could have parallels to what happened in Kazakhstan once the former Soviet Union fell apart. The following is his 98 word abstract which I helped clean up:
“Currently the world community has met yet again the problem of crisis when some countries of the former Soviet Union started to experience the first steps of recession. This paper will specifically consider the past experience of Russia. When the post-Soviet republic was dismantled from the Soviet Union, it implemented reforms to move from planned economy to market economy. However, that implementation brought the country to deep recession during a period of 6-7 years (from 1992-1996). Reasons and consequences of Russia’s recession are discussed in the paper along with the vision of political and economic processes being analyzed.”
The main problem with Zed’s text was that he did not use any in-text citations but footnotes instead. I asked Zed over our crackling cell phones what formatting style he was using, he claimed he didn’t know. I tried to see if his footnotes of sources matched what was in his bibliography, in some cases they did not. The Bibliography often did not have authors’ names or if it did, they were not even alphabetized properly. Zed had numbers next to each source up to 70 citations. Remarkable and the bibliography had the appearance of being thorough research. However, out of curiosity, I asked my teaching colleagues the next day about this numbering and they said in the Soviet period it was considered correct to number your sources and if you had at least 50 of them, then you were fulfilling the research requirements. Back in those Soviet days, that meant books and not just short journal articles or Internet sources.
Another thing that was notable about Zed’s references was that he was using many Internet sources without showing authors names, where it was retrieved from and when he retrieved it. When teaching my own composition students, I work around that problem by not allowing the use of ANY Internet sources especially since there is not usually an author’s name attached to it. Too much junk science is on the Internet. That is why I insist my composition students learn how to access the electronic research databases.
If only our dear students knew that all the work has already been done for them to access the thousands of journal articles that their university has paid for through research databases such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest and J-Stor. In some cases, someone has taken the time to scan every page, just the way it looks in the actual journal that was published on a specific date, in a particular place. True scholarship acknowledges author, time, name of article, name of journal and page numbers. Internet sources at the bottom of the page, such as www.gsh.ru , just doesn’t quite do it for me. I didn’t check to see if the nine or so URL links of Zed’s were accessible to me since I had the electronic version of it. I was too busy straightening out his grammar problems of articles, personal pronouns and irregular verbs. To Zed’s credit, he had used his spell checker, because there were very few spelling errors until the last several pages of his paper.
One last thing that was discouraging about Zed’s economics research paper was the use of graphs and tables, he did not make reference to them in his text except to say “the table below.” I cautioned Zed that he must be specific by writing in the text “Table 6” or “Figure 4.” Besides that, I’m not sure where he got his material except cutting and pasting from the Internet. These graphs and tables were obviously not his own work but he did not “fess up” where he got this material that was supposed to buttress his points he was making throughout his paper.
I felt sorry for Zed and the fact that he probably had several teachers in London who had marked up with red ink his earlier shorter, written assignments until they bled. His English teachers have probably already written him off as “unteachable” when it comes to writing. Admittedly, for this Kazakh student, English is his second or third language besides knowing Russian (he used about seven Russian sources in his paper but did not translate them in his footnotes). I would strongly differ with Zed’s teachers that he is not able to learn the proper way to write a research paper, it just takes time and patience. Zed and other Kazakh students like him, should not be beaten down for not knowing how to write in English, they should be encouraged.
I believe strongly that if the composition students are taken through the myriad of steps on how to access information and if they have an insatiable curiosity about their subject, it will seem like a wonderful and exciting project to them. Just going through the motions and trying to fulfill the superficial “regulations” of having a thesis statement or topic sentences throughout the paper with proper citation format will make the students HATE writing a research paper. I will not forget for a long time the sad voice in England who claimed “But I don’t know HOW to write a research paper!” It seems my life mission is to change students’ voices into a happy “I’m so excited with what I found, I want to SHARE it with you!!”
As a composition teacher, I want to read good papers instead of seeing it as a task of drudgery. I always maintain that if you are bored at teaching something, the students are bored at listening to you. If you are not enjoying teaching research papers, the students will not enjoy it either. As teachers, we need to find out what painful steps we are expecting of our students by doing the assignment first ourselves, rather than making them do all the work. However, if we allow plagiarized papers to come at us as the end result, we have also not done our job as teachers. The students will go into their other classes at university or study abroad and not able to do the papers expected of them in their other course work. Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.
Lately the vocabulary list to my teacher’s reportoire has been ”Keywords” and “research databases.” For years I’ve been instructing first year composition students on the virtues of “thesis statements” and “working bibliographies.” One of the students whose thesis statements I checked yesterday, while conducting classes in the library’s Computer Lab, was writing on the topic of “computer illiteracy.” She had inserted in her thesis statement, without having done any exploratory searches on EBSCOhost, ProQuest or J-Stor about how grammar is not being used correctly while using the computer. Oh, does she have a LOT to learn when it comes to what real “illiteracy” is about. Essentially, it is not about grammar but about properly using the computer tools to GET to the original journal sources. “InfoLiteracy” is all about knowing how to access the exact information that you need from scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. (Caveat: I don’t agree with all journals and their thrust but at least there is an author’s name next to the article titles, whereas you won’t often find that on the Internet by doing a simple Google search.)
I’m having an American friend of mine give a talk next week titled “Desparate for Relevant Articles in Kazakhstan!” He did beta testing for J-Stor years ago since he knew he needed to access information for his doctoral program while living in Central Asia. He has lived in Kazakhstan for 12 years and knows the Kazakh language. He is deeply invested in the life here and knows painfully well that it is too difficult to bring books or journals to the “ends of the earth.” The next best thing is to read information that others have authored on any given topic on your computer. This means that it has nothing to do with grammar and everything to do with spelling the keywords correctly while reading material so you can get better ideas for even better, informed searches.
Obviously the teaching methodology of post-Soviet teachers still embraces grammar and translation based instruction when teaching English. However, when teaching computer skills, it is all about taking risks while making mistakes on the computer. You learn by doing. So too with being literate in English, it should mean being able to read and write. That is only accomplished by DOING! Learning to talk means taking risks and sorting out the grammar but TALK!!!
Therefore, I’m excited to see the eyes of many Kazakhstani students opened up to the world beyond their borders of Kazakhstan and to witness that they are eager to learn. Once they see that they can be “literate” with accessing information from the research databases, I’m hoping they will be literate enough in English to write about their wonderful country so that others from the outside will know what a great land this really is!!!
So, to the Kazakh teachers who remain “computer illiterate,” they do so to the detriment of their students who are like sponges and want to learn. These same teachers are usually the same ones who turn a blind eye to plagiarism. This disease will dissipate if they get their young charges turned on to the power of using strong “keywords” and finding topics they are passionate to read about and then write on as it relates to Kazakhstan. A dearth of information about Kazakhstan prevails because noone is writing about it. Those best to write in English about this country are Kazakhstanis who know Kazakh AND English!!!
Some of the dissenters who are against the forces of ”InfoLiteracy” would have held the “Industrial Revolution” at arms length if they lived back in those times. Computer literacy is NOT about grammar but about knowing how to access key information!!! InfoLiteracy will not be going away unless someone pulls the plug on all our computers world wide. 8)