Archive for March 27, 2008

LONG way to go with modern technology!!!

Last night we had an American guest over who knows much about Kazakhstan, maybe too much.  She was having one of those “bad days” where she was wondering about her sanity of even living here in this country anymore after nine years.  Her Russian is very good and she can navigate quite easily among the people she works with as a teacher trainer in Kazakhstan.  I want to visit her in May to see what life is like outside of Almaty.  She assures me that it is very different but she is enjoying it in southern Central Asia. After a dinner of chicken fajitas, fruit salad and a cabbage salad, we went to my laptop where I showed her what we will be doing today with the English teachers in the computer lab at the library.  I showed her a Powerpoint I had of the powerful tools of EBSCOhost, JStor, and ProQuest among many others.  These electronic research databases have been paid for by our university and housed at our state-of-the-art library.  It would be even better if our library could access “Emerald” which is what I’m also familiar with while teaching in Kyiv, but these three will do for now.  Emerald is more expensive to subscribe to.

 I explained to Helen that Elaine, my American teaching colleague, insists that we take each step of the keyword search down to the very last detail. (Grueling work to get each step just right so as not to confuse) Since I’ve used e-journals so much with my American and Ukrainian students the last six years, I don’t even understand what could be the most confounding thing if you are computer phobic.  Elaine, who is in her 70s, knows what can be discouraging if you don’t hit the right “submit” or “continue” key and if you don’t scroll down or up to see other information that needs to be dealt with on the computer screen. I told Helen how Elaine and I are preparing for this “Teacher/Researcher” workshop today in the library’s computer lab and that it is both exciting and frustrating simultaneously.  Exciting because I showed Helen how powerful a tool EBSCOhost is by accessing it on my home computer.  She earned her masters degree from the U.S. before she lived in Kazakhstan.  She knows, as I do when I received my MA degree in 1990, how tedious it used to be to look up journal articles in the stacks of libraries and then go to the copy machine to photocopy whatever article you wanted for your research, page by page.  Since the “Information Explosion” happened on most all American campuses about eight years ago, the days of stacks and photocopiers are a thing of the twentieth century.  Helen’s eyes nearly popped out when she saw the articles that fit with her research interests (after we did some very basic keyword searches) were directly mailed to her e-mail account in pdf format.  Voila!!!

 Today could be very frustrating if the English teachers don’t show up at the library to fill the 22 chairs in front of the computer terminals or they don’t understand the importance of learning these powerful tools in the library for the benefit of their students.  Next week, I will be giving two more “Teacher/Researcher” workshops on how to take a problem-solution essay step by step using the journal articles they have accessed and then developing a thesis statement and outline for their 1,000 word essay.  If the teachers don’t want to write or don’t know how to write an essay, how can they teach writing to their students?Here’s the frustrating part, I told Helen about my TOEFL iBT class where I teach reading and writing skills every Tuesday evening to prepare them for the TOEFL exam.  My Kazakh students responses revealed something shocking about the mentality towards writing in this country.  I had given the usual timed writing of 30 minutes to my 8 students who hope to study abroad in a university setting.  They have paid LOTS of money for this 8 week course.  The question was:  It can be difficult to learn a new language.  What do you think are the most difficult aspects of learning a new language?  Give reasons and examples to support your response.  How did they respond giving about 3-4 points for each of their outlines?  Three or four said that vocabulary was difficult, the same number predictably wrote grammar was hard to learn, another three said speaking.  NOT ONE WROTE that writing was the most difficult aspect of learning a new language.  However, one person did write that “righting” was not easy to master.  I guess spelling should have been mentioned. 8)

 I commiserated with Helen about how the importance of writing is lost on this Kazakh culture but it is true in the U.S. as well.  Not many young people are reading books anymore, just playing computer games or watching movies hours on end.  What are we to do about the brain drain concerning true scholarship?  For now, I have to prepare the Kazakh teachers to instill in their students a desire to be curious and look things up on the computer via the peer-reviewed journal articles and NOT use Wiki-pedia (I hate that site) or Google or anything else that is on the Internet.  Too many “academic” research papers are being handed in that are taken directly from the Internet without showing sources, without proper attribution or citation.

Let’s hope we can all make it through the next several weeks.  I would feel most gratified if the teachers have the same reaction that Helen did last night when she saw how easy it is to access this information from scholarly journals.  The next bit is to read the articles, digest and then write in the prescribed way to exhibit an intelligent response to what others are saying on the same subject.  Oh, there’s a LONG ways to go with modern technology!!!

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