Posts tagged Information Age

Academic Classes during Soviet times up to Today’s SurveyMonkey.com

I only know about the titles of these classes because of the apps and transcripts I have looked at.  (see earlier blogs to see what I’ve been up to.) As I’ve done this for the past five or six years, there’s getting to be fewer and fewer older applicants who studied during the late 1980s and early 1990s but here is a sampling of what showed up in some applications:

History of the Communist Party of the USSR

Theory and History of Religion and Atheism

Traditions and Culture of English Speaking Countries

I would have loved to have seen what the Kazakh students had learned in 1989-1990 with “Economic Theory.” What I’m gathering from all the apps I have looked over is that there was a LOT of theory going on but little application.  In economics where everything was under a “planned economy” what was there even remotely close to theories from “market economy?”  I only know this from my husband who is an economist minted from University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Anyway, things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the mid-1990s students were taking classes like “Life History of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.”  I can’t get much info about his life or poetry from a simple google search because it all ends up going to Wikipedia.  What I do gather is that Yasawi lived around the Middle Ages and was a mystic Sufi poet and helped form the Turkish expressions. There’s a mausoleum in his honor in Turkestan, one of the oldest cities in Kazakhstan.  I need to read up more about this mystic but it shows what has changed since communist times.

These days, looking at the three different syllabi that I am using with my Professional Development students, we are doing surveys online with SurveyMonkey.com. What fun to see my earnest students in the computer lab today working so hard uploading their 10 questions and then sending to their classmates and work colleagues.  The results formed in pie charts or column graphs will be interesting for their final project. I am excited to see what patterns will show up that will correlate with the journal articles they are finding. Today I also had my students work on the Thesis Statement Builder to create a 500 word discursive essay.  Finally, they had to do a forum sort of discussion with their classmates in Moodle.  If they had any time left they were to upload their thoughts and reflections on their blog.  I think they didn’t have much time, the two and half hours flew and so the due dates are next Monday. Whew!

We’ve come a long way from what was in the standard state sanctioned curriculum from Moscow, Russia to what we are trying to accomplish in Astana, Kazakhstan in the Information Age that is also all about social networking.  Facebook everyone? I wonder what university students will be doing 20 years from now?  They will probably look back at what we are studying as antiquated and out of touch with reality.  Fine, in the meantime, we are having fun learning what we can to try to stay updated with the rest of the IT world.

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Teacher-Centered Teachers in the Information Age (Part II)

PA180594I’m glad I have very good friends in Almaty and that I love fall weather.  No new information to anyone who knows me in this Information Age.  This photo was taken out of my east balcony which shows the naked birch tree, the imposing Kok Tobe tower behind it.  Of course, fall semester is half way through and soon we will start to see the white snow on the hills with the pine trees in the foreground.  I love the peace and quiet I have in my flat up the mountain from where we used to live. 

Yes, my university colleagues and other friends in Almaty are a good thing because I am also surrounded by Soviet trained teacher-centered teachers who cannot see beyond their own training from years ago.  What I can surmise is that they were told to only teach out of a certain pre-approved Moscow published textbook or else.  And I do mean “or else!”

I’ve written this before and the younger teachers joke about it now but in the old Soviet days “initiative was punitive.”  That was understood by all who went outside the box and did their own innovative lessons besides what was set down in stone.  I had a laugh with Yulia who said that it a joke that all teachers were to lock-step together to the canteen, order the same food and lockstep out again.  Uniformity and conformity was the name of the game.

So it seems to still exist in our “western” style university.  When I sat in on a team meeting of our writing teachers, I witnessed the same thing only I was being pounded on by one of the more Soviet minded teachers.  Apparently the syllabus, that was pre-approved but changed on us yet again, was set in stone and that I was drawing outside the lines.  I had gotten the okay from our Director to use my own syllabus keeping in mind the set percentages for in-class writing, quizzes, mid-term, final project, etc.  But that wasn’t good enough for this particular individual.  According to her, we have inconsistency in the final product if teachers do their own thing and teach their own way.  Aren’t we here to teach writing and all our students are their own individuals and will have a final product with their own stamp or style? (within the limits of APA formatting, of course)

Wow, then at the end this meeting, the same “teacher-centered” teacher asked for the latest syllabus so she could be tracking with the team leader but earlier in front of everyone she had said I was wrong in how I was going about my lessons.  ?!? This is the first semester that I have felt free enough to have given my students the Kolbs learning styles inventory, the temperament sorter, the multiple intelligence test for fear of what others in the group would say.  I’ll be giving a talk about my results on November 19th to my teaching colleagues.  I’ve been asked by one of the deputy directors to give a talk on the differences between teacher centered teaching and student-centered teaching.  Also, I’ve been asked to give a refresher course about Citation Builder and Thesis Statement Builder as a kind of professional development seminar. 

My point that I want to make to my teacher-centered colleagues is that I am here for the students. (certainly I am NOT here for the money while this is the best job for any teacher in Kazakhstan to be teaching at our university) For me, the students become my focus, it goes back to what I wrote yesterday, we as teachers can’t possibly know everything. 

However, what I detect from the insecure Soviet trained teachers who say I’m teaching the wrong way is that they realize they don’t know everything that they should about the computer while their students DO know more than them.  We are living in the Information Age and the Soviet-trained teachers can’t hold on to their out-moded pedagogy much longer.  Even though this is Kazakhstan, we are teaching at a western-styled university that expects writing in English to be a normal part of learning and assessing. 

I could go on and on about examples of teacher-centered vs. learner centered.  For now, I just like gazing out at the beautiful autumn colors.

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