Posts tagged university

Started teaching again, scheduler was way ahead of me


Last day of my summer vacation

I had taught two classes in the two of the days of this week. I teach on MWF mornings. I have 40 students total in my two composition classes, they are good kids. Lots of football players from all over the U.S. and some baseball players and then the girl soccer players.  Oh yes, there are volleyball players too.  What was funny the first day of class on Wednesday was that I had asked the registrar on Monday to have one of my classes moved, since they are back to back, together in one classroom. I was hoping for the same room, even the same building would be better than walking across campus in the 10 minute interlude between classes. This is what happens when you let computers take over the master schedule for the whole campus.

As it turned out I got the floor above (in the same building). I thought that I would go to the original classroom on Wednesday, during our first class,  to tell them where our NEW classroom was for Friday’s class.  I realized quickly that something wasn’t right when less than half were in the original room with my missing about 12 students.  So, I went to the NEW location while I gave the first group an assignment to write down for me what their semester schedule looked like.

When I got to the newly assigned classroom, I asked if it was Comp I class to the filled up classroom (well about 13 students were there).  I asked who their comp teacher was and they said my name.  I told them *I* was their teacher and that I had to figure out what to do.  I thought quickly. I saw there were MORE people in the second room even though I had my ppt presentation all set up in the other building.  I told THEM to work on their schedule for the semester while I went back to the first room to retrieve the 8 students.

After this 15 minute snafu, things were normalized and the students were NOT ready to leave because we had had such a short time together.  Today, I had my own problems with technology where I had a hard time with the projector to work with my laptop.  I got through it but that is the advantage of being in the same classroom when they are back to back…no need to fix all the technology again.

Anyway, I am glad we are off to a good start.  I have some very respectful students, most of them are. They e-mail me and call me Dr. or Professor. I told them they could call me by my first name, the one I sign off on when I e-mail the whole class.  In any case, I hope that we all have a good time together because I realize some do NOT like to write long, formal papers.  I told them today that this is NOT high school anymore, we are in university now.

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Another Take on Differences of Education between China and U.S.

My former 38 Chinese students continue to amaze me.  One was recently having trouble with, she claimed she HATED it. What she thought she ordered was a brand new book but it had a broken spine and obviously used.  She ranted to me by instant messaging, “I’m not blind, I can tell this is not a new book.”  I advised her to write to the seller at Amazon and register her complaint.  She should get her money back but I told her she has to be assertive and proactive.  This happened within two months of their arrival to the U.S., she will learn she has to take action.

Here is another student’s thoughts on the differences between education in China and the U.S. Read yesterday’s blog that is similar:

Professor-Student Relationships

“Becoming an International students in US university,I am really concerned about how to have good performance in my academic career. It seems like there are many things I should pay attention to, and one of the most important point is the Professor-Student relationships in an American university.

As my small research through my high school classmates who study abroad, many of them are confused about how to have good relationships with their professors. Gary Althen(2011) answered the question that why this relationship complicated with the following analysis, “Differing ideas about formality and respect frequently complicate relationships between American professors and students from abroad, especially Asian students (and most especially female Asian students).” International students’ confusion can focus on one behavior, that is, showing respect.

My Chinese friend, April, a student in College of William and Mary, made a “joke” these days. She contacted with her professor through E-mail and one day her professor told her that she can be more relaxed in communication with him. She felt perplexed. After showing me the E-mails, I found that she wrote “Thank you very much, professor” eleven times in just one E-mail! April said she really want to show her respect and thankfulness to the professor, but maybe professor thought it could be a little strange.

Actually, according to my 2-week-experience in my Communication, Media, and Rhetoric class, it could be quite different of relationship of professors and students between China and America. I think this may result from learning styles and teaching styles which was explained by Martin(2011) that,” The culture clash over learning styles (the different ways that students learn in different cultures) and teaching styles (the styles that instructors use to teach) is common as students increasingly travel to study in other cultures.” In China, learning and teaching style is more inflexible that students often need to sit quietly and receive knowledge which instructors give without asking or challenging the material and professor may become uncomfortable because of students’ interruption so the relationship between professor and students is likely to be unequal in class. That means, a professor gets power and a student should have high regard for professor. But in America, as I know, there is a style that students and professor can be put at the same position to have a discussion in every class about the topic. It is welcome for students to have objections and other opinions and this style leads to a more friendly relationship in which professors can be regarded as an old and intelligent friend.

Many Chinese students are afraid of being impolite and disrespectful maybe because of the relationship they have experienced in China. But, their behavior is not a good way to improve the relationship between them and their American professor. They feel odd to call professor’s first name instead of Doctor and his or her last name (Some professors may not want their students to do that, it depends on the American.) or to raise your hand to show your different view in class, and even to shout out the answer the professor needs. Effectively, these are behaviors many professors are glad to see their students show.

Finally, I would like to point out that I did surveys of my friends who are older than me and have been studying for several years in American universities. I appreciated seeing that most of them can adapt to their new environment, be confident and active in classes, and keep a good relationship of their professors.”

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Higher Education: “Chopsticks” vs. Rachmaninoff

Ever heard a rendition of “Chopsticks” on the piano?  It hardly competes with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C Sharp Minor, Opus 3, No. 2” but that is what is happening in our university of higher education in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From my early childhood memories of monthly meetings with neighborhood families and children there would typically be TWO people who would take the piano by storm plodding out “Chopsticks.”  It required no technique, no notes to read but heavy, predictable rhythm. One “player” takes the lead around Middle C with two pointer fingers extended to look like chopsticks, and plays while the other regales from the higher keys all the while harmonizing as they move down the black and white notes. It starts as a solo then becomes a duet and is most monotonous.


I cringe anytime I hear this Chopsticks “song” because it shows a lack of training and is a kind of “in your face” about NOT being properly trained. Call it music snobbery, if you must, but the repetition of hearing the same “Chopsticks” song plunked out every month for years by the under-educated in music would drive anyone to the edge, even the musically dis-inclined. Playing by ear and not reading notes is certainly a gift but it is NOT a gift that keeps on giving when you hear it over and over again.  Believe me, I highly respect and appreciate musicians who can play by ear AND also read the notes.


While growing up, I heard my mother playing the old classics such as Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt and Mendelssohn on our upright piano in her spare time.  Those musical numbers she played most frequently are the ones I can play most fluently because I KNOW how it should sound while reading the notes.  Otherwise, I can sight-read music with the best of them.  (The best training is to go through an old hymnal where you are forced to change time signatures or key signatures with each page you turn.)  I’m a LONG way from Rachmaninoff but appreciated the genius it took for the actor in the movie “Shine” to play those difficult numbers.  I also appreciated the troubled genius of Johnny Cash after watching the movie “Walk the Line” last night.  (two completely different genres of music – classical versus country western.)  I far preferred the latter movie to the former.


However, I fancy composers Chopin or Bach because they are like old friends whenever I take out my old classics book.  In my college years and after I graduated, I had rebelled against music for years before I finally came back to wanting to play piano again.  This happened when I was lonely for my own western civilization while living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1981 to 1983. Fortunately, my host family had a piano and I soon had my music books mailed to me so I could enjoy my self-imposed music therapy.  I came to appreciate the years of music lessons my parents paid for me and my siblings to be able to play piano.  Right now, I would love to play the thick chords of a Prelude piece by Chopin but I don’t have a piano in Kazakhstan, nor my favorite music book to read from.


What does playing piano, classics or otherwise, have to do with higher education in Kazakhstan?  Simply this, we have instructors who are teaching students “Chopsticks” on how to write papers when there are better methods and techniques that should be learned by the students for the benefit of their future academic career.  Our students are NOT served well if they are promoted to the next class without knowing how to write creatively with informal writing or how to write by the more prescriptive rules for a formal academic exercise.  I have found over the years of teaching composition that those students who have had the discipline of practicing either in sports or music are used to the rules set down in writing.  They know to follow my instructions about how to use in-text citations or bibliographies.  They know that they had better listen up when I first tell them about thesis statements or topic sentences.  Writing teachers should have these basics internalized so they can disseminate this important information to their young charges.


Unfortunately, we have piano recitals where our students are up on the stage either playing “Chopsticks” because they don’t know any better or they have a soundtrack playing in the background while pretending to stroke the ivories. (metaphor for plagiarism).  We have teachers who perhaps know how to write in their native language of Russian but have never done the assignments they expect their own writing students to accomplish in English.  I suspect, as final papers are being turned in at the end of this spring semester, that some teachers are turning a blind eye to what will be someone else’s writing, certainly not their students.  My question remains, “Would parents pay good money for their child to learn from a piano teacher who only knows how to play “Chopsticks?”  My second question is like the first, “Would parents invest their time and energy to bring their child to the soccer field in order to play under a coach who doesn’t know the rules of soccer?”  The obvious answer to both is a resounding, “No, of course not!”


My last question is:  “Do we want our students in Kazakhstan to be writing “Chopsticks” kind of papers or rather set their vision for something far higher?”  I’m reminded of the passage from Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.”


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Kazakhstan’s “Elephant in the Room”

Thankfully we passed through the arduous attestation test in Kazakhstan.  Irregardless, without the help of President Nazarbayev, we still have an “elephant in the room!!!”  What we have at our institution of “higher learning” in Kazakhstan is an anomoly and does not fit in the same framework with the rest of the universities in this country and especially with the Ministry of Education.  Supposedly we have a western brand of education and the classes are to be taught in English.  (There exist many different Englishes in the world.)

Therefore, some of our dear Kazakh students who are learning their own Kazakh language along with knowing Russian need to know English as well.  Add to that their needing to be competent in using the computer to access information besides the computer games they love to play.  I see at least three problems and I know of many more which should to be eradicated from our university.

First, we have a few liberal, left wing liberals from the West who are promulgating their anti-God, anti-religion, pluralism, multiculturalism, diversity dogma to the Kazakh people who have had enough of the tripe handed to them.  They are eager to re-discover their roots before the tsarist government of Russia came to Central Asia (although they helped them from being annihilated by another foe).  After that was the Soviet propaganda of collectivization that destroyed Kazakh families.  So, there may be good reason to be skeptical of the West’s brand of education.

Second, you have Muslims from third world nations who speak a different kind of “English” teaching in subjects that are difficult enough for our dear students.  But it is not the Kazakh students fault for not understanding them.  Sometimes we as native speakers of English can’t understand these professors either!!!

Third, we may have especially in the MInistry of Education in Astana and other Kazakh university people who are really just former Soviet, communist leaders.  They love to accept bribes where plagiarism and cheating is rife.  These practices go on in all other universities in the country of Kazakhstan. However, our university maintains it is free of all that so that we can assess what our students REALLY know.  Our university’s motto is “Education to Change Society” really wants to end “the ways of the world.”  Some graduates of our university feel defeated when they go out and find the rest of their country isn’t changing. 

We have Kazakh students who are starving for better education in their country but we still have an “elephant in the room” that needs to be removed.  Reminds me of the quote about the starving Kazakhs from “The Silent Steppe” where on p. 189 Mukhamet Shayakhmetov wrote:

When you look at archival documents relating to those tragic years, you can see how much public money was spent not only on industry, but also on endless conferences attended by thousands upon thousands of people all over the Soviet Union.  The funds squandered on these alone would have been sufficient to save many lives.  Tragically, however, our leaders were more concerned about receiving accolades from Party delegates than they were about the deaths of working people.


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Found Russian Krylov’s fable!!!

Kyrlov\'s fableThankfully with a little more information from my Russian Kazakhstani friend, I was able to find a poem attributed to the conundrum our Central Asian university faces.  We have separate ethnic groups in places of authority who are trying to pull the same load in vastly different directions.  Ivan Krylov was on to something about how our institution of “higher learning” will get itself out of its mess.  Or will it? How DID Krylov know?

Once a Swan, a Pike, and a Crab

Tried to pull a loaded cab, …

They pulled hard, did not flinch,

But they gained not an inch …

The Swan pulled hard toward the sky

The Crab to crawl backward did try,

The Pike made for the river nearby.

They could not agree on an approach out of the mess.



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My “Soap Box” about Teaching Research Papers!


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 , 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.






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