If these same topics are recycled semester after semester, the same papers can be “borrowed” from students who went through the academic reading and writing course the semester before. Let me repeat for emphasis, the papers can be the identical ones that were passed the year before. In some cases, these were plagiarized papers and of no real interest to the students or the teachers. Instead, I required my writing students to take more of a qualitative approach and interview their grandparents. From that they were supposed to find the problem their grandparents had encountered and find source material related to that, thus giving an extent of the problem, cause and effect of the problem, etc. The simple solution was to show how their grandparents solved the problems they encountered. The problems, by in large, in the past was the Soviet government and its policies that worked against the people instead of FOR the people. Heavy handed, top-down policies versus self-government initiated at the grass roots level.
One of my pet peeves, yet again, in the suggested topics expected of these poor Kazakh students was that they often wrote the solution was in the government. The government can solve crime, the government can solve bribery, the government can solve bad t.v. or it can pass laws to stop junk food, ad naseum. No, the academicians don’t usually write journal articles about how governments are instrumental in solving problems. Another pet peeve of mine when I read students’ essays is that they will use “anonymous” as their source. NO ACADEMIC worth their salt will write a piece in any academic journal and not take credit for it. You WANT to have your name up in lights if you finally get something published in a reputable journal. In the West, the more you get published, the better your chances of getting promoted and being recognized in your field. Publish or Perish! No, our Kazakh students are learning from their teachers who perhaps liberally “borrowed” from English sources and claimed it as their own to do the same or on their own students borrow information from the Internet.
The Internet vs. electronic research databases. These are two completely different animals even though you get them from your same computer!!! If I am rigid about anything it is that I do not let any of my students use information from Google or Wiki-pedia. How I HATE Wikipedia since anyone can add anything they feel like it whether it is fact or fiction. After all, this is an “academic” course, preparing them for the rest of their years in an academic setting. I use Google myself all the time but not when I write my final research paper, it is good to get background information and to find keywords for database searchers.
Truth be told, I’m embarrassed for an American friend of mine who got her doctor’s degree in education several years ago and used one of her dissertation sources from Wikipedia in her Bibliography. She had hundreds of others, of course, but Wiki-pedia stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Apparently her advisor and others on her committee were so Information illiterate and ignorant of this new web-source of information that they didn’t even recognize how ludicrous it was to use.
That’s not to say that all information found in scholarly, peer reviewed journals are accurate. They aren’t and my students who were studying the famine of 1932-33 found out that there are many battles raging about the body count of how many died in those sad years of Soviet history. Also, I had some students who had trouble finding credible sources about Soviet education. Hmm…I wonder why. Well, I think I know why but this blog entry is long enough.
Yes, American teachers are so useful to have around since we are blamed for bringing on a lot of work to our Kazakh colleagues but then, if we are supposedly a “western” institution in the land of Kazakhstan then we better show that we are qualified and up to the task of teaching our students from a western approach. Let the students ENJOY what they are writing after they have ENJOYED looking up information from the journal articles. Student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Versus vs. Verses!!!
Check out the topics my students chose for their problem/solution papers by looking at their tentative thesis statements. I really enjoyed reading ALL of their papers.