distance learning

Kazakhstan publishes its back-to-school plan

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While many countries are still pondering what to do with students come the new school year in September 2020, Kazakhstan – currently under a state imposed quarantine for a second time – has announced its back-to-school plan.

If you’re ready, open your laptop… most students
in Kazakhstan aren’t yet leaving their house
to go back to school in September

The academic year will start in distance learning format for almost all students. Exceptions will be made for the 4% of students who live in remote rural areas and go to small schools with composite (multi-age) classes.

It may also be possible to have some of the younger primary age children back in school if strict sanitary measures can be maintained. These include limits on movement within the school building, better ventilation and cleaning, limited class sizes, and attending school in shifts.

The government recognizes that the learning needs of these children may make it harder and/or less accessible to attempt remote learning – not only does online learning assume a level of technological capacity that these kids may not yet have mastered, but as any parent who’s been through the last months will tell you, it requires much greater input from an adult to help with the learning process.

However, even if younger children do get back to school, it will not be full-time; some subjects will be offered by distance.

This also informs the medium-term strategy, which is for a hybrid of face-to-face and distance learning as the health situation improves.

For primary aged vulnerable students with additional learning needs or from low-income families, measures will be taken to ensure inclusive and accessible learning. These measures are not specified.

Over the summer, the Ministry of Education has been taking on board feedback from teachers and students to improve the national online learning management system (LMS) and preparing materials for teachers to use in the next academic year. For example, online courses have been prepared to support teachers in IT, cyber pedagogy and teaching methods.

Colleges and universities will also start the new academic year in distance format. At colleges, there will be limited face-to-face provision for students on industry-related courses, those who need to do internships, and students in smaller remote colleges. At universities, there may be some face-to-face provision for lab work and courses requiring internships.

Adapting to online learning in Uzbekistan (Gazeta.uz)

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Around the world, stories are emerging sharing the experiences of students, teachers and families as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ of distance learning while schools are shut and universities have switched to online delivery. Below is a recent article from Gazeta.uz reporting from Uzbekistan on university students’ adaptation – it’s in Russian but you can run it through DeepL for a decent translation into English.

It’s worth pointing out before reproducing the article that the views are of students at three of capital city Tashkent’s top universities: the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Webster University, and the Uzbek State University of World Languages. The facilities and resources available to students studying here are quite a bit superior to what’s offered to other students. And the situation outside the capital city often paints quite a different picture with unreliable electricity supply in many rural areas coupled with far less access to internet-connected devices.


Точка зрения. Как студенты относятся к онлайн-образованию

(c) Gazeta.uz, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/05/13/distance-learning/

С середины марта во всех учебных заведениях Узбекистана досрочно начались каникулы и дистанционное образование. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов трех вузов о результатах онлайн-учебы и отношении к ней.

13 мая 2020, 13:21

16 марта, на следующий день после регистрации первого случая коронавируса в Узбекистане, школьников и студентов по всей стране отправили на каникулы, а затем — на дистанционное обучение. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов отечественных вузов, как они оценивают учебу в режиме онлайн.

О платформах для дистанционной учебы

Студентка 1-го курса филиала Университета Вебстера в Ташкенте:

Мы перешли на дистанционную учебу 16 марта. В принципе для нас ничего особо не изменилось, потому что мы всегда работали на платформе WorldClassroom. В обычное время учителя грузили на эту платформу задания, а мы отправляли уже выполненные. На эту же платформу они могли загрузить подкасты, чтобы нам было легче учиться. Все остальное проходило в WebEx и Zoom.

WorldClassroom используют все университеты США. Есть версии для ПК, для IOS и Android. В приложении приходят уведомления, если, например, учитель поставил оценку. На главной странице есть ToDo-list, чтобы не забыть ничего. Есть чат для личных и публичных сообщений.

Студент 4-го курса Университета мировой экономики и дипломатии (УМЭД):

После [выявления коронавируса] нам объявили, что учеба будет дистанционной. Студенты выпускного курса начали учебу онлайн спустя полторы-две недели после начала карантина. Студенты младших курсов — немного раньше.

Мы учимся на платформе moodle. Для лекций мы также иногда использовали Zoom. Когда онлайн-учеба только началась, какие-то задания, которые мы и так должны были сдавать, уже были загружены на платформу. Остальное уже потом загрузили.

Бывает, платформа виснет, когда все студенты заходят. Или задания загружаются по два раза, и мы не понимаем, что происходит. Или например, когда мы решаем тесты, вводишь правильный ответ «2», а правильный ответ оказывается не цифра «2», а слово «два». Но это если придираться. Такие мелочи доставляют неудобства.

Не хватает хотя бы каких-то лекций. Сейчас нам просто загружают очень много заданий. У учителей тоже не особо есть время и желание заниматься этим. Они просто загружают все материалы. У студентов таких предметов может быть 10.

Я уверен, что студенты даже не просматривают эти материалы, а просто смотрят вопросы, пытаются найти ответы в интернете, быстрее сдать и перейти к другим предметам. Потому что в день бывает несколько дедлайнов.

Студент Узбекского государственного университета мировых языков (УзГУМЯ):

Дистанционное обучение у нас началось примерно с 25 марта. Сначала мы использовали Telegram, затем частично перешли на платформу moodle.

Нам дают сухой учебно-методический комплекс, чтобы мы сами его переварили, а потом сдали домашнее задание и тесты. Сложность в основном в усвоении материалов онлайн. Их тяжело понимать без объяснений преподавателя.

Выполненные задания мы отправляем по телеграм или загружаем в moodle. Нам в принципе так удобно. Вот только некоторым учителям тяжело. Иногда учителя нам пишут поздно вечером, и я понимаю, что их график сдвинулся сильно. Мне немного жаль их.

Без писанины у нас никак. Мы даже контрольные некоторые писали в тетрадях, потом фотографировали их и отправляли учителю.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Есть только один предмет, где требуется писать конспекты. В целом, к третьему курсу такое уже почти не наблюдается. Видеоуроки по предметам у нас не проводятся ввиду отсутствия хорошей скорости интернета у многих студентов.

О разнице между онлайн и оффлайн образованием

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Есть некоторые предметы, которые трудно проходить в онлайне. Например, я учусь на направлении Медиа-коммуникации. У нас есть урок фотографии, на котором мы берем камеру, фотографируем и редактируем. Камеры есть не у всех. Поэтому сложно.

Еще не хватает академической атмосферы университета, учителей. Это же американский университет. Дома, конечно, тоже комфортно, но в университете другая обстановка.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Лекции прошли только по одному предмету. Слава богу, по специальному. Остальное прошло в письменном варианте.

Кому-то нравится оффлайн, кому-то онлайн. Кто-то ложится поздно, не ходит в университет, и это его устраивает. То есть студент особо и не любил ходить в университет. Наверное, таких большинство.

Мне кажется, в онлайне есть свои плюсы. С ним можно немного время сэкономить. Но на лекциях нам хоть и было не особо интересно, но мы краем уха могли что-то услышать, хоть что-то для себя воспринять.

С научными руководителями можно связываться онлайн. Руководители помоложе используют Telegram. Со своим руководителем я могу списываться в основном через почту. А каждый раз названивать ему, чтобы он посмотрел, тоже неудобно. В университете мы могли бы после пар или на переменах задавать им свои короткие вопросы и получать хорошие консультации.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

В оффлайне мы хоть немного, но получали информацию на лекциях. Некоторые из них были очень интересными. Было видно, что учителя готовятся к своим занятиям. На семинарах нас оценивали объективно. Всем студентам были понятны их текущие оценки.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Учеба протекает плавно, волей-неволей привыкаешь. Основная проблема заключается в том, что не успеваешь уследить за накапливающимися заданиями, поэтому зачастую приходится даже расставлять приоритеты в пользу тех или иных предметов.

При традиционном обучении количество заданий на вид умеренное. Несмотря на то, что каждый день проводились семинары, подготовка к ним не была такой насыщенной, как сейчас. Зачастую преподаватели оценивают студента по тому, как студент преподносит материал, а не по его информативности. В онлайн-обучении приходится уделять больше времени поиску и анализу информации, чтобы сдать достойную работу, т.к . всё сдается в письменном виде и проверяется на плагиат.

О выпускных экзаменах

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Учеба у нас закончилась 8 мая. Экзамены мы уже сдали. У нас были тесты, по каким-то предметам мы писали курсовые. На каждый экзамен дается определенное время. Учитель может отследить, сколько человек выполняют задание. У нас есть программа Turnitin, которая отслеживает плагиат. Поэтому если кто-то будет подглядывать, то в читерстве его уличить легко.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Мы уже начали сдавать итоговые тесты. Это как онлайн-сессия. Нам сказали, что пока неизвестно, как мы будем сдавать выпускные квалификационные работы. Говорят, их вообще могут отменить. Студенты не хотят зря готовиться и теряют время. Я думаю, это нормальная логика любого студента.

Были ребята, которые начали готовить дипломные работы давно. Но из-за очень интенсивной работы в «модуле» браться за дипломную работу не удавалось. Сейчас нам сказали обязательно писать дипломные работы. Но мы до сих пор не понимаем, как мы будем их защищать.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Про формат экзаменов точно не говорят. Но однозначно сдавать их мы будем онлайн.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Экзамены будем сдавать в moodle. Формат, насколько я знаю, будет зависеть от преподавателя. Один из них — традиционная раздача билетов, который нужно будет решить в течение определенного времени.

С одной стороны, не будет такого напряжения, как в аудитории с несколькими десятками студентов и гуляющими из одного угла в другой наблюдателями. С другой, зная, что за тобой никто не наблюдает, можно запросто зайти в интернет и найти нужную тебе информацию, что значительно демотивирует на подготовку к экзаменам. Поэтому у меня к этому пока противоречивое отношение.

О готовности Узбекистана к дистанционному образованию

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Знакомые из национальных университетов рассказывают, что учителя пропускают уроки, для учебы они используют Telegram, их заставляют писать конспекты. Поэтому я думаю, что Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-обучению.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Некоторые ребята говорили, что если бы платформа лучше работала, можно было бы учиться онлайн всегда.

Неудобно и неприятно, что у нас очень много ненужных предметов. И ладно бы мы проходили их для общего развития. Мы проходим их на таком уровне, как будто бы это наши «спецы». На это уходит очень много времени.

Мне кажется, Узбекистан еще не готов к дистанционному образованию. И это я говорю, будучи в Ташкенте. У меня с сетью проблем нет. Но иногда бывают перебои. В областях у кого-то вообще света по два дня нет. Даже не говоря об этом, просто сама система дистанционного обучения, мне кажется, вообще не проработана.

Карантин дал какой-то толчок. Но нужно хорошо проработать систему, чтобы таких казусов, которые происходят, не было. Даже если они мелкие, они сразу отталкивают студента от самообучения. А студентов, я считаю, нужно либо настолько мотивировать, либо заставить их учиться. В таком возрасте мало кто с энтузиазмом все подряд сам будет учить. Хотя такие есть.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Учебу онлайн можно было бы продолжить. Но только с тем преподавателем, который разбирается в онлайн-образовании и может разработать нормальную учебную программу под удобную онлайн платформу.

На мой взгляд, Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-образованию, но первые шаги уже сделаны. Возможно, лет через 5−10, но не сейчас.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Я скорее за онлайн-образование, чем нет. У меня появилась возможность самостоятельно распределять свое время и учиться в соответствии с собственным режимом дня. К тому же, усвоение материала дается гораздо легче и интереснее, когда сама нахожу ответы на вопросы.

При появлении вопросов можно без труда связаться с преподавателем, что перечеркивает утверждение о том, что для легкого усвоения материала требуется прямой контакт между студентом и преподавателем.

На данный момент Узбекистан не готов к дистанционному образованию. Исходя из опыта своих сокурсников, могу сказать, что дистанционное обучение подходит далеко не всем. Одна из главных причин — отсутствие нормальной скорости интернета (в основном в областях). Нынешняя ситуация должна стать толчком не только для модернизации образования, но и нашей телекоммуникационной системы в целом.

Kyrgyzstan: Distance-learning exposes weaknesses of education system (Eurasianet)

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This is an insightful article by Bishkek-based journalist Ayzirek Imanaliyeva published in Eurasianet on some of the challenges posed by Kyrgyzstan’s necessitated shift to online learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The article was published at https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-distance-learning-exposes-weaknesses-of-education-system.


Bolsunai Turgunbayeva’s three school-age daughters take turns using her battered old smartphone.

The device has become their main means for getting an education since the authorities in mid-March began a system of long-distance teaching as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. 

“I have an old Samsung phone, it doesn’t work well, everything takes a long time to load, and the sound is bad,” said Turgunbayeva, 34, who lives in the village of Terek-Suu in the southern and rural Jalal-Abad region. “There wasn’t enough memory, so I deleted all the photos. As soon as we send videos of completed homework, we delete them.”

Because the girls are at different stages of their education – in second, third and sixth grade – they must abide by a routine. The younger ones do their studies in the morning, when Turgunbayeva is at their disposal.

The eldest daughter uses the phone alone in the evening to avoid distractions, because her studies are more complex. At that time, Turgunbayeva must tend to her newborn and do the household chores.

Turgunbayeva said the children are struggling to learn in these circumstances. Some households with even fewer resources may have it worse.

“Parents live in all kinds of conditions – some live well, some badly, then there are people who do not even have telephones and televisions at all. But everybody is having a tough time and the children are not taking in the lessons,” she said.

The one saving grace is that distance-learning is not proving a financial drain, since mobile operators in Kyrgyzstan have created free-of-charge data bundles for schoolchildren confined to their homes.

When the lockdowns were imposed, the government was relatively quick to roll out its remote teaching solution. Classes for the younger children were broadcast on the Balastan kids’ channel. Lessons for secondary and high-school pupils were shown on other stations.

Education ministry

The Education Ministry made the same lessons available on the UNICEF-supported online portal Sanarip Sabak (Digital Lesson). Children can re-watch classes on the site, although there have been problems here. Classes for the second half of May were not uploaded in time and the website only offered the forlorn message of “Lessons will be uploaded soon.”

In the middle of April, around one month into this forced experiment, the Education Ministry was positive about the results, although it was candid about the shortcomings. Organizing feedback with students in areas with low-speed mobile internet has been difficult, and the problem is exacerbated in households where parents lack IT skills or do not have a television, the ministry said.

“Even though we are doing distance-learning only for the first time, our teachers have shown good potential. I would also like to thank local authorities and sponsors for the help they have given to families who do not have televisions and telephones,” Education Minister Kanybek Isakov said at the time. 

Parents have been a little less forgiving, criticizing lessons for being insufficiently stimulating. 

Educational authorities have more recently put a figure on just how many children are struggling to get involved in the feedback process because of lack of resources. Isakov revealed on May 15 that 30,000 schoolchildren do not have access to smartphones and that 4,000 families lack televisions. 

The video-conferencing tools that have been brought in to bridge the lag caused by long-distance learning have not quite lived up to expectations either.

“When distance-learning began, there were many difficulties,” an IT teacher at a high school in the southern city of Osh told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity. “It was very difficult for teachers, no one was ready for online learning.”

Instead, instant messaging apps have been used as a fallback. For the younger pupils, the preference is for WhatsApp, said the Osh teacher, while the older children have their classes conveyed through Telegram. The reason is that young children use the phones of their parents, and WhatsApp is primarily the preserve of adult generations in Kyrgyzstan. Telegram’s functions lend themselves better to teaching, however.

But “many students do not have computers on which to do practical exercises. I give them assignments suitable for phone applications. Students work with Microsoft Office applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For video editing training they use Inshot and Viva Video,” the teacher said.

Half the students in her classes ignore her messages, however.

And engagement has dropped somewhat since the Education Ministry announced in the middle of May that progress to the next class will no longer depend on end-of-year exams, but will instead be decided on the basis on coursework.

The lockdown, which has eased a little in recent weeks, has been toughest on the high school graduating class. These students have been kept away from classes in the very crucial year in which they are due to sit their all-important ORT, or General Republican Test. It is on the basis of results from those exams that young people then apply to university. 

ORT exams are still due to go ahead, but at the end of June, instead of the middle of May, as had been planned. Special safety precautions will be taken for students sitting the exams.

In addition to the stress of tests, graduating students have been deprived of important rites of passage, like end-of-school celebrations on May 25. This year, many will instead be collectively marking this milestone online – the first time in the country’s history.

Covid-19 and education in Central Asia

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With the world’s attention drawn to the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future, this week’s post looks at the current impact of Covid-19 on education in Central Asia.

First, a few shout outs to others reporting on the spread of coronavirus in the region.

For general updates on what’s happening across Central Asia, check out EurasiaNet’s coronavirus dashboard, which is updated daily.

An early analysis has been provided in a brief open access policy memo by Marlene Laruelle and Madeline McCann for PONARS Eurasia. Published on March 27, it offers insights on the political and ideological responses of the post-Soviet states.

And on March 29, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published its latest Majlis podcast on the topic of coronavirus in Central Asia. Majlis is always worth a listen to so do subscribe to the podcast once you’ve downloaded the current episode.

For education not specific to Central Asia, four suggested resources:

1) track the astonishingly high percentage of the world’s out of school children (currently over 80%) with UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning;

2) read a thoughtful letter to Education Ministers around the world by Professor Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares;

3) follow Alex Usher’s daily blog for responses to Covid-19 in higher education and some important reflection on what may life ahead; and

4) Canada specific but this spreadsheet by Ken Steele is an incredibly detailed and up to date report on the responses of higher education institutions around the country.

OK, now back to Central Asia.

Covid-19 has officially made it to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan but somehow neither Tajikistan nor Turkmenistan has reported any cases as at March 31 when this post was written. On April 1, schoolchildren in Tajikistan went back to school after their spring holidays to classrooms that have been disinfected twice – but not because there has been any coronavirus, of course…

So Tajikistan and Turkmenistan join an illustrious if rather short list of countries that also includes North Korea which are yet to report any cases. On the contrary, as has been well commented upon on social media, Tajikistan’s erstwhile Leader of the Nation Emomali Rahmon has overseen numerous well attended public events in recent days. This includes the national Navruz celebrations that brought thousands of people together in defiance of the global trend for physical distancing.

So it is to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that we turn to see how they are responding in the sphere of education – it’s business as usual in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s schools and universities for now.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan closed all schools and has moved the spring holiday from March 16 to April 5. Teachers are working from home during that period and a government sanctioned group is working on making alternative teaching and learning arrangements in the likely event that schools will remain closed after April 5.

Pre-schools are working as usual but parents are asked to keep their children at home if at all possible; no child will lose their place at the pre-school if they are not attending.

Colleges and universities rapidly switched to distance learning with an array of technologies available for use. These include solutions common around the world such as Google Classroom, Moodle, Coursera, and Zoom as well as locally built programs. Although the government’s webpage says that universities and colleges should already be familiar with at least some of these forms of online learning, one enterprising news agency has published a list of universities where distance learning is well established.

Students who are unable to travel home are being allowed to stay in dorms but must stay in their rooms. Kazakh students who study abroad and international students in Kazakhstan have had varying fates. Some, such as a group of 54 Kazakh students studying in the Russian city of Samara, were sent home on a free bus on March 30. They will be able to continue their studies at a distance, something that will keep them busy as they complete a mandatory self-quarantine once they get home. Less lucky has been a group of 115 Indian students who are currently stranded at Almaty airport, unable either to leave for home or to get back into the locked down city.

Kyrgyzstan

The response in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where a state of emergency has also been declared, is similar to Kazakhstan’s (albeit with significantly less funding available from the state). Schools will be shut after a long vacation that runs until April 8. After that, they will continue learning using video lessons which will broadcast on two TV channels as well as YouTube.

To support distance learning, around 400 textbooks in four languages (Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek and Tajik) have been made freely available online. A fantastic looking website for school children, iBilim, has been released in two languages (Kyrgyz and Russian). The site is still being tested but kudos to the developers for getting it up so fast. A government hosted learning site is also being worked on but I couldn’t get into it when I tried today. As well as Zoom and Google Classroom, Kyrgyz teachers will also be communicating with their students using WhatsApp and Telegram.

Colleges and universities in Kyrgyzstan switched to distance learning on March 30 following a government directive. Students have also been granted a longer spring break during which time instructors and administrators were asked to develop plans to use technology to support distance learning and to supervise students’ independent work. Students have been advised to return to their family homes and remain there for the time being.

The University of Central Asia is making up to 90 beds available on its Naryn campus in Kyrgyzstan and is providing food and medical supplies to vulnerable members of the local community.

Looking a little further ahead, it’s not yet clear how higher education admissions will be managed. Students finishing high/secondary school this year may end up like their British counterparts i.e. with no final/university admission exams but graded based on their classwork. This has not yet been confirmed. Some universities that hold their own entrance exams (e.g. University of Central Asia) have postponed the exams that are scheduled for this time of year.

Uzbekistan

Mirroring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan closed all pre-schools, schools, colleges and universities for an early spring break on March 16. From March 30, during the holiday, lessons began to be shown on TV.

Disability rights researcher Dilmurad Yusupov noted approvingly that TV classes have been accompanied by sign language interpretation (except for English classes, where there is a lack of professional interpreters). This ‘Online-maktab‘, as online/TV school is being called, is being broadcast on a range of TV channels to ensure they reach as many people as possible.

The Minister of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education Imomjon Majidov recommended on March 31 that students use the newly available free time to study and do research (he’s clearly not one to waste a good crisis). He will even be using an official Telegram channel, ‘We will defeat Covid-19‘ to set up an online contest for which prizes will be offered by the Minister’s office.

No decision has been made about when students will be able to return to study. A government directive approved on March 27 on distance learning enables the introduction of relevant technologies and approaches to support undergraduate and Master’s students; these are still under development. At least two foreign branch campus universities (South Korea’s Inha U and India’s Amity U) have switched to accepting admissions documents electronically for those seeking admission in September this year.

Until then, the government has been extremely active about keeping people up to date, primarily using Telegram (which is extremely popular in Uzbekistan) and the Coronavirus Info channel, which already has 1.3m subscribers. For example, the Ministry of Pre-school Education issued a post with guidance for parents on how to support their kindergarten/nursery aged children to access and make the most of the new TV/online lessons.

That is where things stand for now, at the end of March. As we are seeing around the world, the situation is changing day by day. I’ll report again if anything major changes in Central Asia.

Catten the curve!

The one suitable way to end this round up is, of course, through the medium of feline:

Thanks to Dr Anne Marie Darling for this work of genius.

MOOC, meet Kazakhstan: Surfing a new wave of MOOC innovation

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OpenUKaz
Who needs a cat when you’ve got a Kazakh superhero?  The wording translates as ‘higher education without leaving home!’

More MOOC madness?

The trend in higher education for MOOCs – massive open online courses – shows no sign of abating.

We’re now five years on from the so-called Year of the MOOC in 2012 and whilst MOOCs don’t make the headlines so often any more, the number of courses and providers continues to mushroom.

In 2016, an estimated 58 million students around the world signed up for a MOOC. 23 million of these students (an impressive 40%) enrolled in a MOOC for the first time. Over 700 universities are involved in offering nearly 7,000 MOOCs. Check out ClassCentral’s 2016 report for more MOOC-tastic stats.

As Ben Wildavksy has argued, this is much more than ‘MOOC Ado About Nothing‘ (groan away – it’s his line, not mine!).

Now that the first wave of MOOC enrollment has passed, access begins to open up to a wider audience, following the same pattern as the disbursement of the internet (first to the elites who could afford a computer as an expensive piece of tech, later spreading to society more broadly). The metaphor is apt given that the internet is a crucial reason for the birth and growth of MOOCs.

MOOCs speak your language

One of the most interesting trends in 2016 is the growth in regional providers of MOOCs, which attracted around 25% of all new learners last year. Most of these courses are offered in languages other than English.

The days of the arena being dominated by North American providers and English language medium of instruction may well be numbered, especially with the entry of Chinese language providers to meet the huge education market in China.

Bilim (knowledge) for all

It is on the coat-tails of this regionalization movement that the recent launch of Kazakhstan’s own Open University, Қазақстанның ашық университеті [kz], can be located. OpenU, as it is billing itself, has set itself the lofty aim [kz] of increasing the intellectual level of the country by delivering high-quality online courses.

Courses will be developed by leading Kazakhstani academics and are aimed at high school students (an interesting target audience often overlooked by other MOOCs), university students and those who for some reason are unable to access face-to-face higher education.

All ‘interested citizens’ are also invited to join in too, so the mission is highly inclusive. As with other MOOCs, all OpenU courses are free.

The founders of OpenU

Although pitched as a university, OpenU is in fact a joint project, created by the public fund WikiBilim [bilim = knowledge in Kazakh] with KCell, a leading Kazakhstani mobile phone provider, as the main sponsor.

The initial university partners are:

Satpayev Kazakh National Technical University
Kazakh-British Technical University
Almaty Management University
Suleyman Demirel University
Institute of Mathematics and Mathematical Modelling [ru]

Four more courses are due to go live in April and a further three this May. Most courses are around five weeks long with one session a week.

In a country where (multi-)language policy is a major issue, it is interesting that 80% of the course content is being offered in Kazakh. That said, English and Russian language subtitles are planned for all video content, which will enhance accessibility.

What can you study?

The initial courses, like the global pattern for MOOCs, focus on computer science and business/management.

Students can sign up for courses in Matrices and Determinants, Public-Private Partnerships, Web Programming Fundamentals, Fourier Analysis [Maths], Robotics and Introduction to Computer Science Using Java [all kz or ru].

The course creators have outstanding academic credentials. Professor Askar Zhumadildayev, for example, holds a Doctor of Science degree (equivalent to the ‘habilitation’ in some other contexts, i.e. a more advanced degree than the PhD) in Mathematical Physics and is an academician of the Kazakh National Academy of Sciences.

Zhumadildayev is committed to this new style of learning: “Если эти лекции посмотрят даже 20 человек, я буду счастлив. Все должно развиваться постепенно. Это настоящая академичная наука и настоящие знания, это полезно” (“Even if only 20 people watch these lectures, I will be happy. Things should develop gradually. This is genuine science and genuine knowledge – it’s useful.”)

The project’s founders hope that the OpenU courses will provide a means for students in regions of Kazakhstan to learn from the country’s great academics [ru], who tend to cluster in the two main cities of Astana and Almaty.

Surfing a new wave of MOOC innovation

There are three reasons why I believe that OpenU offers a new way of thinking about MOOCs that may help to refresh the format and generate a third wave of MOOC development.

I would argue that the first wave lasted until 2012, with the massive rise and popularization of the MOOC. The second wave of 2013-2016 was characterized by the personalization of MOOCs, where provision became more oriented around individual needs in terms of scheduling, credentials being made available and so on.

So what makes OpenU a breath of fresh air in the increasingly jaded world of MOOCs?

  1. The pedigree of the course creators is stunning. Whilst you can certainly find other MOOCs offered by ‘star’ academics, the concern of many universities when they rushed to joined the MOOC bandwagon was to generate course content. Less attention was paid, at least in the early days, to quality and delivery. OpenU’s collaboration with a range of universities and its focus on working with leading academics means that quality is being put first.
  2. The partnership between a non-profit public organization, WikiBilim, and a corporate, KCell, is an extremely interesting model. Rather than a single university trying to create its own MOOC platform, or the wholesale adoption of an outside model (Coursera, EdX etc), the OpenU model creates a different type of structure through which partner institutions can offer selected courses. This is advantageous for the universities in terms of resource sharing and also for the prospects for publicity (and thus potential future student recruitment) it offers.
  3. OpenU has not been set up to offer degrees [ru], as is now possible through the combination of some MOOCs. Rather, it is an ‘educational upgrading’ experience to support growth in educational quality not just for individual learners but also for universities in Kazakhstan. The idea is that they may adopt some of the course content as part of their own curriculum in order to draw on expertise available within the country but not within their own institution.