Letter from Kyrgyzstan: Anita Walz, Fulbright Scholar/Librarian

Fulbright Specialist serves as consultant in Open Education (OE) and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Anita Walz, Virginia Tech’s Scholarly Communication Librarian for Copyright and Open Educational Resources, was  invited to serve as a Fulbright Specialist for two weeks at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She’s on her way home today!
Anita worked there together with her classmate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science (UIUC GSLIS, now The iSchool at Illinois), who is now the Library Director, Jyldyz Bekbalaeva.  “primarily… consulting/teaching/discussing about open education (OE) and open educational resources (OER).” Check out the letter she sent soon after she arrived–I have to say, reading it was just like being there with a couple of classmates for me, too, since I, like several other VT librarians, are also grads of the “iSchool at Illinois,” before it got the cool name:
Hi all,
Good morning! It’s 10:45am Saturday morning here and nearly 1am Saturday in Blacksburg. Hope you are resting well and not checking email right now!
I hope you are doing well. I’m really enjoying my time here in Kyrgyzstan. It would help a lot in getting around if I spoke more Russian, but my hosts are taking good care of me, everyone I need to talk with at the University speaks excellent English, and I’m getting my bearings a bit better each day. I have gotten sick only once (from airline food) and I think have adjusted better than most times to a drastic time change (it’s 10 hours later here than Virginia). It helped a lot to sleep in a flat bed for 11 hours in Moscow on my layover! The food is also very good. I’m told but that the tap water is ok (I’m still not sure if I trust this based on previous experience and continue to treat my drinking water.) I’m being adventurous in eating different things, knowing that I have a bottle of Cipro.
“The people here revere bread.”
It’s a really interesting time politically here. Many things (education, publishing, infrastructure etc.) collapsed in the post-soviet era but the needs are still present. Roads are full of potholes. Most building construction uses manual labor (e.g. to dig foundations) rather than machines — and there are a lot of buildings in active construction. High quality educational experiences are hard to come by and not available broadly. (I’ll probably ask more about this when I visit some public libraries and present at American Corners next week.) I’m told that there is a lot of investment by Turkish and other interests etc. It will likely look very different in a couple of years when all of the buildings under construction are finished. Corruption is apparently a huge problem. Kyrgyzstan, due to its location has always had foreign interests vying for influence/control.
The culture is much less scheduled and more flexible. That said, my hosts have arranged a schedule of people to meet with (and a number of presentations to teachers, students, AUCA faculty) I’ve already had a number of in depth conversations with various people at the University (all the librarians, Center for Teaching & Learning, various program directors, and some students), and with the U.S. embassy about their programs, goals, challenges, and understanding (or lack of) of open education. There is a lot of education, coaching, one-on-one “what do you do?” “how does that work?” and working to connect Creative Commons licenses and principles of open education (including pedagogy) to goals, issues, practices etc. There’s also a lot of normalizing — “oh, our students struggle with that too / we have that problem too, etc.” — types of conversation. And a lot of checking in with my host/grad school friend, Jyldyz, their library director who invited me. We work well together and I feel that we can be candid with each other. We’ll have time to debrief with both her boss (President of AUCA) who and separately with the Embassy next Friday. (I will be on my best behavior 🙂 I feel like I’m using everything I’ve learned in the last three+ years at VT, things from my Economics background, things I learned via my husband’s doctoral program in Higher Ed, plus a lot of consulting, listening/reflective listening, and people skills picked up along the way. (I’m finding that I really enjoy investing in people this way.)
I’m using this brochure Scott Fralin and I developed extensively in addition to my LibGuide on Open Ed. I’m also glad to have brought some visual aids (Fundamentals of Business, an OpenStax book, one of my own books on Instructional Design, and one I bought on VT history. Most of these, minus the business text I will leave here.) Since the school has a liberal arts focus, things like “homework software” and machine learning are not even on the radar.
An interesting factoid that I knew before I came here — the University purchases all textbooks for their students (perhaps a post-Soviet way of thinking held over?) So, I am thinking thru some different approaches to present that will better engage faculty interest beyond “students cannot afford textbooks” for a presentation on Thursday. This is something I need to be thinking about anyway for VT 🙂
There are a lot of different players here (Soros Fdn, a few others that are very actively investing in this space. I will meet them on Thursday after we are on a panel discussion together.)
The AUCA campus is a gorgeous, modern one-building campus. The building is only two-years old. There are around ~1,100 students plus a one-year college prep high school program. Though it is much smaller than VT and private (and currently heavily reliant on donor money), we have many of the same challenges.
Hope you all have a very nice weekend!
Anita R. Walz
Open Education, Copyright & Scholarly Communications Librarian
Library Liaison to Economics, Mathematics, and Legal Studies
arwalz@vt.edu | Tel: 540-231-2204 | Fax: 540-231-7808 | Newman Library 422 | Twitter: @arwalz
Open Educational Resources Guide http://guides.lib.vt.edu/oerVirginia Tech
University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061