Collaboration is essential for learning from and reflecting on our own educational practices as both teachers and learners. A new team of U.S. and Kyrgyz educators and students is working to promote such collaboration in Kyrgyzstan.
With the support of the Central Asia University Partnerships Program (UniCEN), a partnership between the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and Kyrgyzstan’s Ala-Too International University was created: Advancing Collaboration, Teaching, and Learning in Kyrgyzstan (ACTLK). The goals of the ACTLK project areto promote innovation in teaching and learning, help to more closely align Kyrgyz curriculum to workforce needs, and create sustainable networks between the two institutions.
The ACTLK project is headed by Middlebury Institute faculty Anne Campbell and Mahabat Baimyrzaeva and Ala-Too International University faculty member Zhyldyz Tegizbekova. The project is supported by three students: Elmira Usenova and Altynai Kadyrkulova from Ala-Too University, and Kindra Hurlbert from MIIS. Atai Almaz uulu from Ala-Too University also joins the team. Additionally, the ACTLK initiatives are supported by an advisory board of Kyrgyz and American faculty, policymakers, and pedagogical experts, including Jeni Henrickson from Middlebury’s Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry (DLINQ), Martha Merrill, Nurlan Ismailov, Medet Tulegenov, and Beishen Alymkulov.
Trends and Innovations in Education
Funded by the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent and administered by American Councils, a leading international NGO working in the field of international education, UniCEN is working to increase opportunities for collaboration with U.S. and Central Asian higher education institutions. The UniCEN program supports higher education administrators and faculty from the United States and Central Asia, specifically Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The ACTLK team is one of 52 current UniCEN partnerships.
Since the grant was awarded in the summer of 2020, the ACTLK team has conducted research on the limitations of and opportunities for advancing teaching and learning in Kyrgyzstan, built collaborations between students at both universities, and initiated building communities of practice among Kyrgyz instructors. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all weekly team meetings have been on Zoom, where members discuss project plans and changes, and the latest news.
These efforts coalesced in preparing and administering the conference Trends and Innovations in Education 2021 and Beyond, held in Kyrgyzstan in July 2021. The main objective of the conference was to promote and share innovative practices in teaching and learning across Kyrgyzstan. To do this, the team invited faculty applications from the higher educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, resulting in 120 applications from 30 universities. From this group, 25 faculty were selected to share their innovative approaches to online education at the conference, which was held in Issyk-Kol at the Botani Beach Hotel, July 6–8, 2021. MIIS team members were hoping to attend, but the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic required them to participate remotely through prerecorded messages and live sessions.
Continuing to Improve Teaching and Learning across Borders
Although the conference is over, the ACTLK team plans to maintain the community of practice among the attendees with an emphasis on sharing innovative teaching practices. Their efforts include maintaining social media platforms for the community, publishing conference proceedings, and hosting a follow-up conference or seminar in the fall for further reflection.
The ACTLK team members say they are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate, initiate a community of practice, and strengthen ties between the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and Ala-Too International University. ACTLK is just the start of this international partnership and will contribute to ongoing conversations about improving teaching and learning across international borders.