It has been a little over a year since the AACRAO Cuba research team first met, and we have learned a few things in the intervening months. As you may recall from a series of blog posts I did last year, I was representing both ECE and TAICEP within the research group. So I wanted to give back to our professional community and share some of the tips that have helped me with my Cuban research this past year.
The Wayback Machine is a researcher’s best friend. One of the results of the United States embargo/blockade against Cuba is unreliable internet connectivity. It is hard to say whether sites are being actively blocked or the server resources supporting them are limited. But it can impact our ability to do research, particularly when ministry sites are unavailable. The solution, as is often the case in these types of research issues, is to use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. (If you are unaware, the Internet Archive saves copies of websites over time so you can do historical internet research, which has revolutionized the field of credential evaluation, in my opinion. They are always my number one suggestion for research tools in our field.) Not only do they grab copies of relevant sites when they are available, but they also have back-up servers located in Canada. Canada is not part of the sanctions, and they have more access to Cuban websites than we do in the United States. So the Internet Archive servers can save more than we could have ever seen in the first place. I tend to head straight there as soon as I find a Cuban website that might be interesting.
Search across all campuses for curricula. One of the benefits of strong national oversight in higher education is unified curricula. While the newest plans of study have some flexible periods for specific campuses or even personal student choice, the bulk of the program will be determined centrally and shared amongst the responsible campuses. Now one of the problems with evaluating Cuban credentials is that the grade reports do not include hours or credits. And once you have seen the variability within the actual plans of study, you know that it is something you should be using for a detailed evaluation. Since you should be able to use a plan from any campus, you can broaden your search strategy.
Don’t forget to search in Spanish! Their websites are almost entirely in Spanish, and you should use Spanish terms if you want to have more success with your Cuban internet research.
Save everything you find the first time you find it. Because of the issues illuminated above, my final suggestion is to save what you find. Legitimate Cuban resources can be difficult to obtain and even harder to find again later. I recommend you save the resources you find. If the Ministry has a list of institutions, save a copy to your local resources. If you find a curriculum for the newest cohort of nurses, make sure to keep a version where you can access it later. For Cuba, resources are precious and difficult to find in the first place. So make sure you have an internal system to save the information in a place where you can use it again.
A portion of the Cuba group will be presenting on this topic at the AACRAO annual meeting this spring in Los Angeles. So if you have credential questions or just curiosity and will be at the meeting, please join us there.
Martha Van Devender is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools.