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Online education eyes higher quality and future expansion

Author  :  WANG XU     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-05-13

At his home, Li Tao, a PE teacher based in Beijing, instructs students in eye exercises via an online course. Photo: Zou Hong/CHINA DAILY

Since this spring semester, schools across China have turned to online classes due to COVID-19. Colleges, universities, secondary schools and primary schools have all participated. The Ministry of Education called for classes to continue during school shutdowns and for active teaching via online education. All teachers have promptly adjusted their teaching solutions in preparation for recorded and live interactive courses. The extensive adoption of the “internet plus teaching” pattern is a huge test for the country’s online education system and a valuable opportunity for its rapid development. As such, we must discuss ways to promote online learning and strive for higher quality. 

To create online courses, schools have established diverse new curricula. The overall situation is satisfying as schools have used various online teaching platforms and introduced a wide range of teaching approaches. Renowned universities have provided high-quality courses while other schools have offered convenient and accessible small group classes. Teachers have innovated to overcome the unprecedented challenge of online education, considering the nature and content of different courses and the varying demands of students.

Online courses can fall into three categories. Recorded courses are convenient for independent learning or repeated viewing, but they are not suitable for addressing the questions and issues of individual students. In face-to-face courses, students gather to learn. Some schools adopt the one-to-one teaching pattern. These courses are time-sensitive and audience-targeted. Live interactive classes only occur once, and thus are not a perfect choice for wide-coverage. In addition, the features of online and off-line courses can be combined. This approach allows for asynchronous teaching and synchronous questions and answers. Teachers can lecture on key knowledge while solving students’ problems in a targeted manner. 

Remote education requires students to master the skills of self-directed learning. In the internet era, neither schools nor parents should dismiss electronic devices. They must know how to guide students to use the internet and electronic devices in home-based learning. Unlike physical classes, online teaching is more demanding in terms of parental assistance, students’ self-discipline and students’ proficiency in self-directed learning. Parents need to be more involved.

Online courses have turned out to be more suitable for older students with better self-regulation and higher proficiency in self-directed learning. Keeping goals and questions in mind, students can choose online resources for their learning content. Videos, books, materials and supplements, such as assignments, discussions and tests, are boons to independent learning. This process tests the ability of students to discipline themselves, study, think, innovate and expand their own knowledge base. Some students can make good use of electronic devices, such as mobile phones and computers, as a medium of learning, but some students who lack self-control may use these tools for games and entertainment. 

Primary and secondary school students often perform poorly when regulating themselves, so they need teachers to interact with and supervise them via online classes, or parents to help out. Students are used to attending lessons in the classroom and taking notes based on what teachers write on chalkboards. For some recorded courses, most primary school students don’t know how to take notes, summarize or review. Tightened tutoring requirements ask parents to formulate a learning to-do list on a daily basis, guide children to take part in online classes, and assist them to finish school assignments and review learning content. In most cases, only if the parents of younger students take up the major responsibilities of teachers and cooperate with schools will online learning become more effective.

Online education has motivated teachers to change teaching models. Widespread online learning pushes teachers to change teaching models, expand teaching ideas and innovate with teaching approaches, thus improving teaching effectiveness. Before the pandemic, colleges and universities had pressed ahead with the concepts of the outcome-based education (OBE) theory. This move has made teaching tasks more challenging, more extensive and more profound, in the hope of converting students’ passive learning into active learning. The recent nationwide adoption of online courses has sped up the process. 

Facing online education, teachers have found it necessary to update their teaching concepts. Some teachers are unfamiliar with the internet and electronic devices. Some teachers may have little experience producing online courses. They have encountered major obstacles and difficulties in the emergent situation as all classes have been moved online, meaning that teachers, no matter what career stage they are in, must keep pace with the times. Complacency is not enough.

Online learning pushes teachers to update teaching methods. The popularization of mobile phones, tablets and 5G networks has invited the era of comprehensive media and informatization. The application of electronic products, apps, software and other tools are reaching further into our lives and work. Teachers should as soon as possible accept and understand these fields so that they can serve their courses with new teaching methods and achieve ideal teaching outcomes. 

Online education requires online platforms to cement their service capabilities. Schools’ nationwide adoption of online education tests China’s network infrastructure, online education platforms and curriculum reform. In 1999, China started steadily developing online courses since its early promotion among universities. The Chinese University MOOC platform alone provides the public with over 1,000 courses from over 600 Chinese universities. These online courses targeting university students have grown in terms of scale, and many multimedia teaching platforms have been created and used. Over the last several years, primary and secondary school online courses have thrived as well. The country has gradually formed a teaching management pattern under a mature network environment. Meanwhile, it has attracted a tidal wave of investment, boosting the construction of educational informatization.

Online education has stimulated network platforms to enhance the traffic carrying capacity of teaching platforms. During the epidemic, enterprises such as Alibaba and Tencent have been a big help for remote learning, while online platforms, represented by Dingding, have tackled the surging quarantine-fueled demand for online courses. However, there have been flaws such as frequent server hangs and insufficient network capacity. Service providers and network platforms need to improve service capabilities. 

Furthermore, management departments need to draft blueprints for online courses. Large-scale online teaching has exposed many problems, such as network connectivity issues in poverty-stricken areas, poor students’ lack of electronic devices, some platforms’ insufficient traffic capacity, dissatisfying course quality, outdated teaching methods, and an excessive number of learning platforms. In the future, departments should standardize online course platforms, enrich the course system and improve teaching quality. There is immense potential for free public classes and paid classes. These measures can maximize the use of educational resources as well as motivate teachers.

In recent years, the wider internet coverage and greater vigorousness of the “internet plus education” model had been attributed to the rapid technological development of the mobile internet, 5G and cloud platforms, the production of excellent courses in universities, and the emergence of internet use habits such as short videos and live-streaming broadcasts. Online teaching meets the basic learning needs of schools, teachers and students while maintaining the normal operation of China’s educational system. Moreover, it has encouraged teachers to access and learn online education. All these factors are pushing online teaching toward a more promising future. 


Wang Xu is a lecturer from the School of Dramatic Arts at Shenyang Normal University.


(Edited and translated by MA YUHONG)

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