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|Exchange of Scholars—Li Yaping|
New Perception on British Open & Distance Education
I am glad that I was given the opportunity to visit the Open University (OU) as an academic visitor for over four months, and study the latest developments in open and distance learning (ODL). My visit was funded by Sino-British Fellowship Trust(SBFT) and China Scholarship Council and the Open University of China. Without the sponsorship of the SBFT, it would have been impossible for me to have a chance to study in the UK, therefore, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Professor Naylor and Mrs. Ely, and other members of the SBFT for their generous support.
I would like to express my thanks to China Scholarship Council , the Open University of China and Guizhou Open University for their kind assistance in arranging this programme.
1. An overview of my activities at the OU
Before coming to UK, I had selected "learner support for distance learning" as the focus of my study. When I arrived in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) of the Open University, as result of my early discussions with the experts, I found that the development of distance learning and E-learning in the OU is expanding quickly and I can look into a wider area of current developments in ODL, areas which are directly applicable to my own work in China. So I adjusted my study plan as follows:
To achieve these aims, I met a number of experts and Sub-Deans of the OU faculties, and made a number of visitations, including
These discussions and visitations were very wide, covering teaching, learning and management issues, which enhanced my insight into the working of a well known institution. These discussions were very important to me because they can be applied to my work in China.
2. Online Resource Design
I collected much information about online teaching and learning. I also read and studied some journals about generic requirements of online course design. As the interface of web site is a key element of usability, where usability means the ease or difficulty with which the user can complete the intended tasks, so I also studied the methods for evaluation interface design for online learning environment.
Table 1 Guidelines for Online Resource Design and Build
Production is achieved by a team of specialists. They spend about 2 years, possibly more, to produce a course at the OU. This includes the production of printed texts, audio-visual materials, specialised computer software, assessment materials, etc. I think the management system for course planning, design, production and presentation, which is largely standardised offers a viable model for course design and production in my university.
3. Course Assessment
In the OU, courses have two assessment components: continuous assessment and an examination. Most courses have assessment throughout the course rather than just at the end.Continuous assessment includes tutor marked assignments (TMAs), computer marked assignments (CMAs) and essays. These assignments serve two main purposes. They help learner to learn and, secondly, they enable the University to judge learners' achievements, whether they meet the requires standards. The work of the learner on assignments and the process of writing it up, helps them to concentrate on important aspects of the course and to consolidate what they have learned.
Table 2 The University Scale
Unless learners are told otherwise, they're expected to submit their assignments through the University's electronic TMA system, not to send them by post or by e-mail to their tutor. Learners will receive a guide to the eTMA system as part of their course materials, and they should follow the instructions in it. Submission by post is acceptable only as a last resort. Learner's tutor will make comments on their assignment and on an accompanying PT3 form (which their tutor will produce as part of the marking process), and send both electronically to Walton Hall (the OU headquarters). Their score is recorded and their assignment and the PT3 are returned to them electronically.
The examinable component for most Open University courses consists of a written examination. The question paper will almost always be an unseen one, but learners receive a specimen paper with their course materials so that learner can familiarize with the appearance of the question paper. The examinable component may be an examination, it may be a piece of work such as a dissertation or a project, or it may include both an examination and other work. It may be written or oral.
Figure 1 How learner's scores contribute to their result
If no substitution has taken place, the preliminary and final overall continuous assessment scores will be the same.
Figure 2 Matrix of result grades for 60-point Certificate courses
If learner's score 40% or more in continuous assessment and complete the examination but fail it, they may be entitled to a resit.
I read some materials about information and communication technologies (ICT) are applied in distance education. I also studied the methods of online testing and assessment. I am interested in IET put forward: four of the "hard" technologies and three of the "soft" technologies. Four of the "hard" technologies are broadland, mobile learning, digital video and on-line voice conferencing. Three of the "soft" technologies are learning objects, personalising electronic systems, assessment of student learning.
I studied some printed-books, viewed various CDs and DVDs, video tapes in mathematics and computing, information technology, and compared them with ourselves. Especially, the courseware and remote lab produced by OU impressed me deeply. In addition, the Mathcad, a mathematic multi-media software , has been used in learning mathematics. This is a computer algebra system (CAS) which can carry out mathematical computations, enables learners to visualise mathematical objects, and so on. The idea is that a CAS should help learners to concentrate on concepts rather that performing repetative calculations. However, as discussed several times by Dr Zand, well known international expert in this area, this is an area which needs much more study and research. In fact it is not always the case that a CAS helps students to undersratnt concepts, because pencil and paper remains a very important element in mathematics learning, whether face-to-face or at a distance. I think this system deserves our attention and we should consider it critically, to see how useful it can be for our students.
Under my adviser's help and arrangement, I interviewed some experts in the department of science and technology to discussed mutual issues about teaching plan, teaching program, examination system, recruiting system and using computer-based simulations for supporting science and technology student at a distance. All of us realize that the simulant lab is a powerful resouce for providing an interactive environment for students to explore real and complex systems. The simulant labs have great educational benefit to distance learners who do not have direct contact with their teachers. They can be used individually, or by pairs/groups of students working collaboratively. We also discussed how to support learner to prevent them from losing.
5. Tutor Training and Management
I also discussed some issues with the experts about the tutor's selection, training and management. As increasing use of the web in higher education and the proliferation of online distance education courses bring with it inevitable changes in the role of distance education tutors. Whereas once they supported their students primarily by telephone and correspondence or in face-to face tutorial sessions, new communication tools such as email, computer conferencing and chat, afford additional opportunities for effective tutoring, but also necessitate the acquisition of new skills, both technical and professional. Moreover, a tutor in an electronic teaching environment need to act as a councellor for learners, as course evaluations at the OU have shown. Course designers incorporating the new communication technologies into distance learning courses need to be able to make assumptions about the skills-set of the tutors who will be e-moderating in them. Upwards of 4000 tutors have be trained by electronic system in the OU.
6. Some Pioneer's Experience in the Distance Education
I also studied a number of articles about e-learning practice, such as "Critical Success Factores for On-line Course Resource", "Eliminaing Barriers for all E-learners", "Using a Virtual Learning Environment in Collaborative Learning:Criteria for Success". In these articles, the authors make useful suggestins based on their experience sand practices. For example:
7. Structure of E-Learning Model
The term e-learning refers to a kind of distance learning where learning and teaching is carried out in a more and more technologised environment. I also analyzed some the structure of e-learning model. I think a possible e-learning model is as follow:
This model can be grouped into at least four different categories: