Fu Wanrong, Associate Professor, Ningxia Open University
Overseas Based University: the University of Nottingham
Advisor: Mr. Simon McGrath
Study Area: Assessment and Evaluation in Open and Distance Teaching and Learning.
Emphasizing Assessment and Evaluation Assuring the Quality Teaching and Learning
—A Brief Report on My Academic Study in the United Kingdom
First and foremost, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Sino-British Fellowship Trust (SBFI) and the China Scholarship Council (CSC) for their generous support to the training program of distance education in 2005. Without their sponsorship, I would not have had such an excellent opportunity to study in the United Kingdom (UK) for over four months.
I was also indebted to the officials from the Education Section in the Embassy of P.R. China for their kind assistance during my study in the UK.
Many thanks went to the leaders and colleagues from the Open University of China (OUC) and Ningxia Open University (OU Ningxia) for their hard work and support.
As an academic visitor, I really enjoyed my stay at the UNESCO Centre for Comparative Education Research (CCER) of the School of Education at the University of Nottingham from April 16 to August 22. Therefore, I would like to extend my greatest respect and gratitude to Professor John Morgan, Dr. Simon McGrath, my mentor, Dr. Christ Atkin, Dr.John Wallis, Professor Philip Olleson, Dr. Ann Convery, Dr. Gordon Joyes, Mr. Peter Preston, Ms Gill Morgan, Mr. Mark Smith and other colleagues at the Centre. They provided me with good learning support, many valuable academic activities, kind help and guidance, which made my stay in the UK fruitful and successful.
Sponsored by the Sino-British Fellowship Trust (SBFI) and the China Scholarship Council (CSC) for the training program of distance education in the remote areas of China, I was lucky to be dispatched by the Open University of China (OUC) to study in the United Kingdom (UK) for over four months from April 16 to August 22 as a research fellow in distance education. Ms Wu Zhenghong from the OUC and I were based at the UNESCO Centre for Comparative Education Research (CCER) of the School of Education at the University of Nottingham (UoN). During the 4-month study, I mainly did the following:
When I was at UoN, I did a lot of research into the assessment and evaluation methods in open and distance teaching and learning, especially after I visited the Headquarters of UK Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes and its Regional Centre in the East Midlands.
The OU is the world's first successful distance teaching university. It is the UK's largest university, with over 200,000 students. One in five of all part-time higher education students in the UK are studying with the OU. Nearly all students are studying part-time.
The OU has retained its top five ranking of UK universities in the latest national table for teaching quality, ahead of Oxford and University College London for the second successive year according to official judgments of teaching quality made by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in 2004. The mission of the OU is open to people, places, methods and ideas. Courses are available throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world. The distance learning materials produced by the OU have won a very high world-wide reputation for quality. The OU has its main headquarters at Walton Hall in Milton Keynes and has a network of thirteen Regional Centers covering the UK. Staff at Walton Hall is responsible for those elements of learner support, which are common to all OU students wherever they are located. The Regional Centers vary considerably in size. They are responsible for organizing face-to-face tutorials and provide educational advice and guidance to students in the region. The Staff in the Regional Centers is also responsible for recruiting part-time tutors and counselors and for the ongoing monitoring and support of these staff.
Before I came to the UK, I had been wondering why the OU is so influential in open and distance education and how it assures the quality of teaching and learning. After I scanned some websites, read some materials related to the OU and visited the university, I came to realize that one of the reasons why the OU can assure its quality of teaching and learning is that it has watertight assessment, evaluation and examination policies. After collecting feedback from students on course assessment by means of evaluation questionnaires, the tutors in the OU change assessment criteria and rewrite study guide every year. Tutors are trained how to give good feedback or support to students. From tutors' comments, I can see that the tutors in OU have done a lot of hard and demanding work. They do not just give simple comments; rather, they provide much feedback or support, in which they do a lot of explanations -- why students got the grades, what were the problems and how they could achieve better outcomes. By doing so, students can learn from their mistakes they made and improve their learning. As a result, most of the students will not drop out. The OU has strict management of students' assignments. When tutors finish their feedback on students' assignments, the monitors in OU will read their feedback and give comments on the feedback. The final dissertation of a doctorate student is always marked by two tutors. If the two tutors give different marks, the monitor will do the final marking. To guarantee the quality of teaching and learning, the OU does course evaluation work every year. They collect students' feedback by asking them to answer course evaluation questionnaires and analyze them. Then they take actions to improve their work. It is because of their watertight assessment, monitoring and evaluation policies that the quality of teaching and learning in the OU is accredited worldwide.
In addition to the research into open and distance teaching and learning, I also did some studies on initial teacher training, open and combined studies program, further education, on-line courses and eChina Project related to my university.
As a language teacher, I am interested in English language teaching methods. During my study at the UoN, I sat in on different levels of courses, such as English courses in primary and secondary schools, English courses given to international students as a foreign language, initial teacher training courses given to postgraduates, open studies courses delivered to adults and summer school courses given to doctors. From my observation, I noticed that the teaching methods and styles in the UK are quite different from those in China. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantage. If we combine the two different teaching methods in class, I'm sure we can get better teaching and learning effect.
The University of Nottingham is one of Britain's leading research and teaching universities. Very often different kinds of local, national or international meetings on different issues are held in different departments. I attended more than 15 lectures, seminars, conferences, forums, video conferencing, open discussions with regard to adult education, e-learning, special education, English teaching, teacher mobility, etc. From the various meetings, I obtained a lot of information about the developmental trends and achievements in these areas.
In addition, I had interviews with some experts and discussed some important issues with them, such as adult literacy and numeracy in English rural areas, eChina Project, PGCCE, Further Education and National Vocational Qualifications. Their patient explanations helped me have a better understanding of these issues.
Under the careful arrangements made by CCER, I visited some educational institutions, including Heathfield Primary School, Bramcoate Secondary School, Loughborough College, West Nottinghamshire College, the Adult Education Centre of the University of Nottingham in Shakespeare Street, the Headquarters of UK Open University in Milton Keynes and its Regional Centre in the East Midlands. What impressed me most was that these institutions have their own features and orientations, make full use of multi-media techniques and resources and are actively involved in on-line teaching and learning and deliver web-based courses to learners who have difficulties coming to class to have face-to-face tutorials.
At weekends or on holidays I visited some famous scenic spots, such as Sherwood Forest, Lawrence Museum, the British Museum, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Trafalgar Square, etc. which are often mentioned in our textbooks and are the places I have been yearning for. These visits broadened my knowledge of British history.
During the four-month study in the UK, I really enjoyed myself. I had a better understanding of British society, culture and English people. Those academic visits and activities broadened my horizons of academic research. The observation of student-centered teaching method classes benefited me a lot. I got some valuable first-hand materials and information, which would be very helpful to my further study. My English improved, especially in listening and speaking. In addition, my skills in IT developed. In conclusion, my study in the UK was enjoyable and unforgettable. I believed that this kind of experience in the UK would be in my mind forever.
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