The Study on the Formation of Modern Distance Education Culture is a Ministry of Education Planning Project approved by the National Office for Education Sciences Planning at the end of 2006. Led by OUC, the Project is to be completed by the teachers and researchers from OUs throughout China. 114 of the 117 sub-projects were undertaken by 23 provincial OUs. Such collaboration has created good opportunities to focus and consolidate research at these universities.
As an application-oriented study, this Project is not centered on concepts. Therefore, various empirical methodologies such as field investigation and action research are employed.
Culture, as a very broad concept, invites numerous studies. Many studies have been conducted on the culture of regular education, especially on campus culture. However, studies on ODE culture are only recently emerging, and there is much scope for future studies. On another front, although there have been studies on Internet culture, not many studies have been done on the culture of online education.
The Resolution of CPC Central Committee on Major Issues regarding the Building of a Harmonious Socialist Society has set forth some clear objectives. In terms of education, we should "comprehensively introduce the quality-oriented education, deepen educational reform, and improve the quality of education." In terms of the nation and society, we should "build a harmonious culture", creating spiritual inspiration for the entire nation, forging spiritual ties of unity and harmony for the whole nation, fostering a civil and moral society, and cultivating an upbeat and healthy mindset. The Project complies with the principles and objectives laid out in the Resolution.
The target of China's educational development in the 11th Five-Year Plan period is the building of a lifelong learning system and a learning society, which will create new opportunities for modern distance education. Lots of problems in the culture of distance education await research and resolution during the process of the popularization of higher education. With over three decades of development, OUs in China have rich and valuable experience. As such, the core philosophy of open education, as well as the values and traditions of teachers and students of OUs in China all need to be collated and reflected upon. Despite the fact that college on-line education has a shorter history, educators and researchers have begun to examine the culture of on-line education that is compatible with the application of modern information technology and lifelong learning. The formation of the specifics and an overall framework of distance education culture are conducive to the development of OUs, the healthy and sustainable development of modern ODE, and the nation's effort in building a lifelong education system and a learning society.
The Project seeks to engage in the theoretical exploration and innovation on the formation of distance education culture. By reflecting upon and summarizing the key elements, the Project intends to develop the fundamental philosophy, principles, guidelines and a roadmap for distance education culture. It also attempts to establish a theoretical framework and to provide a practical model for ODE.
The Project, consisting of nine parts, seeks to explore, construct, and promote the culture of modern distance education on the basis of both theory and practice of OUs as well as of online institutions of regular universities.
- Part I is the study on the values and concepts of modern ODE. It starts with a discussion on the concepts and values of distance education. The findings, after factoring in practical experience, are presented in a set of values that comply with the particular conditions in China, that meet the needs of lifelong learning, and that may guide the future development of ODE. On the subject of the cultural orientation of modern ODE, it starts with the analysis on the cultural attributes of education. Then, it examines the national policy on distance education, the philosophy of distance education providers, the curriculum development and the pedagogical reform of distance education, the administration of distance education, and the learning styles of students. On the basis of the foregoing discussions as well as practical experience, it studies the cultural characteristics and manifestations of modern ODE. On the subject of the educational values of modern ODE, it starts with the analysis on educational values. Then, it seeks to establish the educational values for modern ODE, including the value of distance education to social and individual progress. In particular, it hopes to study and summarize the effects and influence of ODE in the process of the popularization of higher education in China and the formation of the lifelong learning philosophy. On the basis of the foregoing discussions as well as the three-decade-long experience of OUs in China, it analyzes and summarizes the cultural orientation and values of open education.
- Part II is a study on the cultural tradition of modern ODE. Despite that China's modern distance education does not have a very long history, its progress is impressive thanks to the social need, the government's drive, the planning of the educational authorities, and the contributions of the universities, ministries and the private sectors. A cultural tradition has now been established, which deserves due research and summary.
- Part III studies the college culture of modern ODE. College culture is the core of educational culture. This part mainly studies the concepts and the essence of college culture in ODE. Given the breadth of the concept of college culture, it only intends to narrow down the study to such areas as the theories of college culture in ODE, the definition of college culture and college culture in ODE, as well as case studies on the college culture of OUs in China. It also hopes to put forward some practical suggestions. The case studies may incorporate such aspects as the mottos, images, values, and brand recognition of OUs. It includes the study on both the "physical campus" (the material culture) and the "virtual campus" (the virtual culture which is exemplified in the "Cultural Website of OUs", "Online Study Website OUs", "Online Education Platforms", and "Library Network of OUs", etc.) of ODE institutions. It also encompasses study on the teaching culture of ODE institutions.
- Part IV deals with the curriculum culture of modern ODE, with a focus of the concept and definition of ODE curriculum culture and suggestions for future improvements. It includes the studying on the things taught in ODE courses as well as their cultural attributes. The study focus is placed on the process of constructing the knowledge framework of the disciplines and its characteristics, the relationship among the nature and form of knowledge as well as the cultural characteristics. It also involves the study on the physical carrier of ODE courses and its cultural attributes. As ODE courses are delivered by means of multimedia teaching resources, it intends to study the cultural implications and major features of this new format of courses. It studies the culture of ODE course delivery. ODE courses are delivered under the condition of "para-permanent separation" between the teachers and the students. And it hopes to explore the impact and cultural significance of such a format. It also conducts a study on the ODE culture that is based upon the concept of lifelong learning and geared towards the training of practice-oriented professionals.
- Part V is a study on the institutional culture of modern ODE. This part examines the essence and influence of institutional culture and puts forward suggestions for institutional innovation. The study on the culture of the fundamental institutions mainly focuses on the national strategies and policies of ODE. The study of the fundamental ODE institution, a key aspect, includes the study on the educational institution, policies, laws and regulations (such as the Interim Regulations on OUs). The study on the specific ODE institutions mainly encompasses the study on the specific norms of educational behavior, as well as the operational procedures and mechanisms, such as the teaching administrative system, the examination system, and the evaluation system.
- Part VI is a study on the culture of modern ODE learners. Learner culture (student culture) is a key component in the study of educational culture, and ODE learners form a special group of college students. The focus is on the self-study of Chinese ODE learners. A cultural analysis is conducted and suggestions are put forward. The study also includes the study on the social and cultural background of ODE learners. Specifically, the cultural differences between Chinese and foreign ODE learners as well as the cultural differences among Chinese ODE learners who come from diverse cultural, geographical, ethnic and economic backgrounds are examined. It will also involve study on the learning motivations, attitudes, methods, and habits of ODE learners as well as their cultural characteristics.
- Part VII discusses the cooperative culture of modern ODE. As one of the major characteristics of ODE, cooperation (coordination) reflects a key philosophy and culture of ODE. In a market economy, cooperation is usually done through agreement, and an analysis and study could be conducted from this perspective. However, agreement is not everything as cooperation calls for legal formalities as well as mutual trust, commitment and undertaking various responsibilities and obligations. The cooperative culture of modern ODE can be found in many areas and can be studied from the following perspectives. We will study on the necessity and cultural characteristics of internal cooperation within the ODE system, which includes the cooperation of teachers, technicians, administrators, and researchers, the cooperation between learners and teachers, as well as the cooperation among learners and the cooperation among teachers. We will also study on the necessity and cultural characteristics of the cooperation between ODE institutions and regular universities, research institutes, related government departments, and the private sector. A study will also be conducted on the cooperation among ODE institutions as well as between the e-colleges and their parent universities.
- Part VIII is the study on the service culture of modern ODE. Teaching resources and learning support services are constantly referred to as the "two pillars" of ODE. The study focuses on the current condition of learning support services and seeks to put forward suggestions for improvement. The study on the theories of ODE services is conducted. It includes the discussion on the concept and definition of learning support services, the significance of a services-oriented philosophy in ODE, and the implications of a sound services culture to ODE. The study on the timeliness, user-friendliness and the cultural characteristics of ODE learning support services, the study on the formation of a support services culture in the process of ODE delivery, as well as the public services function of ODE and its cultural characteristics are also conducted.
- Part IX is a study on the technological culture of modern ODE. The application of technology is essential as ODE must be realized through media and information technology. The popularization of educational technology creates a good opportunity and provides a solid foundation for the development of ODE. In other words, technology, as a form of culture, is integrated into all aspects of ODE. The study focuses on the cultural factors in the process of technology application. We will conduct some case studies that involve the application of network technology to ODE.
- The Project seeks to establish a fundamental theoretical framework that is different from the Western model, different from the regular higher education, but compatible with China's unique ODE culture. The goal is to identify and formulate a rich and unique "open university" culture that reflects its brand image, characteristics and core values. We will study on the e-colleges attached to regular universities. In particular, we will focus on the cultural underpinnings of these colleges (mottos, teaching styles and learning styles, etc.). These discussions will serve as the guidelines for the development of the ODE culture.
- By now, most of the sub-projects have been completed. The parent project is progressing as planned.