As a service organization based on a new compound model of international Chinese distance education, we continue the heritage of open curriculum and distance learning. Building on the foundation established by the Open University of China (formerly China Central Radio and Television University), we facilitate Chinese linguistic and cultural learning, construct multi-media teaching resources, implement distance education and overseas broadcasts, and provide relevant support and research.
1. Historical Role
The history of Chinese language education at The Open University of China (OUC) is only fifteen years old, just one quarter of the sixty-year history of Chinese language education in the People’s Republic of China and only one half of the thirty-year legacy started by the Radio and Television University. Yet its development is the epitome of the growth of Chinese language distance education. It embodies thecombination of China’s modern information technology sector with international Chinese language education, serving as model for OUC’s continuing internationalization.
1.1 A leader in combining information technology with Chinese linguistic and cultural education overseas
In 1996, China’s State Council Information Office and Ministry of Education (formerly the State Education Commission) decided to launch television-based Chinese language instruction in North America through SCOLA satellite television, providing curriculum resources and teaching aids for Chinese language educators. This drew open the curtain for China using modern information technology to launch Chinese linguistic and cultural education overseas. With its modern technology, rich teaching resources, and experience in distance education, OUC was honored to undertake the responsibility of implementing this significant project. Unlike previous endeavors, this program’s goal is: “To implement Chinese distance language education aimed and overseas non-native Chinese speakers.”
SCOLA is a non-profit educational television service used by over 400 universities and 7,000 high schools in North America. In addition, its third channel (SCOLA III) serves as its “All-Chinese Teaching Channel.” For this project, OUC established a special “Chinese Language Television Education Program Production Center,” which has broadcasted about 300,000 minutes of programs, including China Panorama, a large-scale series for learning Chinese language, Easy Chinese, a short-term intensive learning program, as well as Time to Talk Chinese, a series of family-based learning programs. These programs were then broadcasted by over a dozen overseas platforms, including CNN, TVB, MultiChoice, ICN, IPTV, and others.
1.2. Building digitized multi-media Chinese language learning resources
The rapid development of the Chinese economy has catalyzed a demand for Chinese linguistic and cultural education overseas, but the supply of qualified teachers and educational resources has proved a bottleneck for development. We have fully endowed new products with the fruits of curriculum research, transforming what once were simple audio and video recordings into multi-media teaching resources. Considering the diversity of various groups, learning goals, and learning methods, we have studied and researched localized learning resources, the contents of which touch upon all aspects of Chinese linguistic and cultural learning. China Panorama was transformed into a set of multi-media Chinese learning materials. Published and used by teaching institutions in over 30 countries and regions around the world, it has earned copyrights in both France and Korea. Easy Chinese is now available as composite media (books plus DVD and CD) in both China and Korea. Chinese Language Video for the Classroom assists overseas Chinese language teachers to demonstrate vivid images and enhance the effects of classroom teaching. The newly developed Success with New HSK has received positive feedback across the market. Journey Through China and Exploring Chinese Culture have been listed in “China’s Key Promoting Publishing Projects.” Journey Through China is one of the first projects of the National Publication Fund, and Exploring Chinese Culture has been awarded many national prizes, including the National Excellent Educational Audio and Video Products Second Place Award.
We have developed over 30 multi-media teaching resources for Chinese language acquisition, including broad-spectrum learning systems, short-term intensive curricula, and materials for young children, secondary students, business learners, travelers, and those preparing for the HSK. Specialized auxiliary teaching resources cover pronunciation, grammar, and character memorization. We will continue to develop Chinese cultural education materials in English, French, Thai, Korean, German, and other languages. Besides textbooks, cassette/CD/MP3 recordings, video tapes/VCD/DVD/MP4, CD-ROM software, and online courseware, we have developed new media educational resources based on the characteristics of target participants, creating apps for mobile learning on platforms such as the iPad/iPhone and other smart phones, as well as pioneering reading point pens that do not require users to change their traditional reading habits.
1.3 Cooperatively establishing the world’s first online Confucius Institute
In 2005, China’s State Council issued its “Notice on the 11th Five-Year Plan and Making the Chinese Language Popular in the World,” proposing that “teaching methods shift from paper-based materials to a multi-media teaching orientation by incorporating modern information technology.” This is the advantage of Radio and Television University, and serves as an opportunity to develop distance learning for Chinese language education.
With the support of Hanban, in May 2006, OUC and Michigan State University set up the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University, which is the world’s first online Confucius Institute.
The Institute’s bilateral cooperation also benefits from information technology, which allows for communication between geographically isolated regions and enables its “storefront” cooperative model. More specifically, the American side is the “storefront” responsible for organizing teaching operations and relaying educational needs, while the Chinese side is the “factory,” using technology and local Chinese language teaching expertise to develop new educational materials. Especially for this endeavor, OUC established the Confucius Institute China Study and Research Center, responsible for the design, research, and development of curriculum resources for the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University.
Chinese Your Way, designed for Chinese language teaching at American high schools, was named an “Excellent Chinese Teaching Material” by the Confucius Institute Headquarters in 2008. Exploring Chinese Culture and Character of the Day, which are suitable for American learners, have received good user approval. Since 2007, the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University has been honored for three consecutive years as an “Advanced Confucius Institute” by the Confucius Institute Headquarters.
1.4 Solidly developing the exploration and implementation of Chinese language distance education
For over ten years, we have conducted research overseas, kept extensive contact with foreign educational institutions, media organizations, publication institutions, and satellite operators, and explored opportunities to use multiple channels of communication for mutual interaction and the spread of Chinese language education. In 2006, OUC proposed that Hanban combine satellite television and online broadcasts to provide a teaching resources and support services platform for the Chinese language distance education efforts of Confucius Institutes and Chinese teaching organizations overseas. After two years’ research and preparation, in 2008, OUC independently began to develop an online platform for Chinese language distance education and customer service. Meanwhile, it researched the topic of “Exploring and studying Chinese language distance learning methods for foreigners” in an attempt to reach both practical and theoretical breakthroughs.
2. Implementing the concept of open education
In 2006, the “Chinese Language Education Television Programs Production Center” was renamed to the “Chinese Language Center.” This signified that OUC’s Chinese language education had shifted priorities from resource construction to Chinese language distance education that relies on modern educational technology, in turn providing a wider range of teaching services.
2.1 Experimental trials of advanced international education technology
Targeting the needs of overseas users, our Chinese language education has experimented with teaching and learning resources on multi-media terminals. For instance, in order to address the situation that Chinese language teachers overseas lack multi-media teaching resources and uniform teaching levels, we have developed a “shine fun pen” that can display text, pictures, sounds, and images simply by connecting it to a television or projector. Without changing traditional reading habits, teachers can easily launch classroom teaching with multi-media resources. Even instructors who lack Chinese proficiency can lead a good language class. Aiming to capitalize on Apple products’ popularity among young people and white-collar workers, we have developed auxiliary learning materials for iPod, iPad, iPhone, and other cellphones. Built for the iOS operating system, the French and English versions of the “Kid Ballads” and “Time to Talk Chinese for Children” teaching materials have exceeded over 30,000 downloads from the App Store. In addition, E-Campus, a virtual learning community, uses social network sites to facilitate Chinese language learning. It enables teacher-student communication, mutual interaction, assignment submission and revision, activity organization, online communication among Chinese language learners around the globe, as well as capabilities like eAsk.
2.2 A drive for distance education: the “Going Out” of Chinese language learning
According to statistics, there are about 40 million Chinese language learners in the world, and an additional 1.4 million Chinese language instructors are needed to meet their demands. The total number of teachers from China sent abroad annually through various channels is less than 10,000. More efficient methods are needed to close such a huge gap. The advantage of distance education lies in the ratio and efficiency of “inputs” and “outputs.” Over 120,000 OUC faculty and staff have helped more than three million registered students meet their educational needs, reflecting the efficiency of distance education. The “Going Out” method of distance education is a good approach in terms of integrating qualified teachers, experts, teaching resources, and learning methodologies.
In 2008, we launched the “MyEChinese Distance Chinese Teaching System” with the aim of offering a global service called “MyEChinese” (http://s.myechinese.com) to Chinese language learners and those interested in Chinese culture, providing learning resources and supplementary materials as well as distance learning support services to those involved in Chinese linguistic and cultural education. The “MyEChinese Teacher Training” (http://t.myechinese.com) serves global Chinese language instructors around the globe, preparing teachers and volunteers, providing training and access to various careers, facilitating vocational training and lifelong learning, and offering teaching auxiliary support services. “E-Campus” (http://i.myechinese.com) provides a virtual community service to global Chinese language learners, teachers, and other Chinese speakers and relevant individuals. We have also developed a new HSK test preparation and practice test system (http://hsk.myechinese.com).
In 2010, at the Tenth International Conference on Chinese Language Pedagogy and Fifth Confucius Institute Conference, MyEChinese received praise for its design concept based on ubiquitous learning, developing a teaching method especially suited for Confucius Institutes around the globe and their abundant multi-media teaching resources. The system’s teaching demo class was honored as an “Innovative Demo Class” by Hanban and the Confucius Institute Headquarters.
2.3 Exploring the scalability of Chinese language distance education and service methods
Drawing on open education concepts from home and abroad, and in the continuous promotion of Chinese linguistic and cultural education, wegradually formed the MyEChinese model, integrating and spreading distance learning, lectures, tests, learning support services, and offline educational services. It provides educational content services and digital publications through various distribution channels, such asinternet, radio and television, mobile communications, and learning terminals, forming a seamless and accessible environment to learn andobtain information. It allows for acquisition of a vast amount of information, resources, and support regardless of time, place, user, equipment, or method.
Building on this foundation, we pay close attention to cooperation with international distance education institutions. We have already established or are negotiating cooperation with such institutions in France, Britain, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Australia, USA, and Canada. In order to localize fully through partner institutions and to enter the educational systems of each country, we have jointly launched distance education for Chinese linguistic and cultural learning as well as for Chinese language teachers training.
In order to capture the efficiency of distance education, we also take advantage of the Distance Education Publishing Group of OUC to integrate educational content, learning services, and digital publication, designing the “MyEChinese Distance Education and Publishing System.” Because of the project’s aforementioned integration, and because it has explored the establishment of relevant operation models, it has become a breakthrough project across multiple major industries. It was listed by the General Administration of Press and Publication as a Key National Digital Publications Program for the period of the “11th Five-Year Plan.” And in May 2011, it was approved for entry into the Publication Reform and Development of National Press Project Library.
2.4 Advanced pedagogical concepts and modern education technology: the construction of Chinese language teaching resources and the bridgeof expert instructors
We already enjoy a team that combines teaching resource construction, digital media research and development, and marketing and promotions, including staff with backgrounds in Chinese language instruction, foreign language instruction, education technology, information technology, marketing and sales, media technology, journalism and communications, and more. We can be engaged in or organize distance education, teaching support, multi-media teaching resource construction, face-to-face training and communication, internet and broadcast media management and marketing, overseas market expansion and sales, and multi-media technological research and development, thanks to the unique talents and capabilities of our special team within the field of international Chinese language education.
We are currently implementing the concept of “deep integration of education and technology” while building a bridge for advanced educational concepts, modern education technology, Chinese language teaching resource construction, and instructional implementation, in turn displaying proper teaching resources through relevant media. With suitable methods for the manifestation of proper teaching content, this will provide suitable media and education resources for Chinese linguistic and cultural education in various teaching environments. This team will serve as the jewel of OUC’s engagement in international Chinese language education.
3. Unique characteristics
The international Chinese language education of OUC has developed quite differently from that of other universities. Within a decade, it has made innovative contributions that benefited from the implementation of the “Going Out” strategy of Chinese linguistic and culturaleducation, the development of modern information technology, and the experience and ideas derived from open education. That the university entrusted this team with a mechanism for self-development and a sense of social responsibility was also an important factor.
3.1 A courageous exploration: subject development and a national undertaking as the team’s mission
China first endowed OUC with the educational task of launching overseas Chinese language instruction. But the OUC Chinese Language Centerhad a deep realization about how it could benefit traditional instruction and teaching content through the concept of multi-media distance education and technological advantages. Seizing the opportunity and entering from the position of deep integration between modern information technology and Chinese foreign language instruction, it enabled several transformations: educational media shifted from radio and television to the internet, learning resources developed from scattered individual sources to the combination of different learning platforms, and educational resource construction evolved from simple materials to Chinese language distance education. The Center has pioneered much that others have not. With various attempts at different explorations, there have been both successes and shortcomings. But thanksto the team’s sense of mission to develop international Chinese language education, education technology reform, and China’s educational opening, their tenacity never failed, allowing for the successes seen today.
For this sense of mission, aside from exploring the integration of international Chinese language education and distance open education, we pay great attention to the development and exploration of adhering to the laws of economics in the market of overseas Chinese languageeducation. During the period of the “11th Five-Year Plan,” we seized the opportunity created by the development of the Chinese economy,capitalizing on the surging number of Chinese language learners overseas and the construction of Confucius Institutes around the globe. Through comprehensive surveys of overseas demand and the construction and integration of fundamental teaching resources, we have made a commitment to placing learners at the center, using overseas demand as the orientation, and focusing concepts on open education and ubiquitous learning. With self-orientation, self-planning, personnel training and team building, we have not only accomplished a national undertaking, but have also started down a new, self-operating, positively reinforcing path.
3.2 Using distance education to solve the bottleneck problem of international Chinese language education and promotion
The MyEChinese distance education system, which we are currently constructing, serves not only learners of Chinese language and culture, but also teachers, educational institutions, and other related individuals. We not only provide educational content, but also teaching resources, educational services, and relevant educational support, building an environment for the learning and exchange of Chinese language and culture. With an operational method of integration, cooperation, and sharing, MyEChinese is delivered and issued through various channels, including satellite, internet, mobile communication, and publications. This design considers not only the realization of Chinese language distance learning and international Chinese teacher training – it also addresses the issues of learning, localization of educational resources, marketing, and delivery. The three major bottleneck problems of international Chinese language education are solved by innovatively taking advantage of technological development and present achievements. Its operational model is linked to international standards; therefore, it has huge international marketing potential. This is just a reflection of OUC’s teaching ideas with regard to international Chinese language education.
3.3 Using overseas communities and markets to orient the construction of a model for teaching, cooperation, and operation
Our Chinese language instruction has always been oriented towards overseas communities, and its marketing is oriented towards overseas groups learning Chinese language and culture, as are its multi-media teaching resources, distance learning model, cooperative model, and operational model. It has benefited from the advantages of distance learning, which make our Chinese language instruction fundamentally different from that of other universities. With independent intellectual property rights, the resources and services of MyEChinese have reached more than 100 countries and regions in the world since the start of operations in 2010. With worldwide competition, the MyEChinese website has come out at the top of rankings for daily visitor volume within the industry. MyEChinese has already become an influential brand for Chinese language learning overseas.
3.4 Viewing the bottleneck problems of developing international Chinese language learning through the lens of educational ecology
Facing the three bottleneck problems of “teachers, teaching materials, and teaching methods” that hinder Chinese language instruction and international promotion, we need not only to find a path for implementation, but also to find a foundation within educational theory. From the study of educational ecology and ubiquitous learning, we consider learning to be pervasive, an ecological system integrating physics, society, information, and technology in multiple layers and dimensions. It makes compatible all elements and features of modern learning: E-learning, M-learning, lifelong learning, as well as distance education. We strive to connect educational institutions, workplaces, families, and other communities, providing an information acquisition system that is multi-dimensional, seamless, and accessible. Thatcreates a learning environment for teachers, managers, servicers, those interested in Chinese Culture, and anyone else, allowing them to obtain information, resources, and learning support regardless of user, time, place, method, or equipment.
Our MyEChinese distance education platform system is currently prepared for the following: First, to provide Chinese language and culturelearning resources and learning support service for Chinese language learners at home and abroad; Second, to provide curriculum resourcesand learning support services the pre-arrival training and continued training of Chinese language instructors; Third, to provide teachingresources and distance educational support service for Chinese language teaching institutions at home and abroad; Fourth, to provide resource transaction mechanisms and platforms for publication and media communication groups that possess qualified resources at home and abroad; Fifth, to provide a platform where learners and teachers can share useful learning, teaching, and supplementary resources. It will become an important platform for providing OUC’s services to those who spread Chinese language and culture abroad, both in terms of educational resources and services.