The Chinese Experience on “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning”
Contribution to the “New Type” of Global Education
——The Webinar entitled “How to Keep Students Learning during Schools Disruption in COVID-19 Situation”
Since January 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has rapidly spread worldwide. According to UNESCO statistics, by March 10, nearly 363 million students around the world have been affected by not going back to their schools. In Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America, 15 countries have announced school and university closures nationwide and 14 have announced regional closures. To step up emergency responses and give effective guidance, UNESCO conducted a videoconference of global high education officials on March 10 to share strategies to minimize learning disruption worldwide. China’s Ministry of Education has launched an initiative entitled “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” and published free and open high-quality educational resources that can be chosen by teachers across the country to teach over 270 million students from their homes.
On March 13, 2020, an international webinar entitled “How to Keep Students Learning during Schools Disruption in COVID-19 Situation” was held online during 17:00-19:00 (GMT+8). The webinar was organized by the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University (SLIBNU) and UNESCO International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (INRULED), co-hosted by UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE), Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), International Association of Smart Learning Environments (IASLE), and supported by the global online learning community Edmodo, a subsidiary of NetDragon Websoft Holdings Limited (HKSE: 0777). Several international scholars, educational enterprise representatives and international organizations from different countries and regions were invited to discuss how to effectively apply the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” initiative with the current issues and strategies in different regions.
On behalf of the research project team, Dejian Liu, Co-Dean of SLIBNU and Chairman of NetDragon, and Junfeng Yang, Professor of Hangzhou Normal University, released the Handbook on Facilitating Flexible Learning During Educational Disruption: The Chinese Experience in Maintaining Undisrupted Learning in COVID-19 Outbreak. This handbook was realized by the research team led by Co-Dean Ronghuai Huang and Dejian Liu and discussed seven core elements for providing flexible learning, namely (1) network infrastructure, (2) learning tools, (3) digital learning resources, (4) instructional organization, (5) learning methods, (6) supports and services, and, (7) collaboration between governments, enterprises and schools. Inspired by the united solidarity and innovative experiences of millions of teachers and students, this handbook aims to define the term “flexible learning” with vivid examples and touching stories. Several suggestions are also presented to help international educators and researchers apply similar cases studies in their respective contexts. Mr. Dejian Liu further pointed out that due to the COVID-19, schools in different places postponed the beginning of the new semester. Therefore, in response to the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” initiative, SLIBNU has conducted an academic research team to explore the current situation of online learning during the COVID-19. Meanwhile, NetDragon has started providing high-quality and valuable online educational services for millions of students during the pandemic.
Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE, mentioned that the handbook shared China’s experience of implementing online learning during the COVID-19 outbreak and is expected to help our colleagues around the world. Also, UNESCO IITE would like to invite all the experts and scholars to share more about their experience and strategies of online learning. Natalia Amelina, Senior National Project Officer in Education, UNESCO IITE, stated that UNESCO needs to learn more about the demands of students who are in isolation at home from China, Italy and other countries affected by COVID-19, so they can properly deal with educational challenges in emergencies.
Prof. Mohamed Jemni, ICT director of ALECSO, and Dr. Koutheir Khribi, assistant professor of Computer Science, mentioned that ALECSO is helping many teachers and students in the Arab region to better conduct online teaching during the COVID-19 outbreak by sharing open educational resources via ALECSO hub and producing MOOCS and training programs.
The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) announced the suspense of all schools and universities during March 5-15, 2020. The Assistant Prof. Fabio Nascimbeni, living in Italy, introduced the situation of schools in Italy and emphasized on the importance of active teaching, rigorous leadership and cautious policy-making. He also shared some information about online education services such as MIUR (Pagina sulla didattica a distanza – Covid-19) and INDIRE (Assistenza per l'emergenza sanitaria Covid-19).
Spain announced the suspense of all K12 schools for two weeks. Daniel Burgos, Professor of Educational Technology at the Universidad International de La Rioja (UNIR)-Spain, proposed to apply online learning by covering two aspects, namely “learning analytics and personalized learning” as well as “informal and formal comprehensive open science”. He also presented case studies of using learning analytics to provide both descriptive and predictive online support services.
The Korean government has required schools at all levels to set up online classes and arrange preview assignments. Online teaching is also carried out via online learning platforms, Educational Broadcasting Systems (EBS) and campus social networks. Prof. Okhwa Lee of Chungbuk National University, Korea, summarized the challenges in face of the first large-scale school suspension in Korea, including lack of face-to-face classes, regulations for online learning and sufficient training. Currently, KERIS, Korea MOOCs and other online teaching resources are being utilized in Korea.
In Iran, schools and educational organizations at all levels are required to suspend classes until March 20. Iran’s Minister of Education urged students, who cannot go to school, to learn via educational programs broadcasted on TV. Mr Said Dahdahjani stated that Iranian teachers and students are familiar with online teaching and they are using devices like smart phones to carry out classes, assignments and evaluation.
In the United States, a number of well-known universities have also announced school closures. Several universities including, Harvard University, MIT, Columbia University, Princeton University, New York University, Washington University, Seattle University, University of Southern California and Stanford University have published notices of online teaching and examinations on their websites. Prof. Kinshuk, Dean of University of North Texas, U.S. said that the University of North Texas had adopted a series of measures to control the pandemic, including reducing the number of students attending on-campus activities, as well as providing on-time technical support when needed.
The Moroccan Ministry of Education announced the suspension of all universities in Morocco since March 16 till a further notice. Prof. Khalid Berrada of Cadi Ayyad University from Marrakech, Morocco, mentioned that teachers are now providing online teaching using several platforms, such as Moodle and YouTube.
The Prime Minister of Romania announced the suspension of K12 schools and vocational schools from March 11 to 22. Prof. Gabriela Grosseck from West University of Timisoara shared the online campus system in Romania, including the management system of teachers. Additionally, Prof. Carmen Holotescu from Ioan Slavici University of Timisoara, Romania, mentioned that the Ministry of Education and other relevant departments in Romania had collaborated with schools to give them guidance on how to apply online learning. Various public services were provided, such as digital materials, TV channels and Open Educational Resources. Additionally, online learning communities had also been built via Edmodo.
Jianhua Zhao, Professor of Southern University of Science and Technology, China, and Senior Expert of International Centre for Higher Education Innovation (ICHEI) under the auspices of UNESCO, introduced how to arrange course structure and organize online discussion in online classrooms. He summarized the lessons learnt during the pandemic, such as students' online learning methods, the advantages of online teaching, and the teachers' role in personalized environment.
Prof. Carol Chan and her colleague Prof. Xiao Hu from the University of Hong Kong, China, introduced the current situation of online learning in Hong Kong in terms of online learning tools, online discussions and resources. Teachers in Hong Kong are now adopting the strategy of synchronous and asynchronous teaching with different kinds of tools, resources and big data to better carry out online learning.
Amy Leung, representative of Edmodo, China, mentioned that during the period of implementing online learning in Hong Kong, the registration on Edmodo has doubled. Edmodo can meet the demand of online teaching, helping students to communicate with each other more efficiently online, but also overcome geographic restriction by providing a platform for communication, cooperation and tutoring of global K-12 students and their teachers. Edmodo not only help teachers to share contents, assignments and tests, but also communicate with students and their parents in time. Phyills Zhang, representative of ClassIn Online Classroom of Empower Education Online Ltd. (EEO) also stated that ClassIn would provide free services for all the countries worldwide during the COVID-19 outbreak.
At the end, Prof. Ronghuai Huang, Dean of SLIBNU, gave a summary of the webinar. He pointed out that this global event is a good opportunity to reconsider the applied educational “methods” by involving educators, parents and society, especially since UNESCO has published Rethinking Education：Towards a Global Common Good in 2015. Dean Huang further mentioned that the webinar provided a solid ground to learn from each other during the COVID-19 and highlighted the following concluding remarks.
First, it is a global opportunity to define “future education”. The COVID-19 outbreak has spread so fast that the imbalance of ICT implementation and skills between different regions, cities and rural areas can be a challenge. However, despite this imbalance, as well as the difference in society, economy and culture, all the countries and regions are providing online education. This will promote students and teachers to think over the mode of future education.
Second, online learning, unlike traditional classrooms, is a new type of education featured with flexible teaching and active learning. Amid the suspension of plenty of schools across the world, flexible teaching and active learning can ensure the “undisrupted learning” of students. The Chinese experiences have shown that there were seven core elements to ensure large-scale online learning, namely reliable ICT infrastructure, suitable learning resources, friendly digital learning tools, convenient instructional devices, personalized learning methods, flexible instructional organization, effective supports for teachers and learners, as well as close collaboration between government, enterprises and schools.
Third, Human life is very important during the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, physical, mental and health safety are the primary concern for students and parents. Also, the relationships between human beings, environments, societies including virtual ones in cyberspace should be taken into consideration.
Fourth, this is an important test for inclusive education. It is necessary for the government and society to allocate educational services in a balanced way by considering students with special needs, providing equal learning opportunities for both rich and poor families and for students from urban and rural areas. These services include learning resources, authoring tools and platforms.
Fifth, this is a special period where we can see the importance of ICT in Education. This is further seen in China where teachers made use of ICT in schools, including the development of digital resources, and online teaching. This large-scale online learning practice is expected to be an important opportunity to promote educational transformation through ICT. It can further improve the ICT literacy of teachers and students, optimize schools’ ICT environments, and transform educational concepts and teaching methods.
Since January 28, 2020, SLIBNU and CIT lab have set up a volunteer research team to carry out research in support of “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning”. The research team made videos of “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” cases during the COVID-19 outbreak in China; organized the webinar entitled “Utilizing AI and Cyberlearning to Facilitate “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning; conducted research on public opinion of international educational during the COVID-19 outbreak; released the Handbook on Coronavirus Prevention Guidelines (Multilanguage) worldwide; provided services for the online education in “Smart Education Demonstration Area” and “Three Rural Districts, Three Rural Counties in China”; organized 27 scientific and technological platforms and enterprises to jointly launch initiatives to guarantee the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning”; arranged and released the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” resources and guidebooks via CIT lab official accounts; and conducted public broadcasting to improve teenagers’ core literacy in information technology.