Quán lì yǐ fù: Delivering online teaching in China

This blog is the first in a series of posts covering our delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU).

The RAU have had a partnership arrangement with SDAU for many years and our academics teach on a number of Food and Real Estate Management courses at the University. In normal circumstances our academics, some of who are RAU staff members and others who are external lecturers, would fly out to China and spend several weeks teaching the students in a classroom setting. [You can read more about my 2019 visit to China to teach on the English for Academic Purposes course.] It is great experience for both the students and the academics.

Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)

Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU)

As Covid-19 progressed and we headed towards lockdown it became apparent that sending people over to China in June was not going to be possible and we needed a different approach. This realisation came around the same time that we were pivoting all our onsite courses to online and a solution was needed that could be implemented both quickly and with as little resource as possible.

We were already in discussions with the Jisc team regarding TNE provision in relation to a new partnership with another Chinese institution, so we contacted them to ask for guidance and support.  Mailing lists also proved invaluable and we began to monitor what other institutions in a similar predicament were doing.

The initial decisions made were:

  • That a Learning Technologist support person would be required to project manage the delivery as the existing RAU team would not be able to cover the work. An advert went out for someone to fill this role.
  • That in this particular case content was key and that in order to fulfil our teaching obligation we would need to start collecting content as soon as possible. It was agreed to pre-record this content using Panopto, our existing video content management system and the tool we were already using for lecture delivery. This content would need to be delivered to the students either in class (if they returned to University) or at home.
  • That this content would need to be complemented with an opportunity for students to interact with the academics delivering the lectures. This could be done using an asynchronous mechanism (such as chat) or some form of online webinar. The solution would clearly need further investigation, possible options were Zoom, WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp), Office365 (Teams).
  • That various services would need to be tested. Due to the restrictions of the great firewall of China some technologies are known to be blocked (for example YouTube and Facebook) while others are unreliable. The restrictions are a movable feast and can be changed with little notice. Some tools such as WeChat have significant security implications. The Comparitech site monitors the status of sites in China to check if they are blocked.

There were also many other questions including:

  • How would we work with the SDAU team? What would be the division of labour?
  • What about assessment? How would it be delivered and marked?
  • What about training for the academics? This was particularly pertinent for the external academics who didn’t currently have RAU accounts and weren’t familiar with our tools.
  • How would we translate the onsite timetable to online?
  • How would teaching be assessed?

Quán lì yǐ fù is a Chinese idiom that means to give something your all. Its literal translation is to “exert all your strength for a goal”. Given the tight timeline for this work we really needed to exert all our remaining strength and start thinking very creatively about routes forward.

In the next post we will talk about the first steps in collecting content and initial investigations in to interactive sessions.

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