Coronavirus crisis triggers huge growth in online learning

February 24, 2020

With the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic disrupting businesses and quarantining millions, at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University it has also proved the impetus for the roll-out of an accelerated and advanced online learning program, to benefit thousands of students.

While silence hangs over the physical campus of XJTLU at the start of the new semester this week, more than 450 courses are available online, facilitated through an online teaching platform using cutting-edge technology designed to accommodate 6,000 to 8,000 students online simultaneously.

It’s a unique situation, but within the crisis there is an opportunity, says Xudong Feng, the head of the Management Information Technology and System Office at XJTLU, which, along with the Institute of Leadership and Education Advanced Development has created and is delivering the online teaching platform.

“The coronavirus epidemic is a crisis to our society, but also a good chance to promote and develop technology and solutions for online learning and teaching, which is the future direction of education. It will accelerate the pace of XJTLU's massive online education as well,” Feng says.

“The XJTLU online learning and teaching solution provides faculties and students with very similar experience to the classroom. For example, faculties can make full use of the interactive whiteboard, shared notes, screen-sharing, polling and quiz function to enhance the interactive learning and teaching. With the video analytics and reports function, faculty can easily record the attendance.

“In terms of Registry data analysis from all academic departments, the results look positive, with 95 percent of the 490 modules able to provide a certain form or a combination (ICE, Mediasite and BBB) of different forms of online education. And Registry has started to build timetables for the 6-week online education period.

“XJTLU has a unique ecological solution for online learning. I see many other educational institutions use many different public tools like live-broadcasting platforms, but, in comparison to XJTLU, these technologies are not integrated as a whole solution for online learning.”

Ying Chang, of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, one of XJTLU’s online course coordinators, considers the community-wide impact online learning can have.

“The coronavirus epidemic is a national trauma and life event for all Chinese people. The online teaching is a university collective and proactive endeavour to overcome the adverse situation,” Chang says.

“Every student represents a family. Any support we give to the student will indirectly support their family. That's what an educator can contribute to speed the recovery of the whole society. By doing so, we feel closer to the wider Chinese community.

“This is also an opportunity to transform the educator's perception on online education and a great leapfrog towards more engagement-led pedagogy through competence enhancement.

“All of our courses will have a live-streaming introduction to meet students face-to-face and introduce the course. Most staff have taken a training course for online teaching technology. We also have shared with each other online teaching skills based on our past experience teaching such UPD courses.

“We have already developed a culture and community of online teaching educators at XJTLU. I'm very confident that with the advanced platform, XJTLU students will excel in this bounce-back opportunity.

“We want to send a strong message to our students that the whole faculty is back to work and we are working together to support them.”

The introduction of a unique two-week optional online course titled “Developing Global Citizenship” and delivered by ILEAD is another sign of that support. The course, which concluded February 23, provided students with the opportunity to develop their abilities to cope with the coronavirus crisis and improve their awareness of global citizenship.

The course promoted digital literacy and enabled students to discuss with other participants questions on topics such as individual social responsibility and the sustainable development of society under highly uncertain living conditions in such a crisis.

For XJTLU Executive President, Professor Youmin Xi, the epidemic has proved a catalyst; a driver to disruptive innovation which has led to a fast-tracked massive infrastructure and technology upgrade occurring over the course of a month, instead of one to two years.

"In order to ensure the safety of students and campuses, XJTLU’s online education delivery is not a stopgap measure, nor is it simply an alternative to physical education," Professor Xi says.

“In considering future education and the University, according to our 3.0 model, an academic, innovative and distributed eco-system should be developed for lifelong learning, innovation and entrepreneurship based on pursuit of personal interest. Online education and support would be a critical part of the eco-system.”

Professor Xi added that as well as accelerating the process of online education at XJTLU, training teachers and teams, XJTLU students also faced a rare opportunity, not only to improve their sense of responsibility to face the crisis, but also to further exercise and enhance their original relatively strong use of network resources to learn.

By Will Venn

February 24, 2020