As the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic continues, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University has implemented University-wide online for-credit education which started 24th February, with more than 450 learning modules – over 90 percent – conducted online.

“We decided to conduct our education fully online until campus re-opens because of concern for the health of students and staff members,” said Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of XJTLU.

"However, increasing our online education capabilities to complement onsite education, or education provided by an educator physically present with students, has long been part of our path forward.

“The epidemic simply sped up the timeline of our plans to move toward a new learning ecosystem we envision for XJTLU’s future that blends the best of online and onsite education methodologies.”

In anticipation of the amount of data traffic needed to support their delivery, the Centre for Knowledge Information, together with the Education Technology Team, created an online education platform for XTJLU to accommodate simultaneous access for 6,000 to 8,000 students.

Professor Xi said that the University acted swiftly in the past month to minimise the coronavirus’ impact on its students’ education this semester, and departments across the University worked together to overcome challenges and successfully created an improved and upgraded online education platform.

“If not for the coronavirus outbreak, we probably would have needed one or two years to complete a large-scale infrastructure and technological upgrade of this scale,” he said.

The coronavirus epidemic provided the University with the opportunity to accelerate implementation of its online education strategy and training of educators and teams, while also providing students an unprecedented opportunity to realise their responsibilities in the face of crisis and further enhance their internet learning skills, he said.

Yet Professor Xi (pictured below) pointed out that the biggest challenge ahead is how to fully reflect the University’s education philosophies and mission with regard to online delivery.

“We must take this opportunity to explore how to maximize the benefits each learner can get from this process by combining online with onsite education. This will accelerate XJTLU’s exploration of the new learning ecosystem we envision for a future-forward university,” he said.

In the two weeks leading up to University-wide online education, more than 1,400 students participated in an optional online non-credit short-course titled “Developing Global Citizenship.”

While the course was originally scheduled to be delivered in September 2020, its earlier introduction served as a prelude and pilot to the 24th February roll-out of online for-credit modules.

The course was delivered via the University’s online education platform, and included online teaching and student-teacher interaction, group discussions and planning, remote guidance by supervising teachers, and coursework assignments.

Dr Juming Shen of the Institute of Leadership and Education Advanced Development, developer of the course said: “To encourage research-led learning, we asked students to participate voluntarily and form groups, and we provided them with a set of multi-modal learning resources. We also selected supervising educators to guide the students."

To deepen the XJTLU community’s understanding of the University’s education philosophies and role of online education, XJTLU will soon offer a series of lectures and forums to provide guidance for academic staff on how to teach effectively online and students on how to engage in learning online.

XJTLU Online Education Strategy in Three Stages

Professor Xi said that XJTLU has always placed great importance on online education and consistently invested in its development. The University has divided its online education strategy into three stages while enabling the role of online education to constantly evolve.

The University’s plan for the first decade can be summed up as “onsite education-dominated and online education-supported,” Professor Xi said, with its the main purpose to improve XJTLU students’ learning experience.

During this time, the University heavily invested in upgrading its IT infrastructure, purchasing significant quantities of online education resources from across the globe, upgrading campus and classroom equipment and facilities, developing the virtual learning platform and online grade system, promoting education technology and tools, and building digital resources labs. This work was essential to the implementation of online education and also facilitated the effective delivery of classroom education on campus, he stated.

“The rationale was closely related to the University’s positioning,” he said.

“XJTLU aims to deliver superior education to develop elite talents, especially in fields like science, engineering, technology and management that are heavily dependent on the University’s physical environment, such as laboratories, for their effective implementation.

“Therefore, in the first stage, as we established ourselves as educators of top talents in those fields, focussing our investment in modern education technology to upgrade our on-site education was essential.

“Now, in the second stage, XJTLU is greatly expanding our exploration of models for future higher education and University operation in the hope that we can play a role in transforming the higher education landscape of China and beyond.

”The outbreak of the coronavirus has quickened the pace of educational transformation in the University’s current 2.0 stage of online education exploration," Professor Xi said.

In 2017, in response to the new demand for talent in the digital age, XJTLU proposed a new model called Syntegrative Education, which aims to develop industry leaders for future industries with a strong integration of skills and entrepreneurship abilities. This move ushered in XJTLU 2.0.

“Syntegrative Education requires the University to open its arms, embrace collaborators from all walks of society, and increase the openness of the campus and the University’s ability to integrate resources,” Professor Xi said.

“Collaborations within and outside of the University and the combination of online and on-site education will become the hallmark of Syntegrative Education,” he continued.

He further stressed that syntegration is an overall trend in education.

“Education is a different concept from teaching, because technically, the traditional mode of one-way teaching – from teacher to students – can already be replaced by online teaching, but what technology can never replace is education,” Professor Xi said.

“Online education still has a long way to go when compared with face-to-face, onsite education in achieving the goal of ‘transforming and enlightening’ students.”

The integration of online and onsite education will take the University to the next level, Professor Xi said, because when these formats are used together, one boosts the other: Internet resources and technology maximise the value of onsite education; conversely, when synthesized with global online education resources, the University’s physical resources magnify the value of online education, he said.

For effective implementation of the strategy, the University will continue enhancing its specialised education for development of elite talents at the Suzhou campus, while creating a Syntegrative Education environment for industry talent development at the Taicang campus and building a Learning Mall to support the operation of University as well as the studies of internal and external learners.

Establishment of the Learning Mall will be a milestone in this second stage of the University’s online education strategy, Professor Xi said.

Taking advantage of the University’s physical environment and using modern internet technology, the Learning Mall will be an aggregator of world-class online learning resources and their providers, who will be able to set up “shops” and provide learning services with support from the University, Professor Xi said.

The Learning Mall will collect high-quality online education resources from around the world and introduce outside education brands and research resources, he noted. Several prestigious domestic and international education providers and organisations are already signing up, he said.

The Learning Mall will benefit not only XJTLU students, but also learners from all areas of society, Professor Xi said, stating that it will demonstrate a modern education model that truly integrates on-site education with online education and will serve as an example of how a University can facilitate an ecosystem of life-long learning, innovation and entrepreneurship in society.

XJTLU’s online education strategy changed pace because of the University’s ongoing consideration and keen observations of trends related to technology development and the future of education, Professor Xi said.

“During this 2.0 stage of our online education strategy, our educational missions and developmental goals will also be upgraded,” he said.

“We will continue cultivating academic talents and investigate the qualities required of talented individuals in new industries in the age of artificial intelligence, and we will also actively seek to develop industrial talents with strong integration skills and innovative drive.

“This requires us to establish closer ties with industries and society, and online education will surely play a unique role in our collaborations,” Professor Xi said.

He added: “I believe more employees from various industries and students from community and other institutions will join us in embracing the many conveniences provided by online education.”

To amplify the value of education in the digital age, the University will use its world-class campus facilities to upgrade its online education and integrate external online education resources to provide education that can be accessed from anywhere, at any time, Professor Xi said.

The University will become more open and distributed in the future, he added.

XJTLU’s 3.0 stage of online education strategy will consider how to build and support the learning ecosystem Professor Xi envisions as the University’s future.

This learning system includes brands formed on the basis of their educational philosophies, excellence centres built by the University with businesses and organisations that are distributed at locations with unique needs, and high-quality online and offline learning resources collected from throughout the world, he said.

"We expect to play an important role in facilitating the exploration of future education and the formation of an education ecosystem that will encourage people to explore their chosen areas of interest throughout their lives to become innovative and develop the mindset of an entrepreneur, and then enjoy their interest-driven, lifelong learning and innovative life," Professor Xi said.

By Bo Kou
Edited by Tamara Kaup

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