altLi Zhihong, Associate Professor, Vice-president, Chengdu Open University
Overseas Based University: the University of Nottingham
Advisor: Prof. John Morgan
Study Area: lifelong education and distance education, the trend of globalization of distance education, construction and application of multimedia in web-based English teaching, and the quality in web-based teaching procedure



E-Learning and Quality Pursuing


My particular thanks go to Sino- British Fellowship Trust (SBFT), the China Scholarship Council and the Open University of China, as it is impossible for me to have the opportunity to study in the UK for more than four months without their support. Specially I would express my sincere thanks to Professor W. J. Morgan and his secretary Gill Morgan and the colleagues from the Centre for Comparative Education Research, School of Continuing Education who have arranged everything for me and enabled me to complete my study in the UK on the campus of the University of Nottingham as a base and from whom I benefited a lot. I also would like to take this opportunity to extend my appreciation for my colleagues in the Open University of China who arranged the project and gave me much help.

I. General Facts

1. The Aims and Contents of My Study in UK
1). Take advantage of the vast range of learning and teaching resources, the rich expertise and thoughts from the world renown minds of the University of Nottingham to do research work, participate learning and teaching activities and make academic visits, based on the Centre for Comparative Education Research, the School of Continuing Education to promote the ongoing practice of 'Project for the Reform of Human Resources Development Models and the Pilot Programme of Open Education in OUC.
2). Enrich myself with knowledge and theoretical concepts of lifelong education and distance education of Britain for the improvement of distance education in Southwest China.
3). Get practical view of how teachers and students conduct class activities participatory and highly interactive in the context of learning and discussions for the promotion of the reform in Open Education in China.
4). Try to have a whole view of the trend of adult and distance education as well as e-learning in the UK and make comparative research from relevant information of this area for further instruction to our future work in China.
5). Try to find out how e-learning is carried on and the integration of multi-media in teaching and learning in the area of adult and distance education.
6). Have a better understanding of the society, culture and education in the UK and improve my English communication skills.

2. The Ways of My Study
1). To collect and research information about distance education and e-learning in the UK.
2). To attend sessions of postgraduate modules in the School of Continuing Education and participate the discussions with teachers and students.
3). To visit universities and education organisations of adult education, community education and distance education in Britain.
4). To visit museums, galleries and typical historic and cultural sites and have discussions with relevant people.
5). To make some comparative study on the trend of lifelong education, distance education and e-learning taking the resource of the UK as the basic information.

II. The Visits and Study Activities

1. Attendance to Sessions of Postgraduate Modules:
Taking the University of Nottingham as the base of study, I chose to attend the sessions of three modules from the postgraduate programmesof the School of Continuing Education. They are, The Teacher in Professional Context, Managing Teaching and Learning and Curriculum Design and Development.
2. Visits to Organisations and Universities for Adult and Distance Education:
1). Academic Visits
Arranged by the Centre for Comparative Education Research, I have visited several organisations and universities for adult education and distance education. They are Pilgrim College as a community college, West Notts College as a typical British vocational education college, Portland College as a special education example, Open University, a typical British distance education university, Carlton Television Studios, an institution for developing and delivering TV programmes, and National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, a nation wide organisation for the promotion of adult education.
2). Cultural and Recreation Visits
The Centre for Comparative Education Research is so thoughtful to arrange for me quite a few cultural and recreation visits, the seaside town of Skegness , Lincoln Cathedral , Mount St. Bernard's Abbey, Bradgate Park , Newstead Abbey and Rufford Park .
Being interested in British history and culture, I visited many places by myself such as the Nottingham Castle, Brewhouse Yard Museum, Museum of Costume and Textile, the Old Market Square Eastwood, D. H. Lawrence Museum, Sherwood Forest, the Major Oak, St. Mary's Church, Wallaton Park, Wallaton Hall, Nature History Museum, Industry Museum, the Sheffield City Museum , Peak District, Bakewell, Castleton, Chatsworth Castle, the Edinburgh Castle, and the most important tour of London which will be taken soon.
3. Study of Research Resources and Papers:
Much of my time was spent on the study of research papers and materials of education information provided by my superviser Professor W.J Morgan, papers published on 'Research Brief' (by the Department for Education and Skills) between June 2002 and March 2003; research papers by Professor W. J. Morgan, Director of the Centre for Comparative Education Research; research papers presented on the 2002 Conference of the British Association of International and Comparative Education(BAICE).
I have searched, collected and studied internet resources of e-learning in the UK's universities and organisations from which I have gained a lot of advanced information about the development of e-learning in the UK and around the world.
4. Research Work
Taking advantage of the advanced expertise of the university, I have made a research on the trend of e-learning in the UK and developed a research paper entitled
' E-learning in the UK: what can China learn'
5. Meetings and Discussions
There have been many meetings and discussions arranged during my stay in the university. The one struck me most was the meeting with Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham. We talked about the issues of education, the globalization and the university development strategy.
On June 13th, the Centre for Comparative Education Research organized a colloquium scheming on the aspects of adult education in China. I made a presentation to introduce distance education in Chengdu and report what I had studied and gained in Nottingham.
I met with Professor Morgan formally at least five times. He made valuable suggestions on how to research, provided me quite a lot of information about the development of society and education in the course of globalization. At the same time, I learnt much from talks and discussions with tutors, secretaries, curriculum specialist and students in the University of Nottingham, and research fellows from China, Bangladesh and Israel as well.

III. Main Findings

1. The University of Nottingham, an Ideal Base for Academic and Practical Study on Lifelong Education and Distance Education
The University is one of the UK's leading research universities, with a total of 26 top-rated five and five star research units in the latest Research Assessment exercise. In the independent assessments of teaching, 30 of the 35 departments of the University of Nottingham were rated as 'Excellent' or equivalent, second only to the University of Cambridge. Research and teaching here are strongly interlinked, with research projects informing teaching programmes, which in turn help shape and influence research. Currently there are over 25000 students from 125 countries studying in the university 5000 of which are postgraduate. The university is one of the most sought after universities in Britain in terms of undergraduate applications per place. On the meeting with the Vice Chancellor, Sir Colin Campbell, we got a warm welcome and much information about the collaboration of the University with China. Sir Colin has been to Shanghai, Ningbo, Hangzhou, Hunan several times to have discussions with Mr Yang Fujia, the Chancellor of UoN and to sign coperation agreement with the Wanli Group in Ningbo for an education project. With a leading Chinese educator and academician, Professor Fujia Yang as its Chancellor, there is a China Strategy of UoN and Sir Colin Campbell is working closely with leading Chinese universities to promote the Sino-British relationship.
The School of Continuing Education is the longest-established academic department of its kind in the UK with a tradition of providing high quality research and teaching. The School's undergraduate and postgraduate programmes range from Certificate to Diploma, Masters to Doctorate. They include professional qualifications and research degrees for adult educators, managers, heads of institutions and professionals in other public sector and private organisations. Where appropriate, the programmes are closely related to the needs of professional practitioners and teaching is linked to and draws upon the research work of the School's research centres. There is a research culture in the School with frequent opportunites to participate in research seminars and workshops. A variety of teaching methods are used in the School, including tutorials, small-group classes, seminars and lectures. The School has introduced elements of computer-assisted learning in some modules, and further developments are planned to encourage students in the use of electronic texts. A range of methods of assessment is also used; some modules require formal examination, some are assessed by essays or projects written during the semester, others involve assessment of oral presentation; most modules involve more than one form of assessment.
The Centre for Comparative Education Research promotes research and scholarship on issues in comparative education in the post school sector. It places emphasis on collaborative research and has strong links with colleagues in Europe, Africa, North and South America and South and East Asia, as well as the Commonwealth. The centre focuses on:
--- Adult basic education, vocational training and labour markets
--- Educational leadership and community development in the Commonwealth
--- Post school education in states and societies in transition such as Russia, Vietnam and China
--- Human rights, political education and citizenship
Our mentor, Professor W.J Morgan, the Director of the Centre, has published extensively on the history and politics of education and is currently researching the impact of part time higher education in the States in Transition, specially Russia, China and Vietnam. We had discussions on the possibility of collaboration of research and staff training in the areas of adult higher education and distance education with China's universities including China Central Radio and TV University. He is quite friendly and instructive to us and keeps his observation closely on the development of China.
On the web, there are special pages for Learning Support Services(LSS) of the University of Nottingham for the use of learning technologies. To make aware of and access to advanced web resourse, UoN provides 15 web based courses by universities around the world and a list of 9 online universities in the world with the introductions and their online courses. It provides a list of 4 online tutorials guide materials and 22 teaching and learning tools, and 14 more tools 'including individual tools for specific purposes and complete integrated learning systems' with some useful evaluations and comparisons between them. There is another list, on UoN's web wite, of 22 organisations and related web sites which 'are professional and commercial organisations and sites building up their pages to provide lots of resources and useful links to teachers interested in using technology in teaching. … They offer advice and support in the development of innovative teaching practices.'
Based on the town centre is the Adult Education Centre of the University, operated under the administration and guidance of the School of Continuing Education. On our visit there I found it a typical adult education organisation not because it is the oldest adult education centre in the UK but because it provides various programmes to meet the needs of the community and the society. Under the Adult Education Centre are several regional study centres scattering around Nottinghamshire. All the students of the centre, mostly over 50, study part-time courses, long or short at their choice. Each programme carries certain credits in relation to the requirements for a certificate, diploma or degree. The centre delivers courses and provides support services to the students in town and around the county. We discussed issues in adult education and distance education as well as e-learning and have learned a lot from the centre.
I think the University of Nottingham is not only a traditional university as we always consider one of this kind in China. It provides education opportunites to any people who want to study in the university and take measures to control procedures of research-led learning and teaching for quality assurance. Its advanced concepts and practice on lifelong education as well as its development of e-learning could give us much to learn and the research on the trend of higher education in the world, especially the focus of the Centre for Comparative Education Research, would surely inspire us into deep thoughts in the development of CRTVU. Moreover people here are quite helpful and friendly to us. It is really an ideal university for our project as a study base.

2. The Trend of E-learning in the UK
'E-learning---- making intelligent use of media such as computer conferencing, email, CD-Roms, DVDs and internet---- has for several years formed a major part of the university's courses and student support services.' Open University , the famous university for its pioneering practice on distance education, presents the approach on e-learning on its webpage And UK E-Universities Worldwide considers e-learning as 'Online study---- or e-learning---- means that you use the internet to access your course materials and send your complete assignments for marking.'
In the University of Nottingham, we could find cyberEd which 'claims its objective is… to create a distance learning environment that rivals the traditional classroom environment in the quality and content of the learning experience.' On Cambridge University's website are pages of Cambridge Programme for Industry(CPI), the University's centre for continuing professional education. The E-learning Division, as part of CPI, has responsibility for all aspects of CPI's technology enabled learning services and programmes, both in-house support for Cambridge-developed programmes, and custom technology services for external clients.
The approach of e-learning from above might be different in the meaning and services, yet strongly suggest e-learning is being widely used as a new and advanced sort of learning and teaching in higher education in the UK and is developing rapidly all around the area of higher education in Britain and in the world.
With large amount of web materials pouring to me, I tried to stick my research to e-learning and found, although e-learning is not yet researched thoroughly, e-learning, or called online learning, is commonly employed by the universities of the UK in quite different ways. I also discovered significant integration of information and communication technologies with concepts and practice of teaching and learning in the higher education. To get further into this field and learn more about e-learning, I spent much time on the research and have completed a research paper entitled 'E-learning in the UK: what can China learn'. In this paper, I choose to study the web materials and information of three traditional universities, Oxford University, Cambridge University and the University of Nottingham and another three in the area of adult and distance education, the Open University(OU), the UK E-Universities Worldwide(UKeU) and the Worldwide Universities Network(WUN) and have found some interesting and instructive approaches to our work in China as follows.
1). With the rapid development of information and communication technologies, e-learning is commonly employed in higher education of the UK. Different universities and educational organisations take advantage of it in the practice of teaching and learning in quite different ways. Generally speaking, traditional universities deliver on their intranet mainly programmes for professional training courses and provide services specially for the staff and students on the campus. Whereas the courses delivered by those in the area of adult and distance education range from certificates to master degrees and their support service spread to the whole country and to the world both via internet and from the local centres.
2). It is quite apparent that universities and organisations work in collaboration in the field of e-learning to combine the best expertise and technologies together to make the higher education of the UK powerful in the world. There are programmes built up and delivered in collaboration among the six making good use of advantages of each side to produce online courses of high quality and provide a wide range of service. In partnership with Sun Microsystems, UKeU created a robust and interactive eLearning platform. Fujitsu's ensures the performance of the platform fast, reliable and accessible.
3). Lifelong education, student-centred and globalisation characterise the tendency of higher education in the world. E-learning, widely exploited in British universities and insititutions as advanced educational concept and revolution, is developing rapidly carrying the above characteristics.
The three characteristics are just we are striving to achieve when we are carrying on the Pilot Project of Open Education and there is much for exchange between China and Britain in the work of research and practice.

3. Enhance the Learning Experience through High Quality Tuition and Support Service
From my attending to the sessions in the School of Continuing Education, visits to the universities, colleges and organisations and discussions with tutors and students, my deep impression is on the process of tutorials and learning support for the purpose of enhancing student's learning experience to ensure the quality. The concept of student-oriented learning is highly turned into practice which strikes me greatly.
1). Every module is designed so that students are constantly relating their learning to the situations around them. Throughout the course there is a significant proportion of group activity, discussion and exercises. Learning is participatory and highly interactive. This is what I have found in the School of Continuing Education and other universities and colleges.
2). Tuition is delivered not only in the sessions but also received individually. Tutors would arrange to have a talk to each student personally for discussion and solution of the problems and provide support for the student throughout the programmes of studies.
3). A growing number of academics worldwide are beginning to use the web to support their teaching activities. Its flexibility, ease of access and relatively simple architecture, makes it an ideal mechanism for the delivery of online teaching, from simple multiple choice questions to sophisticated virtual learning environments.
The platform of UkeU has tracking and reporting functionality which 'ensures easy administration and visibility for business managers.
Online support and administrative services for students of OU include:
---- an online course reservations and online residential schools booking service;
---- comprehensive course and university information at the university's website.
The online Learner's Guide to the Open University, which gives advice and guidance on course choice, university services and learning skills, receives an average of 70000 page hits weekly.

4. A Wide View of the Development and Use of Multimedia in Teaching and Learning and the Approaches on How to Integrate Various Media with Teaching and Learning Appropriately for Different Purposes.
Both the use of multimedia and the approaches of its proper integration helped me come to a clear understanding in this area. There have been online discussions on this topic with my colleagues and some pilot projects are being planned and would be put into practice soon.
1). Learning materials are provided in quite a number of forms. Text, audio, vidio, interactive simulations, database resources, IT tools and communication environments are developed carefully for different purposes and provided to teachers and students in a rather balanced way. Almost every university or college we go to presents materials to introduce learning materials with stress on web courses and cyber learning environment. I had discussions with then staff and noticed printed text is still playing an essential role in learning and teaching and much attention is paid on the proper integration of the use of multimedia. I realised that only the proper combination of media is the best use of media.
2). The approaches on the use of media of the universities and colleges in the UK, although in different statements, have thrown me into deep thoughts. just as the Open University's declaration.
'The OU continues to develop its e-learning activities, reflecting advances in technology and increasing public access to personal computers. The university strongly believes the new media offer a more advanced active form of learning than can be gained by using traditional audio-visual products or conventional teaching methods alone.
However, the OU does not strive to become an 'online university'.
The best outcomes for learning are usually achieved by striking a balance between using traditional and new media, individually selecting and developing the products that are best suited for each purpose.'
This approach gives us a lot of instructive information when we are working hard on the best use of information and communication technologies in the design and employment of web courses and learning platform on the internet in the Pilot Project of Open Education.

5. A Better Understanding of British Culture, Society and Education Development
Over four months in Britain has given me a wide view and better understanding of this country through many visits to historic, cultural, social and educational spots, museums, galleries and scenic spots besides my academic activities. When my foot set on Britain in March, I began my observation on this country and found so much to learn. The most striking impressions are as follows.
1). Quality is the priority of work.
I am deeply impressed by the way of working for the best. Strictness to the plan and management makes the work in perfect order. Everything must be done under a planned way. The talk with our mentor is arrange in advance with memo to inform us the exact time, place and contents and carried on quite on time. The timetable for our academic visits has been changed three times and each time we are informed formally with printed materials with detailed information. I am also amazed by their preparations for our visits on our arrival at the colleges and organisations. The effectiveness and efficiency in the process of the work would surely result in high quality of the work. Although it would take time to make plans and get preparations, it is worthwhile for high quality is ensured in the procedures. This is especially essential in our experiment for building up the teaching, managerial and operational mechanisms under modern distance and open education.
2). History is the treasure for the present.
Enrich your future through preserving your past. This sentence inspired me many times when I pay visits to museums, galleries, castles, universities and colleges. British people's great respect to their history strikes me frequently. They preserve carefully everything related to the history of the country, a town, a college and even a building. History is not only displayed to show the past happening but is used for various education purposes. I have seen many parents taking their children to museums and noticed boards to tell people about how an old warehouse was changed to the present music centre. Here education is integrated with daily life and history plays a very important role in educational activities. History could help people understand the present and work hard for the future.
3). Learning is a common activity throughout the life.
The approach of lifelong education is well put into practice in Britain. I studied the education system of the UK and found people could choose to continue their education or to start working after the compulsory education. And they could go on with their study at any time they think they want. From the universities and colleges and other education organisations we have visited, I met students of different ages. The oldest student in the Adult Education Centre of the University of Nottingham is 97, with 50 as the average age of their 5000 students. Some of the students for the postgraduate programmes of UoN, with whom I had discussions and sessions, are over 50. In the Pilgrim College, all the students take part-time courses. 'Welcome to the future' is a slogan impressing me greatly. I noticed what they study for is to improve themselves for a better life and to enrich themselves for a life of high quality. As an educator of adult and distance education, I think I have found something instructive in Britain for our work for building up a learning society in China. Adult and distance education has much responsibility to make lifelong education come true in China.
What impressed me greatly in Britain is education. I have found education everywhere and education for all. Everybody has bright future and to study is the best way for a better future.

IV. Recommendations and Thoughts on the Further Work

1. Our project provides a very good opportunity for study and research of the advanced knowledge and theoretical concepts on lifelong education and distance education and it would be better if the groups come to the UK with some coherent topics on the general research basis.
2. It is necessary to get the structure of expertise in one group more appropriate for the collaboration in their research in the UK.
3. Different sorts of universities would provide different knowledge and practice to the study of adult education and distance education in the UK. And it is worth suggesting to continue sending visitors to famous and subject-comprehensive universities such as the University of Nottingham for deep-insight study with renown expertise.