altZhou Yanjun, Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Teaching Affairs Department, the Open University of China (OUC)
Overseas Based University:
the University of Nottingham
Adviser: Prof. John Morgan
Study Area: the Development of Teaching Resources and Learner Support for Distance Education



Report on My Academic Study in the UK


With the financial support of Sino-British Fellowship Trust (SBFT) and the China Scholarship Council (CSC), from March to July of 2003, I took the University of Nottingham as a base to do research as an academic visitor. I am happy to say that I have fulfilled the aims successfully under the guidance of Professor Morgan, with the great help from and outside Nottingham University. My visit study in the UK is colorful and fruitful, which made me have a lasting tie to the UK. So please allow me to express my sincere thanks to SBFT and CSC, without their generosity, it is impossible for me to have the chance to enrich myself in the area of distance education, my particular thanks to Professor Morgan as well as his secretary Gill Morgan and his colleagues in the Nottingham University. Also I would like to take this opportunity to extend appreciation for my fellows back in China who arranged the project and give me a great help.

The Aims and Contents

On the whole, I hoped to understand and research on the development of distance education and e-learning and teaching methods, education technology and the operating mechanisms in the UK. Specifically, I would like to do comparative research about how to choose or select, design and produce, and evaluate the learning and teaching materials in the University of Nottingham, Open University and the University for Industry as well as other academic units. I wanted to study the principles, regulations and rules, good experiences, difficulties and so on, to enrich my knowledge on learning support and quality assurance system, to have a further sight into the development of subjects and specialties, the development of course and the curriculum for distance education students, and to improve my English as well.

 What I Have Done, Learned and Gained

  • Took the School of Continuing Education of Nottingham University as a base for my academic study.
  • Attended Modules of Postgraduate Courses
    I sat in on three modules, Teacher in the Professional Context,Curriculum Design and Development and Managing the Teaching and Learning Process in Post-Compulsory Education. Sometimes I participated in their group discussions. The tutors are well-prepared for the class, encouraging the students’ participation, and paying great attention to their feedback. Students are highly motivated in discussing, arguing and expressing their own opinions. This student–centred teaching mode is very helpful in stimulating the interests of learners and enhancing their learning experience. I was greatly amazed by the pedagogy and methodology in the University.
  • Reading
    I have done a lot of reading of a large range, focused on distance education. I read the papers, CD-Rom, books and other materials about e-leaning, community education and social development, such as 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.
    I still collected and studied a lot of internet resources of e-learning in the UK's universities and organizations. On the reading list were some journals and magazines from library, of course. I finished reading many books on education reform in the UK and in China. All these enriched my knowledge about e-learning and lifelong education in the UK.
    I have found out that there are three major advantages of the British education system, namely, strict regulation over university administrations, student-oriented polices and an emphasis on globalization of higher education. The educational structure in the UK includes foundation education, further education, higher education, adult education, vocational education and special education, which is much different from that in China. I also found that there are so many private schools and universities in UK, and the management styles are not the same. And because of decentralization, the schools have much freedom in teaching practicing, whereas the Chinese schools have no such freedom.
    I have been impressed most by the opening up policy since Tony Blair took office. In his speech Attracting More International Students (18 June 1999), he expressed a new welcome to international students to UK and promised more open doors to information, to finance and to expanding the function of the flagship Chevening Scholarship Scheme for extra scholarships through Government and private funding. It is my hope that this policy will keep going, and the Government of PR China will take a policy of this kind as soon as possible.
    The University for Industry (UfI) is taking forward the Government's vision of a 'University for Industry'. Working as a public-private partnership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, UfI aims to put individuals in a better position to get jobs, improve their career prospects and boost business competitiveness.
    UfI's learning support services are being delivered through Learndirect, which provides access to innovative and high quality courses, over 80 percent of them on-line. Learndirect will enable people to fit learning into their lives, learning wherever they have access to the internet - at home, at work, or in one of over 1500 learndirect centres.
    UKeU - UK eUniversities Worldwide - is a unique company.
    This is quite new to me. So much of my time was spent on studying it.
    Backed by the UK Government with £62m funding, UkeU were established to deliver online and worldwide the best degrees and degree-level learning that UK universities like Cambridge University, the University of York, Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Ulster, the Open University, the University of Nottingham and so on can provide.
    By forging partnerships with respected UK academic institutions and leading technological companies, UKeU can offer high-quality accessible courses of higher education and professional development online to customers all over the world. Currently UKeU focus on subjects that are most in demand from students, business and industry worldwide.
    On its wed page I have found such expressions, 'E-learning is not about adapting existing classroom materials for computers. It is about providing the courses our customers want in the ways that they want them delivered. With our partners, we have developed a complete and rounded e-learning solution that delivers: Uncompromising quality - via stringent evaluation of online materials.'
    Business and Management of UKeU - including MBAs and 'fast track' courses are as follows.
    Science and Technology
    English Language
    Teacher Training
    Wherever one lives, he can now undertake a UK course of higher education - at his own pace and his own place.
    Through partnerships with leading UK universities, UKeU can offer a range of high-quality academic degrees online in subjects that are most in demand. Relevant to the workplace and recognized throughout the world, these qualifications (accredited by the awarding UK university) have exactly the same value as a degree earned on-campus. Yet one can now obtain one without having to leave his own home.
    UKeU courses are purpose-built for online delivery. In addition, the e-learning platform developed in partnership with Sun Microsystems is the most advanced of its kind. So UKeU can offer better educational content, better means of delivery and better service support than has ever been available - effective e-learning which is learner-centric.
    As a UKeU student, he can work in small tutorial groups supported by specialist tutors. And with Fujitsu to ensure the speed and availability of the e-learning platform, the student can take part in online discussion groups and work together with the fellow students.
    UKeU also works with overseas institutions in key markets to help provide personalized support to back up the online services. All of this will help a student feel part of a learning community - wherever he lives.
    UkeU's systematic approach to e-learning brings together, for the first time, the highest standards of academic excellence and world-class technological expertise and service.
  • Meetings and Discussions
    During my stay in Nottingham, many academic meetings and discussions have been arranged. 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 June13th, the Centre for Comparative Education Research organized a Colloquium, the topics were all in the aspects of adult education in China. I met with Professor Morgan formally at least 5 times. He made valuable suggestions on how to research, provided me quite a lot of information about what happened to education because of globalization. At the same time, I learnt much from talks and discussions with tutors, secretaries, curriculum specialist and students in the Nottingham University, and research fellows from China, Bangladesh and Israel as well.
  • E-learning
    Everyday I spent one or two hours on browsing web-sites both in English and Chinese, which provided various information such as bbc; cnn; 10 Downingstreet; the Whitehouse; Chinadaily; openedu; nottingham, open university, learndirect, ukeuniversities worldwide and so on. I read the news and events around the world, information about the Iraq War, the Euro Issue, the Middle East peace process and the G-8 summit. I downloaded articles on distance education and e-learning for the study afterwards.
  • Visits and Study Activities
    The academic visits to organizations and universities of adult and distance education were arranged by the Centre for Comparative Education thoughtfully.
    I visited Adult Education Centre of the University of Nottingham, on May 22nd, and interviewed with Mrs. Julie Garlick, the manager of the Centre, who showed us around the buildings. I observed the classes of enamelling jewellery and mosaic making for senior citizens.
    On May15th, I visited Pilgrim College in Boston, a study centre of the School of Continuing Education of the University, and had a meeting with Dr. David Jones, I gained a picture of what a British community college looks like.
    The visit to the Open University in Milton Keynes was a most rewarding one.
    Mr. Dominique Newbould, Visitors and Community Relations Manager, made a general introduction to the University. He outlined the history, the main activities, the nature, the students, academic organization, regional centres, qualifications, credit course components structure, assessment model, innovation in teaching methods and media, course production team and quality assurance of OU. Professor Jim Coleman demonstrated the Lyceum, an electronic synchronous language learning platform. Dr. Lore Arthur and Mr. Duncan Sidwell made presentations on M-module Supporting Lifelong Learning and Tutoring at the Open University respectively. Both presentations were highly valuable and informative.
    What impressed me strongly was the openness, Assessment Model and Quality Assurance.
    The Open University is the UK's largest university, with over 200,000 students and customers. The OU represents 22% of all part-time higher education students in the UK. The university is ranked amongst the top UK universities for the quality of its teaching. Of the 23 subjects assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency, 17 have been placed in the top 'Excellent' category. OU courses are considered to be among the world's best distance education materials and are regularly awarded for their innovation. In recent years, 'Computing, An Object-Oriented Approach' won a British Computer Society award for IT, 'Discovering Science' received a British Environment and Media Award for its innovative use of CD Rom, and 'Geology' was named as one of Europe's best new multimedia products when it won the knowledge and discovery category at the prestigious EuroPrix awards.
    Nineteen subject areas within the OU have been recognized as producing research work with evidence of international quality and a further seven subjects show evidence of national excellence. The Open University is open to people by playing a leading role in the transition to mass higher education by serving an increasingly large and diverse student body. It is open to places, contributing to a widening of educational opportunities by making its programmes, courses and services available UK-wide and internationally. It is open to methods of exploiting distance-teaching methods, new learning technologies and teaching techniques to serve home- and work-based students. It is open to ideas. The OU will be a vibrant academic community dedicated to the expansion, refinement and sharing of knowledge. And finally, it is open to time. Increasingly, students will study in a time of their own choosing and at a pace that suits them.
    Assessment Model is a unique one in my view. It consists of two parts, 50 % Continuous assessment (Tutor-marked Assignments) and 50 % end-of-course Examination.
    The Open University has been developing its e-learning activities, reflecting advances in technology and increasing public access to personal computers. The University strongly believes that the new media offer a more and interactive form of learning than can be gained by using traditional audio-visual products and conventional teaching methods. The new technologies also allow the University to further reduce the ‘distance’ in distance education, gathering together students from all over the world and bringing higher education to the doorstep of geographically remote students. In the University, about 20% courses are tutored online. The tutorials of some courses are held by online conferencing, and assignments are marked electronically. OU attaches great importance to quality assurance. The University takes such processes as course teams, external assessors, external examiners, student surveys, and teaching quality assessments research assessment exercise as well.
    On May 30, I was invited to the National Institute of Adult Continuing
    Education, (NIACE) meeting with Mr. Alan Tuckett, the Director. He explained what NIACE was, and briefed how It worked. NIACE's formal aim is:
    "to promote the study and general advancement of adult continuing education",Less formally, it can be interpreted this to mean advancing the interests of adult learners and potential learners.
    The strategic plan commits NIACE to "support an increase in the total numbers of adults engaged in formal and informal learning in England and Wales; and at the same time to take positive action to improve opportunities and widen access to learning opportunities for those communities under-represented in current provision."
    NIACE undertake this work through: advocacy to national and local government, funding bodies, industry and providers of education and training;
    collaboration with providers across all sectors of post-compulsory education and training; and through fostering progression routes for adults seeking to develop pathways as learners; a commitment to supporting evaluation and monitoring and to high quality service; securing informed debate - through research, enquiry, publication and through arranging seminars and conferences; effective networking - to ensure that lessons learned in one part of the system can be drawn on elsewhere; ensuring that the best of international practice is available to its members and users; a commitment to being itself a well-managed learning organization.
    China needs this kind of institutions like NIACE badly. Although there are some research unites on adult education in China, they narrowly focus their work on investigation and writing papers, without such huge activities as NIACE does.
    On June12, I visited West Nottinghamshire College.
    I met with the Principal and the members of the Senior Management Group. The college provided 4 presentations which are greatly informative and
    inspiring. They are, Learn@ work by Christine Bell, Distance Education by Angela Burton, Get ON Unit by Judi Alderson and Nick Fenn, and Community Education by Isobel Woodcoke.
    I have got the idea that the West Nottinghamshire College has been deeply involved in providing services of all kinds to the surrounding area to meet the economic and social needs. Here are some examples. The Learn@ Work team comprises of 72 highly qualified professionals delivering a diversity of industry related training, across all sectors, within the workplace, they currently support more than 900 local companies with their training needs. Also, the College has been developed open learning, a mode of study whereby the student works at their own pace at home, or within a learning environment where help and assistance can be provided by learning advisors, on materials supplied by the institution, and tutorial one-to-one support is provided by the institution to complement the resources. Now there are 5,000 current students here. The College is one of the Further Education Colleges that was part of the National Basic Skills Pathfinder projects, set up by the government to pilot literacy, numeracy and language activities, It was involved in tutors being trained to deliver new adult core curricula. The Community Education embraces learners of all interests and abilities. It provides opportunities for learning in a wide variety of venues and settings-both formal and informal, extending beyond into all areas of people's lives.
    On June23, I visited the Portland College
    The College staff briefed us the history and training programmes, showed us around the campus, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy sites, the CISCO Networking Academy Programme, and the Job Club. The Portland College is a national specialist residential College for people with a wide range of physical disabilities, the foundation stone of the College was laid in June 0f 1949, and in June 1950 Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the College. It is one of the foremost Colleges of its type in the UK, providing first class education and training for up to 300 students aged 16 upwards. Students come from all parts of the UK to take advantage of excellent facilities and wide spectrum of courses in an environment designed to meet their special needs. Since opening in 1950, over 9,000 students have benefited from the "Portland Experience".
    The aim of the College is to provide an environment where appropriate guidance can be given on request in which individual students can develop their potential, become more independent, gain self esteem and prepare themselves for employment. The Portland College places great emphasis on equal opportunities and offers a wide range of customised learning in an environment designed to meet individual needs.
    I am deeply impressed by the beautiful 37-acre-campus, which is an attractive wooded setting in the heart of Sherwood Forest, and the programmes the College offers. In the Employment Department, Computer Aided Design, Information Technology, Horticulture, Key Skills, Business Administration and Printing are opened to students. It is fantastic that 94% of the graduates can go back to work.
    Learning & Skills Department provides a large variety of programmes as well. The 24 hour working day brings together all aspects of the wider curriculum. Independence, Care, Leisure and Recreation enables the facilitation of a vast variety of formal and informal learning experiences which when tailored provide learners with a cohesive and inclusive action plan, learning and living programmes.
    China Radio and TV University has recently established a new college especially offering courses for the physical disabled people. I have found a lot we can learn from the Portland College, the committing spirit, the learning support, the tailored curriculum and the passionate consideration which amazed me and inspired me greatly.
    I visited Carlton Television Studios on June 3rd. The staff showed me around the studios, the setting lobby, the shooting equipment, the liner and non-liner editing machines, the wardrobes. I also observe a presenter announcing the Lunch-time News in the newsroom. The visit has given me a clear picture of what an English television studio looks like and how a TV programme is edited and presented.
    I paid a visit to one of Learning Centres, Sheffield Hallam University by myself.
    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 and Bradgate Park , Newstead Abbey and Rufford Park .
    Being interested in British history and culture, I visited many places by myself.
    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, 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.

 In Summery, What I Have Learned and Gained

  • The University of Nottingham is the best venue to be based.
    The beautiful university park and Jubilee Campus(the lake, the swan and ducks )
    The University is much friendly to Chinese, selecting the first Chinese chancellor.
    It is a leading university in terms of research, teaching quality and popularity with students
    Operating actively in a global market, promoting their competence to attract more students, better staff and more public funds
    Striving for the high-level or world-leading research and best teaching, ,working hard in global cooperation and collaboration. It is one of the sponsors of U21 project; jointly set up a genetics research center in Fudan. It opens new campuses in Malaysia and China.
    Paying sufficient attention to the new opportunities for university
    development created by electronic learning. Joining ukeuniversity drive.
  • Have a clear idea about the education system in UK
  • Get a general picture of e-learning in UK
    The development of e-learning in UK is surging rapidly. I have found out that not only the Open University, University for Industry, but many conventional universities,colleges and other institutions are engaging in e-learning programs.
  • Gain an overview of the tendency and great influence of education globalization
    Globalization provides a backdrop for analyzing economic and social changes and concomitant changes in the education and learning sector. Globalization is not a new phenomenon but the speed and scope of change are new, mostly as a function of the widespread diffusion of information and communication technologies. Developments have altered the social and economic policy landscape of countries and placed a new premium on both human capital and social capital.
    In a knowledge era, for profound exchanges and communications, every country has to cherish an insight into others' culture, history and social background, and the internationalization of higher education will help reach this goal. the knowledge economy is fundamentally education-based, and higher education is especially important as it is designed to cultivate talents, enrich human knowledge and develop new and high technologies to serve society.
    Under such conditions China should press itself with western developed countries to further promote higher education worldwide.
  • Learn much from the unique and effective educational methodology, pedagogy, high efficiency and quality assurance in the universities in UK.
  • Get enriched in the theory and practice of striking a balance between the conventional and new media as the Open University does.
  • Make a further survey of high qualified learners support system.
  • Improve my English language literally and functionally and have a widened academic vision. I have a better understanding of the society, the culture, and the history of the UK.
  • Purchase and collect a pile of books and other materials.

What I Will Do Back Home

  • Share the experience and thoughts with my fellows soon.
  • Continue to study, and keep eyes on what is going on in the UK.
  • Make suggestions to promote further cooperation between China Radio and TV University and the University of Nottingham, and other institutions involving distance education (or Adult/lifelong/e-learning education).
  • Integrate what I have learned with my working practice, trying to do better work in terms of :
     the balance between the traditional and new media.
     better learner support service.
     carrying out reforms on curriculum design, course development.
     establishing evaluation and quality assurance system on teaching process.

My Suggestions

  • Arranging more academic and recreation visits if possible for broadening the views of distance education and a better understanding of the history and culture.
  • Sending as many people as possible in the open universities in China to study in the UK and conduct the further cooperation and collaboration between the two countries.
  • The China Radio and TV University should develop practical cooperative projects with the conventional universities and distance education establishments, such as BA and MA on-line courses, and hold joint research projects on e-learning or adult education.