altXie Renkang, Assistant Lecturer, ChengduOpen University
Overseas Based University: the Open University
Advisor: Uwe Baumann
Study Area: Comparison and Research of the Distance Learning Platform between China and Britain



Provide Learners Better Services Through The Virtual Learning Environment —A Report About My Academic Visit To The Open University 


Fortunately, I got an opportunity of studying in UK as an academic visitor for four months. I was sent by the Open University of China (OUC) and so honored to get a special fund from the Sino-British Fellowship Trust and the China Scholarship Council. At first, I would like to extend my sincere respects and thanks to the Sino-British Fellowship Trust, especially to Mrs. Ely and Professor Naylor. Thanks for their persistent support to the development of Chinese Education. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the OUC for giving me such a valuable chance, offering me much help and support. And I will never forget the friendly welcome and help from my instructor Mr. Uwe Baumann, Mrs. Vicky Amos and Mrs. Oliver in the worldwide department and other colleagues in the Open University (OU). I really appreciated what they had done for me in UK. And I also would like to express my thanks to all the staffs in the Education Section of Chinese Embassy and Chengdu Open University.

In the four months, I had a wonderful experience in UK. My research subject in the OU was the comparison of the virtual learning environment between UK and China. I was assigned to the Faculty of Education and Language Studies to do my research. The study facilities and the access to resources in university had facilitated my research a lot. I started my research from spending a lot of time to get familiar with the OU online learning platform. After I communicated with staffs in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies, the OU worldwide department, the Institute of Educational Technology, the Information & Communication Technologies Group, I felt how lucky I was that I could do my research in OU. The university had just rolled out a new virtual learning environment (VLE) from July that year, which, I believed, would transform the courses over the next few years. Now there are more than 220,000 students learning more than 800 courses on it. This is an imposing achievement. Dr. Ross Mackenzie, one of the VLE team leaders, introduced this system to me and gave me a lot of help. Compared with the online learning platform in my university, the OU VLE system took a more holistic approach to the use of new technology at university. Along with the further investigation, I learnt that OU VLE system was developed from the Moodle system which was one of the leading VLE systems in the world. That was my first time to hear about Moolde. I was so interested in it. After getting more information about it, I had a strong feeling that it would be very useful to the web-based course education in China. Moodle is a piece of software that serves as a platform for delivering a VLE. It is described as a course management system (CMS). The software is very robust and flexible and what’s more important is that it is a kind of Open Source software package which is designed to use sound pedagogical principles to help educators create effective online learning communities. Since it is open, it can be modified to meet any needs. More and more universities and education organizations around the world begin to adopt moodle as their VLE systems. OU not only makes many adjustments but also develops a more appropriate VLE system which includes Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication and Collaboration, Calendars, Assessment, Federated Search, Mobile Learning, Tracking and Reporting Modules. This system demonstrates a brand new online learning method to me. Before I came to the UK, I had many questions about the relationship between students and the VLE system. Now I think I have got the answers. Comparing the OU VLE to the counterpart in my university, I have already got many ideas of using Moodle to meet our needs. In addition, I had realized that allotting students to small groups is equally crucial for carrying out the online study and cooperation, which we need pay more attention in the future.

During that period, I visited almost every department I was interested in and I attended over 10 academic activities such as a seminar on the mixed mode learning, a seminar on researching the virtual classroom, a tutor briefing for a new course for beginners' Italian, a teaching forum about student-generated course resources and blended learning, a French exam board and an online conference using Lyceum. I met more than 30 persons including professors, doctors, technicians, managers, associate lectures, tutor staffs, tutors, as well as students, from whom I benefit a lot and have built a good relationship.

Besides the above-mentioned points, I had also got the concepts of independence and cooperation, the logical management operating on the campus, the spirit of the students support and guidance which was very impressive and I explored the stunning scenery and many famous historic attractions from which I knew more of UK.

Generally, my academic visit to UK has benefited me a lot. I am confident that my study is successful. What I learned there will certainly contribute to my future work. Those four months is an unforgettable experience and will have a deep influence in my life. I hope to keep contact with my English colleagues for academic communication and to extend our friendship. I will continue doing my study by combining my academic experience with those virtual learning achievements in OU and practice it in the educational activities.