The Open University of China (OUC), established on the basis of China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU) and local radio and TV universities, has over 3.5 million registered students that come from all walks of life. It is quite rare for one university to operate on such a large scale and with such a wide selection of majors. The OUC has grown into an open and distance schooling organisation system made up of a headquarters, 44 branches, 1125 local colleges, and 3419 study centres. It relies on modern information technology and implements the educational concept of “Anyone can learn anytime, anywhere” in order to strive for the promotion of the sharing of quality educational resources among all members of society.

Based on cloud computing, the cloud classroom promotes the synchronous sharing of resources and achieves multidirectional interaction and multidimensional feedback

As a new-style university operating beyond the limitations of time and space, the OUC has always attached particular importance to the need for education in remote and ethnic minority areas. The cloud classroom came into being for this purpose. Since the first OUC cloud classroom at Beihai RTVU was completed and put into operation on 21st May 2012, to date more than 300 cloud classrooms and 20 control centres have been constructed in western regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, and Gansu, making it possible for them to connect with the headquarters, branches, local colleges, and study centres. The cloud classroom helps to realise functions such as online face-to-face teaching, distance real-time teaching, real-time course recording, online live teaching, video conferencing, distance interviews and debates, online testing, and test monitoring. It promotes the sharing of quality educational resources and alleviates the shortage of teaching resources in remote areas.

In Gansu province, 45 close classrooms have been completed. Any of the cloud classrooms may be used as the master broadcasting classroom, with the others as sub-classrooms, bringing together learners from different areas and allowing learners from both remote areas and developed cities to enjoy the same quality resources. In addition, the multi-media touch-control all-in-one teaching devices in the cloud classrooms integrate the functions of computer, projection, screen, and interactive electronic whiteboard. The whiteboard uses the EasiNote multimedia electronic whiteboard teaching software, which has a multi-discipline teaching model and innovative teaching tools to provide functions like literature searching, material processing, thoughts sorting, micro-lecture collecting and editing, and subject teaching, helping teachers and students join interactive activities such as sample discussions, flipped classes, and case studies, and realising multidirectional interaction and multidimensional feedback.

“Learning in the palm of your hand” promotes the transformation and upgrading of distance education

The cloud classrooms is only the tip of the iceberg of the OUC’s education informatisation. In order to adapt to the needs of simultaneous online learning for massive groups of learners, the OUC entered into a cooperation with China Telecom and Aliyun to develop a distance education cloud platform dominated by a learning system and a management system, that is linked to both PCs and mobile phones in order to achieve unified identity authentication. Today, the platform has the capacity to support 4 million students initially achieving one-stop and all-in-on operation of teaching, learning, management, research, service. The OUC has also developed the OUC O Learning Pad, a mobile Internet learning terminal. The OUC launched the first batch and distributed the O Learning pads to more than 8,000 rural college students in the 2015 class at Hunan RTVU, making it possible for rural college students to “attend university in the palm of their hands.”

The O Learning Pad is a large-screen smart phone with Internet access. The O Learning Pads feature built-in apps such as Practical Agricultural Technology, a study app for rural college students in Hunan. The app helps to expand the students’ practical skills, including micro-video resources covering 10 categories and nearly 100 rural practical skills such as pig breeding technology and floriculture, which are also available offline. The “Rural College Students Training Programme” co-sponsored by the Organisational Department of Hunan Provincial Party Committee, the provincial Department of Education, the Department of Finance and the Department of Human Resources and Social Security, promotes the transformation and upgrading of distance education and has developed more than 80,000 outstanding rural practical talents throughout the province, sending tens of thousands of pioneers in fortune-making to over 8,000 poverty-stricken villages across the province.

Informatisation helps people in the Tibetan region see the world beyond the plateau

There is a group of people that live and work in one of the highest areas of the world, where the oxygen level is only 65% of that of the plains. However, they were not able to access quality educational resources due to a lack of new technology. In order to solve this, the OUC School of Tibet has been exerting the OUC’s advantages to send quality educational resources to the plateau and provide access to higher education and lifelong education for a large number of learners in Tibetan regions. Zhaxi is one of those beneficiaries.

Zhaxi, a middle-aged graduate student, eloquently stated the benefits of distance education: "I don’t have to quit my job, nor spend too much money. As long as there is Internet access, I can complete all my undergraduate courses. Distance education provides a platform and opportunity for people like me who want to pursue their studies; lifelong learning is now no longer a dream."

In order to enable more people to share high-quality educational resources, in 2016, with the OUC’s assistance, the School of Tibet rebuilt a secondary-level website, developed new student pre-registration and graduation thesis management systems, and realised the goal of remote thesis defense through the cloud classroom. The School of Tibet will continue to use modern information technology, and explore new learner-centric learning models with Tibetan characteristics based on the ‘Internet Plus’ and the MOOC platform, and that integrate network-based autonomous learning, distance learner support services, and face-to face tutoring. It will steadily develop degree continuing education, positively explore non-degree education, build a service platform for and promote life-long learning for all, and provide support and a guarantee for the Tibetan people to “see the world.”

By Huang Wei, Zhai Fan, China Education Daily