The Opinions puts forward top-level design for deepening reform

E-Learning: The Opinions is an important document for the teaching reform of the OUC. How does the document position this reform? What is the general approach to the reform?

Lin Yu: The Opinions was formulated for the following reasons. Firstly, it was designed to implement the important instructions given by Sun Chunlan (member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and vice premier of the State Council) during her investigation tour of the OUC. Secondly, it was designed to accelerate the construction of a world-class open university. Thirdly, it was designed to implement the strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality” for academic education and thereby improve the teaching quality of open education. The Opinions puts forward top-level design for deepening the reform and quality of the academic education of the OUC. It forms the basis for formulating various specific policies, systems, methods, and standards for the OUC’s academic education.

The general idea behind the formulation of the document is very clear: setting standards, making an overall plan, implementing practical teaching, ensuring strict recruitment and examination, and strengthening monitoring. The OUC is run systematically across the whole of China, with the headquarters coordinating the branches and the branches coordinating the local RTVUs. However, the artificial separation between the headquarters and the branches is very serious. We must strengthen the guidance and support services provided by the headquarters to the branches. For example, the headquarters must review 40% of the branches’ courses. Any courses that do not meet the standards cannot be included in the teaching plan and cannot be used on formal channels to provide students with teaching resources. For content built by the branches that has insufficient resources, the headquarters must assume the responsibility for course construction and provide more and better quality choices for students and branches. “Practical teaching” means implementing teaching links at the practical level. To this end, a series of methods and norms will be introduced this year, and supervision and inspection will be strengthened on this basis. “Strict recruitment and examination” means having strict standards for enrolment and examinations, and intensifying efforts to control the "three disorders.” We punished more than 2,000 students nationwide during the final exams last year. What needs to be emphasised here is that strict recruitment and examinations are not empty words. People must be held accountable, and notifications must be issued. Notifications will not only be sent to the branch, but also to the education administrative department at the same level. “Strong monitoring” refers to further developing and strengthening the role of monitoring, evaluation, and supervision in implementing the teaching process and ensuring teaching quality. Only in this way can we ensure that the OUC's quality requirements cover all aspects of teaching work and the entire process of organisation and implementation.

E-Learning: You mentioned “starting from addressing the symptoms and gaining time for handling the root cause; strengthening the foundation for addressing the root cause; and forging a strong backing for dealing with the symptoms.” How can we understand this idea?

Lin Yu: I’ve mentioned the existing long-standing malpractices above. The many problems we face have different manifestations and causes. For example, the problem of cheating on exams shows poor management, but the deep-rooted causes also lie in the improper teaching process and inappropriate teaching methods. Today, many voices in society are questioning the quality of open education, and we need to improve our image through governance so that we can solve the long-standing problem of slack management. However, these measures are only superficial. To deal with the root cause, we have to rely on teaching reform, implement the teaching process, and build content that is truly suitable for adult learners. In short, improving the quality of education and teaching is the ultimate foundation of a school. But these issues cannot be dealt with overnight. In particular, it is necessary for us to carefully study the laws of adult learning and cognition to promote the reform of teaching design, content, methods, and assessments. In this regard, we have not done enough.

E-Learning: Could you talk about the highlights of The Opinions?

Lin Yu: I’d like to list a few points. Firstly, standards come first. It is necessary for the OUC to further improve its quality standards system for learner training and establish standards for subjects, courses, resource construction, and teaching processes. Secondly, we need to regulate enrolment. Intermediary enrolment should be prohibited and a blacklist system established. Enrolment procedures should be strictly handled. Violations will be dealt with seriously, and the education administrative department at the same level will be notified of any punishments. Thirdly, we need to refine the examination environment. This not only covers the rectification of examination discipline, but also the examination design for each course. It is necessary to control the number of formative assessments and open book examination courses, and strengthen the quality supervision of formative assessments. All compulsory courses must be evaluated using a summative assessment. Students who can pass both the final test and the final composite test will be deemed well-qualified. Fourthly, it is necessary to strengthen quality control. This year, the OUC will launch a pilot evaluation of its branch schools, representing a new form of deepening two-level coordination. I believe that this will play a good role in the overall regulation of school running, especially at the grassroots. Fifthly, we should clarify the orientation of subject adjustments. The Administrative Measures for the Establishment of OUC Majors (Trial) has been issued, which clarified the basic principles, mechanisms, and organisational guarantees for major adjustments.

These measures may not be unprecedented, but they are of great significance. They set a clear orientation for a number of areas in the field of continuing education teaching for higher education.

OUC branches must have a sense of the overall situation and maintain an enterprising spirit

E-Learning: What issues should each branch pay attention to when implementing The Opinions?

Lin Yu: I hope that the branches can understand the overall situation and have a sense of anxiety about the state of open education. The OUC headquarters is actively promoting transformation and development, and the branches must keep up with this trend, fulfil their obligations, reduce and avoid internal friction, and work hard to improve quality, rather than each having their own ideas about what gains and losses can be made.

In addition, the branches should maintain an enterprising spirit. One statement in The Opinions in particular has broken through conventional thinking: “For some branches that cannot fully provide education services as OUC branches in the local region, the headquarters may intervene in other forms to provide education services in the region.” In the past, the running of schools within the system was to some extent a “feudal system” based on “local governance.” The advantage of this approach is that it can avoid competition. The disadvantage lies in that there is no pressure on the branches, which leads to them being lazy and taking their work for granted. In order to address this situation, The Opinions proposed that the Experimental School of the OUC headquarters can run schools in areas where there are insufficient open education services. “The Experimental School will take as its main task the exploration of a learner training model that conforms to the laws of open education and supplements the inefficient school services of the branches.” I hope that all branches will invigorate their spirit and work hard to make sure that open education is healthy and strong. We should fully explore the market, provide services, and expand the presence of the OUC.

E-Learning: I can’t help but feel like this may be difficult to thoroughly implement.

Lin Yu: Reform is indeed a difficult, even heavy, burden to bear. Yet although reform is difficult, for the long-term development of the OUC, we must be determined to carry out reform. Through our unremitting efforts, we must make the OUC a respectable university.

E-Learning: How do you see the future development of open education?

Lin Yu: I am still relatively new to the field of open education. As far as I understand it, if open education is to be sustainable, we must intensify our internal skills. For a long time, we have relied on policies to survive, and we have done very little to strengthen ourselves. This is a big problem. In addition, open education sits at the junction of formal education and informal education within the higher education system. In this way it attracts different support and plays a different role within learning society as a whole. In the long run, we will have the opportunity to transform ourselves from a specific school-running entity into a resource platform manager and standard setter. On this platform, resources that meet the standards are gathered, regardless of their academic qualifications or occupation, to serve resource providers and learners. That is true open education.

Reprinted from Liu Zenghui, E-Learning by the OUC News Network