The Government Work Report delivered at the Third Session of the Twelfth National People’s Congress first mentioned the need to “develop an Internet internet Plus plus action plan to integrate mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things with modern manufacturing, and to encourage the healthy development of e-commerce, industry networks, and internet banking.” Although education is not specifically referred to in the “Internet Plus Industry Action Plan”, Internet Plus represents an inevitable trend in education development, and open education has long been deeply integrated with internet technology.
The internet has created a completely new information space and great changes are also taking place in terms of students’ use of information, and their need for information consultation services. There is an increasing need for convenient, effective, practical, continuous, and transparent information consultation services. These constantly changing service needs determine the development orientation of information consultation services in distance education. As such, it is necessary for distance education institutions to keep up to date with the needs of their students and to improve their service model by investigating, analysing and following up these needs. Students are also provided with effective solutions to problems through the acquisition, analysis, reorganization, customization and delivery of educational information.
II. The current state of educational information consultation services in distance education institutions in China
In recent years, many distance education institutions in China have set up remote reception centres, also known as consultation service centres, student service centres, call centres or student liaison centres. Students are offered distance education information through telephone hotlines, SMS, online services, BBS, and email.
The author investigated the current state of information consultation services at 60 online education schools. 97% of the online education schools have created an information services web page; 50% of them provide online services; 63% offer email services; 97% provide telephone hotline services; and 13 online education schools have opened toll-free “400” telephone lines. The author also investigated the present state of educational information consultation services in 44 of the Open University of China’s (OUC) branch schools. Twenty-one of the schools have launched information services web pages, accounting for 47%; 16 of them provide online services, accounting for 36%; 24 of them provide email service, accounting for 55%; and 30 of them provide telephone hotline services, accounting for 68%.
A comprehensive survey of distance education information consultation services in China shows that most distance education institutions offer a communication network, internet technology and several other kinds of services. In terms of service content they focus on non-academic support such as enrollment, learning or examination exemptions, graduation review, and degree application, with comparatively weak support for academic services.
III. Analysis of the need for information consultation services in open education
In order to create a better information consultation service model for Internet-based distance education, the author surveyed students’ requirements for information services in open education. The groups targeted were OUC junior college students and diploma-to-degree programme undergraduate students. A total of 500 valid questionnaires were recovered. The questionnaire consisted of several sections: basic information, learning motivations, information requirements, information use, obstacles to obtaining information, and degree of satisfaction with information services. The author believes that these aspects make up an objective background influencing students' information demands.