Since the establishment of the China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU) in 1982, the course Public English has been an important part of its curriculum. As a compulsory course at the Open University of China (OUC), it began to adopt English-language teaching materials in 1985, and constantly improved them, going to the "RTVU English" version in 1994 and then to the Open English Series in 2004. Along with the textbooks, the teaching of Public English has constantly been updated to meet the needs of students. At this time as many as 2 million students take the course each academic year.

As the OUC has developed, the needs of adult students have changed, and it has become imperative to move from general-English to vocational-English instruction. Teaching reforms have included using modern information technology, taking advantage of the possibilities of distance education, integrating varieties of teaching resources, and aiming to enhance the abilities of students to use English in the workplace.

Put Students at the Centre and Meet Their Diverse Needs

Over the course of the development of the OUC, new requirements for educational resources and teaching methods have emerged. The students are skewing younger and younger, and are generally under pressure to improve their professional competence. Job holders hope to gain better career prospects, and students preparing to find work want to become more competitive. Over the past thirty years, having only a single English textbook for every course has become less and less appropriate as a way of meeting the diverse workplace-English needs of students. What’s more, their time has become more fragmented, which means that more learning resources are needed. With the rapid development of information and network technology, learners have more urgent needs for online and mobile classes, in which their regional distributions and educational backgrounds can be very different. Finally, instruction of languages other than English is also more and more in demand. Based on all this, the OUC’s Faculty of Foreign Languages began curriculum reforms of the Public English course in 2013, and these involved changes to teaching materials, the construction of new teaching resources, the construction of multi-modal courses in languages other than English, and the exploration of three-dimensional learning models.

Employment Oriented and Ability Based

In order to adapt to the needs of students seeking employment, the reformed teaching of English combined task-based with communicative teaching, and integrated language functions with situational teaching. By creating contexts closely related to professions, it made the study of English relevant to work and life, and enhanced the interest of students in learning English. The teaching materials included the main aspects of language learning - listening, speaking, reading and writing – and covered them in ways that were relevant to how students would actually use them.
Determine context and environment based on majors, and organise learning around topics

In the past, there was only a single type of English textbook for all majors and professions. Then vocational English was added to the Public English teaching materials, which were closely linked with the various fields of study available at the OUC. Four Public English course series, including English for science and technology, for management, for business, and for the humanities, were introduced, with each series covering two junior-college and two undergraduate-level courses. A unified framework, covering writing style and teaching concepts, was adopted. Students can choose English courses based on their majors. For example, students majoring in Administrative Management can choose to study management English, Finance majors can choose business English, English for the humanities is targeted at students studying law, education or one of the social sciences, and English for science and technology is for students in civil engineering and mechanical manufacturing. Each unit covers its own particular topics. The contents of the four textbooks go from easy to difficult, and build on what was learned in previous units. The topics are relevant to the different fields. In English for science and technology, for example, they cover future housing, modern bridges, low-carbon living, high-speed trains, new types of automobiles, environmentalism, online shopping, and smart phones. The topics in English for the humanities include Colleagues and Me, Four Generations Living Together, Making Friends, Chinese and Western Holidays, the Dangers of Drunk driving, Family Violence, and so on. Both universality and pertinence are taken into account in topic selection. The articles in the textbooks are moderately difficult, and help enhance both English abilities and the student’s grasp of topics relevant to his or her field.

Build a three-dimensional learning environment with multimedia resources

Compared with the learning resources available in the past, the new Public English curriculum is committed to creating a three-dimensional learning environment using multi-media teaching resources and providing comprehensive support to students. The paper teaching resources include the formativeexamination books and final-review guidance, which provide students with formative summary guidance book and the final-review guidance that includes sample tests and translated textbook content. The audio teaching resources include the text and vocabulary recorded in English by American native speakers. Online learning, meanwhile, is very popular with students nowadays. In the core network-based courses under construction for the 16 new Public English courses, workplaces are emulated, and learning tasks are the focus. Through guidance, study, practice and evaluation, the students can learn listening, speaking, reading and writing, master their material little by little, enhance their language skills, and broaden their vocational horizons. Resources tailored to mobile phones are the highlight of the new Public English course. Dialogues are animated, and supported by synchronized audio and video files. Key words and sentences are highlighted, exercises are designed to be convenient for mobile phones. Note-taking functions, such as laser pointers, annotations, memos and screen shots, help students record their learning history, which is helpful for review, and can be uploaded and shared. Mobile digital textbooks can be used by both students and teachers. When problems arise they can be dealt with at once, and downloaded resources can be used offline at any time. At the European Association for Distance and Electronic Learning Networks in Budapest, Hungary, and at the University of Athabasca, Canada, these resources have been studied and praised by international industry experts.

Based on English, and supplemented by courses in other languages

In view of the different learning needs of different groups of student, the Foreign Language Teaching Department (now renamed the Faculty of International Languages and Culture) has initiated instruction of languages such as Japanese, Russian, Korean, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese through a variety of models, including independent study, study within the OUC system, and study in cooperation with experts from colleges and universities. These language courses focus on real-world language use, relying on conversation and emphasising practicality, interest and communication, so that learners will not only master conversation skills, but also understand the social customs of the countries from which the target languages come.

Since the launch of the new curriculum, it has become the task of the Foreign Language Teaching Department to make full use of the teaching resources, to integrate a variety of media, and to organise teaching effectively. While the new curriculum was being launched, the Faculty of Foreign Languages undertook teaching research all over China: in Guangdong in the south, Heilongjiang in the north, Gansu in the west, Shandong in the west, and Hebei and Henan provinces in the middle. In its surveys of teachers it emerged that mobile-phone digital teaching materials have helped them teach face-to-face on mobile phones. The detailed video explanations available have reduced their face-to-face teaching burdens, and the rich teaching-resource packages have made guiding students easier. Students all agree that the topics covered in the new Public English teaching materials are more up-to-date and closer to their lives, and that what they learn in their English classes can easily be applied at work. Especially when it comes to studying via mobile phone, students say that they "can listen to recordings with just a scan of the QR code and watch the animated materials at the click of a button. When problems arise, clicking on the materials can solve them." "The interface is beautiful, and there are audio files, pictures, and translations and interpretations of the texts. We can record while speaking and learn while listening." Positive assessments such these from teachers and students are the best reward, giving us a great deal of encouragement and motivation. We will keep forging ahead, and believe that we will be well rewarded for our pains.

By Zheng Jipeng and Wu Yaqing, OUC