Behind the scene: In the autumn semester of 2015, the integration of degree and non-degree education was realised for the first time in the core network course of Computer Assisted English Language Learning (CAELL).
Moreover, it was also the first time for the course to have a foreign student. In November 2016, in regard to an opportunity to deliver academic lectures in Sichuan province, the team leader of the CAELL course, Han Yanhui (Han, for short), had a face-to-face interview with Zeng Hongmei (Zeng, for short) from Qingbaijiang branch of Chengdu Radio and Television University (RTVU). She was a single student from Sichuan province who was an English language teacher in a local primary school and had enrolled in the course. Han also had a discussion with the only non- degree foreign student, Tobias Symonds (Toby, for short), from London, United Kingdom. Here are the learning experiences and the points of view towards the CAELL course and the one-stop, trans-regional team learning assistance mode explored by the teachers’ team from a degree and a non-degree student.
Han: What did you think of CAELL before you began to participate in the course?
Zeng: Personally, I thought that this was a course blended with audio and videos. After all, when talking about media (computer), we connect it mostly with audio and video resources. But one thing beyond my expectation was that the software and cloud applications in the course were so convenient and easily operable. I was used to PPT, but it’s less creative. However, the Snap software requires an internet connection, but the Internet isn’t very stable in our rural areas, which affects its use to some extent.
Toby: I had no idea about the course before I began it. I think online learning is a great way for us to practice the multimedia methods of English language teaching, and we can also introduce some new methods.
Han: In the beginning, some students were afraid of the difficulties in learning, what about you? Have you ever thought of giving it up?
Zeng: I didn’t think it was that difficult, probably because my computer skills are OK. Except, at the beginning there were some problems with the installation of the Snap plug-in software. However, my tutor Zhu Xiaoling helped me quickly address the problems through Windows remote desktop control. I never thought of giving up. When there was something I did not understand, I would ask the tutors for help in the QQ chat group. Therefore, with this kind of teaching, it is very important to form a chat group.
Toby: I never thought of giving up. I often asked questions at midnight or even at dawn. The teachers’ team always offered me help on a timely basis.
Han: Have you ever had an online course like CAELL before?
Zeng: I haven’t. But in our school, we have been using network-based electronic whiteboards, similar to projection.
Toby: I have never taken one before. This is my first online course. I think it is very successful because, after taking this course, I am very willing to take another online course in the future.
Han: After using CAELL, what do you think is the difference between this course and other courses you have taken?
Zeng: The CAELL course is more advanced, since it’s connected with the network. At the same time, it is more useful in terms of operation or operational technology.
Toby: This is my first online study. It’s a wonderful experience. I received a lot of extra and timely help and guidance.
Han: What is your number one take-away from this course?
Zeng: Mine would have to be the new technology and novel gadgets, which will provide convenience for more teaching methods in the future.
Toby: I knew little about online learning. But this learning experience is very good. I also made some friends, which has been a very important part of learning. Moreover, I got to have a more in-depth understanding of the application of multimedia.
Han: After completion of the course, do you think you’re more capable of using computers and applying technology than other teachers?
Zeng: I might be.
Toby: Although I am not confident enough to build my own online learning platform, at least I understood how the learning platform is running. This prompted me to think about how to create more interesting online learning contents for students in my school in the future.
Han: In the autumn semester of 2015, there were some non-degree students joining in the study with degree students. Have you ever encountered such a situation?
Zeng: No. Actually, I think it’s acceptable. For students from different regions, their teaching philosophy, methods and means may be different. But we can exchange our experiences with each other without all of us having to be the same. In addition, we can also make friends with each other.
Toby: I’ve never experienced such a situation before. I thought these students were English language teachers, instead of undergraduates. I'm surprised to hear you say that!
Han: Do you have a progressive recognition of this course?
Zeng: Yeah, yeah. I think this course should start from simple to difficult, with an ascending trend.
Toby: Yes, with the deepening of learning, I gradually improved the recognition of the course.
Han: What do you think about online learning? In general, most people only have face-to-face type of instruction and learning.
Zeng: I think it is a very good method since it saves time, space and money as well. Ha, ha!
Toby: I think the quality of online learning is high. But because it is the first time for me to experience online learning, it is difficult to compare online and face-to-face learning for me at the moment.
Han: Have you ever had your classmates evaluate homework between each other? Do you ever worry about inaccuracies in their evaluation, like, “I did a good job, why did he/she give me a low score?”
Zeng: I never had that kind of experience. I think evaluation of homework between classmates would be very good. A teacher may have a fixed mind set. However, students from different areas may have different thinking from the teacher. Some new ideas may be created in the process. I can see that the students are of very high quality. I am sure they will give an objective evaluation and the probability of deliberately giving a low mark is very low.
Toby: No. I've never used my classmates to evaluate my homework. Most of the time, I think evaluation by a fellow student would be accurate. I'm not worried about others’ giving scores for my homework. However, I also realized an underlying problem, that is, if I give a low score to a friend, it might not make him or her very happy.
Han: Based on the study of the course for a semester, do you think the quality of online learning can be guaranteed without in-person instructions?
Zeng: I think the quality can be guaranteed this way.
Toby: The teaching quality is very good.
Postscript: Zeng Hongmei was especially busy since she had classes every day. We were finally able to schedule a time to interview her after many tries. Before contacting her, both Chengdu RTVU and I repeatedly stressed that the interview will take place only if it is convenient to the student. We’re student centered.
Tobias Symonds is a native student from UK. He was a foreign English Language teacher at Sichuan University when he studied this course. He has a high level of Chinese and thus enjoys a lot of advantages in learning the course. When I had a talk with him, I got to know that he had left Sichuan University and started his own business. He opened four English language training schools. He also said he was ready to develop some mobile APPs for mobile English language learning. Perhaps he was inspired by our online course! He is a graduate of traditional face-to-face education from the Newcastle University. We are happy that we have offered a very first and successful online education experience for him.
At present, among the non-degree students taking part in the study of this course in the autumn of 2015, thirty students, including Tobias Symonds, have passed the examinations. A single discipline certificate has been designed for them and we will help them pass the accreditation of the OUC’s credit bank.
By Han Yanhui from the OUC, Yu Yanxia from Doumen RTVU,
Guangdong province, and Xu Peitong from Kaiping RTVU, Guangdong province