With the rapid development of online education, it is an important and urgent task to improve the online education and teaching ability of college teachers. It is of great significance to deepen research in terms of implementing the fundamental task of fostering virtue through education, improving college teachers’ professional online teaching ability, establishing high-quality teaching teams in colleges and universities, and promoting the quality improvement of education and teaching in institutions of higher education.
The project “Research on the Improvement of the Online Education and Teaching Ability of College Teachers” conducts a systematic analysis of the status quo of college teachers’ online education and teaching skills and the difficulties of improving it. It also proposes paths and policy suggestions for ability improvement in a targeted way.
Supported by a series of modern information technologies represented by the Internet, the production and dissemination of knowledge are undergoing profound changes. Since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed the rapid development of online education and has exerted a profound impact on the reform and development of higher education. In this context, more and more colleges and universities have joined online education and have stepped up their efforts to put online education into operation and achieved prominent results. A team led by Cao Guoyong, executive deputy secretary of the Party Committee of the Open University China (OUC), has conducted in-depth research on the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers. The research focuses on not only the system of open universities but also universities across the country. Through systematic research, it provides universal and useful references and experiences for the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers in China.
The need to pay attention to online and offline integration in transforming models
E-learning: The project “Research on the Improvement of the Online Education and Teaching Ability of College Teachers” that you led was recently completed. What was your original intention in taking on this project?
Cao Guoyong: At present, online education is undergoing rapid developments, and it is an important and urgent task to improve the online education and teaching ability of college teachers. We undertook this project with the authorisation of the Department of Teacher Education of the Ministry of Education (MOE) for the following reasons.
The first reason is the need to implement the fundamental task of fostering virtue through education. The fundamental task of education is to foster virtue and to promote all-round development. At present, higher education still faces the problem of unbalanced and inadequate development. Research on the improvement of college teachers’ education and teaching ability can effectively promote the development of massive online education, better solve the problem of quality higher education resources sharing, better meet people's needs for lifelong learning, and better implement the fundamental task of fostering virtue through education.
The second reason is the need to improve the quality of education and teaching. It has become an important task for the high-quality development of higher education to help college teachers improve their online education and teaching ability using multiple measures from different fields and levels. Our research on the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers aims to enhance the professional competence of college teachers, promote the establishment of high-quality teaching teams, and guarantee talent and intellectual support for improving the quality of college education and teaching. This project reviews the difficulties of ability improvement, explores pathways for improvement, and puts forward policy suggestions through a systematic analysis of the status quo of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers in China, helping to improve the overall quality of online education and teaching in colleges and universities in China.
The third reason is the need for the self-development of online education. With the support of a series of modern information technologies represented by the Internet, the production and dissemination of knowledge are undergoing profound changes. Since 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has produced an unprecedented turn towards online education. Online education has received widespread attention, showed explosive growth, and had a profound impact on the reform and development of higher education. It can be predicted that in an environment of global instability and uncertainty, we will rely more and more on online education in realising the main function of higher education. The pandemic period has led to transformational development in teaching and management models. The general trend of integrated online and offline development will be more prominent, and online teaching will be given more importance by regular full-time colleges and universities, which necessitates the improvement of teachers' ability to use modern technologies. As far as open education is concerned, though we have had more than 40 years of distance teaching practice, we still have to adapt to the new situation, new tasks, and new requirements. We are also faced with profound changes in high-quality development and the improvement of teaching quality. Therefore, it is of universal significance to study the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers.
E-learning: What is the practical significance of the research of this project?
Cao Guoyong: The research in this project was not only conducted around the open-university system, but also universities around China, with the goal of providing universal and useful references and experiences.
Firstly, the project group conducted a questionnaire survey on the online education and teaching ability of teachers in open universities nationwide as well as in-depth interviews with teachers of multiple disciplines by leveraging the advantages of the open education system. Our aim was to reveal the current difficulties of improving the online education and teaching ability of college teachers. We obtained rich and in-depth firsthand information, which has laid a solid foundation for later research.
The open-university system has accumulated extensive and rich experiences in the field of online education. It is our hope that through this project, we can polish and upgrade these experiences, highlight key problems, and provide college teachers with universal and useful references and experiences to improve their online education and teaching ability. We are confident that it is of great significance to improve the online education and teaching ability of college teachers, and online education and teaching quality in colleges and universities.
E-learning: This project, as a national research project, must have taken very extensive samples, and the research methods must be complex. Could you tell us about that?
Cao Guoyong: We used three main research methods — literature research, questionnaire, and interview — during the research process.
In order to ensure rigorous and accurate research results, we consulted domestic and foreign research documents, examined the significance and implications of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers and the existing mechanisms and measures for improvement, and designed relevant questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaire was handed out nationwide, and 1,717 valid questionnaires were recovered, covering front-line teachers with different years of teaching, professional titles, and positions. Descriptive and inferential statistical analyses were conducted on the data of the questionnaire using SPSS software.
In addition, semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 52 full-time staff members engaged in teaching in the OUC system, including professors, associate professors, and various other teachers with intermediate professional titles.
The need to synergise all parties in improving online education and teaching ability
E-learning: Based on your investigation and research, what are the main factors affecting the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers? What are the difficulties facing the improvement of the online education and teaching ability college teachers?
Cao Guoyong: According to the results of our research, we’ve found that the improvement of the online education and teaching ability of college teachers is mainly affected by internal factors like individuals and families and external factors like work and workplace environment. Age, years of teaching, knowledge background, scientific research input, and the number of projects teachers are involved in may also have an impact. In terms of external factors, scientific research input and the number of projects have a greater impact. Specifically, the higher the input of scientific research and the greater the number of participating projects, the higher a teacher’s online education and teaching ability is. Therefore, teachers should be provided with more scientific research opportunities and better scientific research conditions.
Our research results also show that the difficulties in improving college teachers' online education and teaching ability are mainly reflected in the following five aspects.
First, individual-level difficulties mainly include teachers’ lack of information technology literacy, insufficient accumulation and follow-up of disciplinary professional knowledge, weak teaching design and organising ability, insufficient resource building ability, insufficient understanding of learning situation, and low willingness to self-improve. Second, the difficulties related to the teacher management system mainly include unclear role positioning, insufficient incentive mechanisms, limited practical opportunities, and unreasonable workload. Third, the difficulties related to the teaching management system mainly include the lack of guidance of a responsible person or unit, poorly constructed teaching community, lagging teaching platforms, and the restrictions of unified requirements. Fourth, the difficulties related to teaching model mainly include the lack of control of the teaching process, the lack of access to student feedback information, the lack of interaction between teachers and students, and the low enthusiasm of the students. Fifth, the difficulties related to technology iteration mainly include rapid technology development and the short update cycle. Before the sound instructional design based on new technologies has been achieved, the supporting technology or platform has already become outdated, meaning that teachers are always having to catch up with technology.
E-learning: What are your suggestions for improving the online education and teaching ability of college teachers?
Cao Guoyong: According to the above analysis of difficulties of improving their online education and teaching ability, we can start from the perspectives of individuals, universities, and educational administrative departments.
At the individual level, it is suggested that teachers enhance their awareness and strengthen their ability to reflect. The first key aspect is to enhance their awareness of the need to take the initiative to break through their lack of ability. The second is to reflect on teaching and deepen research on action. The third is to improve their teaching level by referring to standard role models. The fourth is to explore the deep integration of artificial intelligence and education to reshape role cognition.
At the university level, multiple measures can be taken to improve mechanisms. The first measure is to design training systems in a systematic way, innovate training models, and provide precise and personalised training. The second is to complete an ability improvement system and build a real-time feedback system. The third is to make full use of the “artificial intelligence + education” application model to create a new education ecology. The fourth is to expand publicity and promotion and strengthen guidance.
At the level of education administrative departments, it is suggested that they standardise guidance and create an environment that encourages the improvement of online education and teaching ability. The first necessary measure is to make plans for the development of online education and teaching ability to strengthen project guidance. The second is to build a scientific research system to help make and share innovation breakthroughs and transformations. The third is to build a standard for the online education and teaching ability of college teachers, establish an index system for online education and teaching ability evaluation, and focus on promoting construction through evaluation.
By Li Guiyun and Sheng Xueyun, E-Learning