The 28th Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities, known as AAOU, was convened in Hong Kong on 28-31 October 2014. The conference was organized by the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) with the theme of “Advancing Open and Distance Learning (ODL): Research and Practices”. More than 200 representatives from 17 countries and areas took part in this conference. Vice President Shaogang Zhang of the Open University of China (OUC) led a team of nine members to participate in the conference.

Professor Yuk-Shan Wong, President of AAOU and of the OUHK, delivered a welcoming speech at the opening ceremony. Mr. John Tsang Chun Wah, Financial Secretary of Hong Kong SAR, together with Dr Ho Sinn Chye, President of the Open University of Malaysia (OUM) as well as Immediate Past President of AAOU, also addressed at the opening ceremony.

Vice President Shaogang Zhang participated in The 29th Annual Meeting of the AAOU Executive Committee and The 28th Annual Meeting of the AAOU General Body on behalf of the OUC. 15 agenda items including minutes of the past AAOU Executive Committee Meeting and the AAOU General Body Meeting, statement of accounts and audit report for 2013, the 2015 budget estimates, AAOU membership status and application, AAOU inter-university exchange fellowship programme; inspection process and results of the AAOU Meritorious Service Award, Best Paper Award, Best Practice Award and Young Innovator Award for 2013 and 2014, AAOU journal publication, expression of interest to host the AAOU annual conference in 2016, OUHK president’s continuation of the AAOU presidency, proposed amendments to the constitution regarding Executive Committee composition, establishment of a task force on MOOcs, and application to ICDE to be an associate member were discussed and passed at the conference. The Executive Committee proposed to set up a task force on MOOCs, whose tasks will be undertaken by members designated by the OUC, the OUHK, Universitas Terbuka of Indonesia (UTI), the Korea National Open University (KNOU) and the Open University of Japan (OUJ), with an aim to promote extensive research and effective practice in MOOC in Asian open universities. In the Executive Committee, Mr. Shaogang Zhang expressed the clear intention that, in 2015, the OUC will accept several visiting scholars from Asian open universities to conduct research. 

Professor Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, Professor Yoichi Okabe, President of OUJ, Prof. António Teixeira, President of the European Distance and E-learning Network (EDEN) and Prof. Cheong Hee Kiat, President of SIM University were invited to make keynote speeches. The four distance education specialists provided case analysis and shared their research results respectively in advancing research and practice in ODL, the establishment and development of the Japan Open Online Education Promotion Council (JMOOC), a strategy-driven radical innovation process at the Portuguese Open University and exploration of providing quality higher education and professional development opportunities based on graduates' employment skills and long-term vocational development needs by SIM University. Representatives from a total of five parallel sessions made speeches and discussed such topics as multi-mode education, development of instructional materials, student learning support, quality assurance, use of ICT in course delivery, assessment and evaluation, blended learning, OCW, and MOOCs.

In this annual conference, there were a total of three papers as finalists in the best papers award and one paper in the Young Innovator Award. They are “Analysis of online learning behaviour from tutor’s perspectives: Reflections on interactive teaching and learning in big data era, by Yanhui Han, Shunping Wei and Shaogang Zhang, “A study on RTVU learners in open learning: Developing learners’ skills and capacity for self-directed learning by Danqing Huang, “Research on MOOCs: Participation and discussion of online forum” by Min Yang and Ying Li and “Research on semantic web-based online intelligent question answering system” by Lei Shi. Also, representatives from the OUC, including Qingchun Guo, Yaxing Yuan, Shunping Wei and Wei Li presented their papers and shared research results on the following topics: “The quality assurance standards system: Research and practice in the Open University of China.”, “Research on Learning Centre’s information standards”, “Correction analysis on the input and output of scientific research in the Open University of China”, and “Strategies for advancing ODL institutions: A SWOT analysis of the Open University of China”.

On the afternoon of 30 October, during the open university Presidents’ Forum entitled “Advancing open and distance education: Reflections and future directions”, a number of the open university presidents present expressed their respective opinions on how to promote the development of ODL and held lively discussions on the future development trends in distance education.

In the Closing Ceremony, award winners of AAOU Meritorious Service Award, AAOU Best Paper Award, AAOU Best Practice Award and AAOU Young Innovator Award for 2014 were honored. Finally, the conference announced that the 29th Annual Conference of AAOU will be hosted by OUM.

During the conference, Mr. Shaogang Zhang exchanged ideas on a wide range of topics with top leaders and scholars from other Asian open universities. The results included agreements on a cooperative project of exchanging visiting scholars for teaching Chinese to foreigners with Allama Iqbal Open University of Pakistan, Continuation of "China-Japan-ROK Tripartite Seminar on Distance Learning" with the OUJ and KNOU, as well as intended cooperation in academic exchanges and education projects for older adults with the OUHK.

Vice President Shaogang Zhang and his team members also visited the electronic library and the Educational Technology and Publishing Unit of the OUHK during the conference. They also conducted in-depth exchanges of information and shared their results with the staff of the department.

By Shi Lei, the OUC