The recent OUC Smart Teaching Workshop and Summary on the Pilot Project on Artificial Intelligence Empowering English Smart Teaching Reform received an enthusiastic response, characterised by a lively atmosphere.

This event sparked a discussion on how to achieve new breakthroughs in teaching and learning amidst the ongoing wave of digital transformation. Representatives from open universities nationwide shared their insights, offering new observations, thoughts, and practices from diverse perspectives.


Changes in teaching: Coordinating "large-scale" and "personalized" teaching

"By utilizing AI-generated visual learning data, we can now create precise portraits of each student's learning journey, encompassing aspects like time spent, intensity, progress, and overall effectiveness. This innovation allows teachers to analyse these insights in the background, gaining real-time understanding of every student's grasp of key knowledge points and their progress through the course. As a result, teaching efficiency is significantly enhanced, and it supports tailored, personalized instruction," explained Zheng Jipeng, vice dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Open University of China (OUC).

Statistics show that as of Autumn 2023, the number of people receiving higher education from the OUC has reached a total of 25.72 million. Taking the subject of English as an example, which is a fundamental course in open education, approximately 3 million students opt to study it annually. However, while this approach achieves education on a large scale, the distinct learning needs of students have become increasingly evident.

By harnessing digital technology to enhance education, there's a growing movement from "large-scale standardized education" towards "large-scale personalized learning." This shift underscores the need for innovative transformations in teaching models, tailored to the unique characteristics of each student.

As a frontline teacher, Ding Xia, the director of the Academic Affairs Office and Associate Professor at the OUC Gansu Branch, has a keen understanding of the transformations driven by the integration of artificial intelligence in English smart teaching. "The adoption of AI systems enables teachers to gain precise, timely feedback on students' learning progress, thereby enhancing efficiency and significantly reducing the workload for educators," explains Ding Xia.

The tight integration of AI, big data, and university-level English course instruction has resulted in the adoption of advanced technologies in teaching practices. These include smart systems for oral English training, intelligent systems for English essay correction, virtual teachers, knowledge graphs, and more. Moreover, the transition from a singular evaluation method to a more process-focused formative assessment approach significantly improves learning outcomes for adult students.

Cheng Yanping, a student at Fujian Xianyou Open University, has been profoundly impacted by the university's innovative teaching approach. She explains, "The adaptive learning system intelligently assesses my grasp of knowledge points in real-time, based on my progress, and recommends exercises and study content that are just right for my level." She adds, "In addition to this, real teachers are available for guidance both online and offline. With the 'AI teacher' always accessible, I have the freedom to learn whenever I wish and can readily find a teacher to address my queries and clarify any doubts."

Changes in learning: Breaking the limitations of space and utilizing fragmented time

"Digital education enables us to showcase the uniqueness and features of open education, setting us apart from traditional higher education institutions. At Beijing OU, our focus is on empowering students with the flexibility to enroll, pay fees, register, learn, take exams, and graduate at their own pace," stated Li Jiyan, the vice president of Beijing OU. He believes that digitalisation necessitates a faster pace of innovation in education, which includes evolving the ways students learn.

"The integration of digitalisation and AI will make learning for students easier, more enjoyable, and more productive," stated Li Jiyan.

In the context of learning foreign languages, new tools such as adaptive learning systems, knowledge graphs, and digital resources have increasingly been integrated into students' daily routines, transforming their approach to learning.

Immersing oneself in an environment where a language is actively used significantly enhances learning outcomes. In line with this, the integrated smart teaching resource system has successfully developed a wealth of scenarios for language application. During the pilot phase of the teaching reform, as many as 8,588 students engaged with the OUC Smart Oral English Training System. The cumulative time spent on practice amounted to 17,592.58 minutes.

Huang Yaodan, a student at Hainan Open University, balances her role as a preschool teacher with her studies. The digital learning platform she utilizes allows her to effectively use the limited free time in her busy schedule, providing access to learning resources from across the globe.

"The wealth of learning resources enables me to select courses that pique my interest independently," stated Huang Yaodan. "I can dedicate 20 minutes during lunch breaks to learn about a specific topic, and every bit of learning contributes to my progress."

Digital accomplishment: Teachers and students embrace "lifelong learning" together

The application of digital resources has not only changed school management and classroom teaching, but also raised higher requirements for teachers' digital accomplishment.

"Digital technology is a tool, and fundamentally, it is imperative for teachers to lead the way for students. Therefore, it is a pressing issue to enhance the teachers' digital competence and skills," remarked Zhao Guojun, assistant to the president and dean of the Academic Affairs Office at Liaoning Open University.

Since the launch of the OUC Artificial Intelligence Empowering English Smart Teaching Reform, 13 branches and 400 teachers have been involved in the educational reform. Improving teachers' digital training has become a crucial issue. To address this, OUC has implemented various measures to support the professional development of teachers. These measures include expert lectures, training on the application of smart teaching methods, workshops on smart teaching, and activities aimed at enhancing digital literacy. Through the process of learning new educational concepts and teaching methods, teachers themselves have become active participants in "lifelong learning”.

Liu Xuanxuan, deputy secretary of the Party Committee at OUC, remarked, "Through these initiatives, we have witnessed a remarkable enhancement in teachers' awareness and their capacity to enhance, innovate, and modernize educational and teaching practices with digital technology.”

With 40 years of teaching experience, Wang Jianfeng, a senior English teacher at Hebei Handan Open University, has grown increasingly convinced that smart teaching represents the future direction of education development. "The comprehensive training offered by the university and the readily available technical support have allowed us to seamlessly integrate the new system," said Wang Jianfeng.


Reprinted by OUC from China Education News Web