Research on a Teaching Competency Standard for Teachers in Open Universities

Feng Liguo, Liu Ying

Abstract: The core task in the construction of open universities during their transition from radio and TV universities is to improve teaching quality. The key to this task lies in building teaching teams, which is also the foundation for the enhancement of teaching competency. By mobilising distance education experts, teaching and administration representatives from the educational system of open universities, outstanding practitioners, and people in charge in the relevant functional departments, a number of research methods, including literature research, professional task analysis, group roundtable meetings, and expert interviews have been deployed to extract professional teaching tasks for teachers in open universities. Based on these professional tasks, a competency model for teachers in open universities has been built and standards for the teaching competencies of teachers in open universities have been formulated. This provides a fundamental basis for teaching development and the construction of teaching teams in open universities. The typical teaching tasks can be divided into three respects — teaching preparation, teaching implementation, and teaching development — which can then be further subdivided into nine secondary tasks and 46 tertiary tasks. It is necessary to have 47 abilities in the three dimensions of ethics and values, professional knowledge, and skills and abilities (which includes general abilities and distance teaching abilities).

Key words: teachers in open universities; typical tasks; competency model; competency standard; distance teaching

I. Research Background

Open universities are a new type of educational entity supported by information technology. They are an important force in promoting equal access to education and shaping a lifelong education system and learning society. According to statistical data from the Open University of China 2013 Education Statistical Yearbook, there were 77,234 employers in the open university educational system (including teachers, administrators, technicians, service personnel, and researchers). Among them were 47,586 full-time teachers and 35,156 part-time teachers, adding up to a teaching staff of 82,742. Such a large team of teachers is the basic human resource to ensure the teaching quality of open and distance education in the open universities. Technological progress has brought about not only changes in teaching and learning models but also a series of changes in terms of teaching media, learning materials, teaching communication model, and the learning environment. Teachers in open universities have changed from correspondence teachers to course leaders and tutors and they are on their way to becoming online teachers in the internet era. This change of roles is sure to create new challenges and impose new requirements on the teachers’ competencies. Several Opinions from the Ministry of Education on the Overall Improvement of Higher Education Quality in March 2012 clearly mandates the “improvement of teachers’ professional level and teaching competencies.” The key to improving teaching quality lies in teachers’ competencies; open and distance education is the major operating model of open universities. The employment and training of qualified open distance education teachers is one of the priorities of the construction of open universities and the improvement of education and teaching. What are the required qualifications for teachers in open and distance education? What qualities match the teaching tasks of open universities? What teachers are eligible to teach in open universities? Where should we start in order to improve the teaching ability and level of teachers in open universities? All of these questions point to the same answer, that is, the teaching competency standards of teachers in open universities. Today, the transition of radio and TV universities and the construction of open universities are in a critical quality-centric period, and there is a great need for standards to conform to the competency models and teaching competencies of teachers in open universities.

II. Research ideas and methods

(I) Research ideas

Teachers in open universities are a group instead of just a kind of position. Teachers with different roles work together to complete teaching tasks. It is inevitable that there will be lots of repetitions and omissions in the research on the teaching competency standards of the teaching groups in open universities from the perspective of various teacher roles and responsibilities. Moreover, during the open university construction process, teaching operation mechanisms are constantly being adjusted and teachers’ roles constantly optimised. Nevertheless, the teaching tasks of open and distance education are relatively stable and it is the responsibility of teachers to complete all the teaching tasks. Therefore, this research sets out to analyse the teaching competency standards of teachers engaging in typical teaching tasks (hereinafter referred to as typical tasks) in order to construct a complete system of standards for teaching competencies that are highly applicable, flexible, and expandable.

Typical tasks originate from the following three aspects. The first is teaching theories of distance education. These are the basic teaching rules that all distance education institutions must follow, including course development, teaching implementation, support, and other basic teaching tasks. The second is the tasks the teachers have to undertake in the existing teaching process. These include various specific teaching rules such as teaching process management regulations and job specifications for different kinds of teachers in the open university educational system. The third is regulated or newly-added teaching tasks. With the regulation and optimisation of the educational system and the open university teaching model, it is necessary to regulate some of the teaching tasks and add new content in order to advance the teaching reforms.

Once the typical tasks have been established, each task is analysed and competencies for each task are laid out. The competencies are then added together, repeated items are merged, and similar items are adjusted in order to formulate a dictionary of competencies. The competency dictionary is then summarised and classified in order to shape the competency model. Finally, a description is provided for each competency item in order to form the competency standards as shown in Figure 1.

(II) Research methods

This research uses literature research, typical task analysis, group roundtable meetings, expert interviews, and several other research methods.

Firstly, literature research was conducted on the CNKI database using the key words “open universities” and “teaching competencies.” 1,358 relevant references were found. Analysis focused on documents from the last five years, leading to the following major research conclusions. Chen Li et al (2012) put forward four dimensions for the qualifications of tutors in distance education: society building and maintenance, learning guidance and facilitation, technology integration and support, and activity design and organisation. Li Shuang et al (2014)used questionnaires and interviews to conduct an in-depth investigation into the competency requirements for course tutors at Beijing Open University. They defined the core, key and auxiliary abilities of course tutors by evaluation the importance and relative time-consumption of different competencies. The actual competency level of on-the-job staff is also inspected through self-evaluation. Yang Sujuan et al (2009) argue that technology has become an implicit part of distance education and a required competency for distance education teachers. As far as distance education teachers are concerned, it is an orientation to further research into interaction competencies on how to strengthen interaction activity design, process management, and effect evaluation from the perspectives of competencies in technology, management and organisation, teaching design, and teaching evaluation. Zhang Shaogang et al (2013) looked at the three roles of teaching, management, and technology personnel and formulated the Standard Framework for Distance Education Practitioners starting from the core business of distance education. They divided the competencies of different kinds of personnel into specialised competencies and general competencies. Zhang Zhuo et al (2014) formulated a competency model for distance education teachers based on behavioural event interviews. The model includes five differentiation competencies and 22 threshold competencies. Of these, the three differentiation competencies of “team collaboration”, “communication and coordination ability”, and "organisation and management ability” make up the management dimension. Therefore, it is necessary to have strong skills in team collaboration, communication and coordination, and organisation and management in order to be an outstanding distance education teacher. It is clear that most research is focused on the competency framework, quality model or the role of an individual teachers’ teaching ability and that there is a lack of competency research based on the teaching operation mechanism and typical tasks of open universities and that there are no specific referable research results.

Next, during the analysis of typical tasks and the research and formulation of competency standards, the research group first worked out a discussion paper based on an analysis of distance teaching theories and related research, and the teaching and faculty management systems and tasks of outstanding teachers, and then brought together stakeholders for guided brainstorming, collective roundtable meetings, and workshops. From July 2015 to November 2016, the paper analysed 294 systems and documents on teaching management and faculty management from the OUC headquarters and its branches, schools, and study centres, and organised and analysed the typical teaching tasks that the teachers are required to complete. 170 outstanding OUC teachers, responsible people from the headquarters’ teaching and teaching management departments, representatives of the educational system, and faculty and teaching administrators were organised for collective discussions on typical teaching tasks and competency standards of teachers in open universities.

Finally, in December 2016, 33 experts from inside and outside the educational system were invited to discuss and revise the typical teaching tasks and competency standards of open universities by way of distance interviews and group discussions.

During the research process, typical tasks were revised six times, and 64 tasks across four aspects (teaching preparation, implementation, evaluation, and reflection and research) were adjusted to 46 items across three aspects (teaching preparation, implementation, and development). The competency standards were revised eight times and 64 items across the two dimensions of general and specialised abilities were adjusted to create 47 items across the three dimensions of attitude and value, specialised knowledge, and skills and abilities.