VI. Causes and Lessons
We have seen that KNOU and the OUC are both similar and different in terms of learner support. For the major aspects of this support their services are similar, with both paying attention to integrating online and offline services via information technology. However, KNOU pays greater attention to enhancing its operations, and makes use of information technology to a greater extent to provide students with diverse and individualised services. The tutoring is more targeted, the counselling more diverse and meticulous; the financial assistance is more extensive, and the use of older students as mentors is a well calibrated system. The system of student organisations is more sophisticated, more support is given to student activities, and the university offers new students more diverse services.
The root causes of these differences are the different management systems and operations of the two universities. KNOU’s provincial universities are its internal departments, and the headquarters has direct control of them; there are fewer educational levels. Therefore, the headquarters has more responsibility to coordinate tutoring, and is able to participate directly in services. A review of the OUC has shown that the headquarters, branches, schools and study centres cooperate in running the school. The headquarters is unable to manage the human, financial and material resources of its lower levels directly, given the vast number of schools spread over a vast territory and with many different levels. For a long time, the headquarters has been mainly responsible for the planning, guidance and design of support services, and less so for their day-to-day operations. Support is mainly the duty of study centres. As a result, the university service teams do not have a unitary mandate. The support services of the OUC differ from those of KNOU in terms of diversity, individual character, and degree of meticulousness.
Neither distance-education nor open universities in China usually manage or operate their study centres directly; they mainly cooperate in running the schools. The support services in the headquarters of these universities are similar to those at the OUC. Therefore, lessons can be learned for future support services at distance-education and open universities, and the OUC in particular, by contrasting key support-service areas of KNOU and the OUC.
The first is to integrate standard services and offer them online.
Distance-education universities should promote coordinated management of support services by standardising study-centre services. The universities should set up online support-service portals that give students access to the services each study centre offers, including tutoring, counselling, and information about student activities. At the same time, service standards must be laid out, and compliance with these of every study centre ensured.
The second is to provide diverse and individualised services.
Distance-education universities should tailor their services to the different student groups they serve in terms of tutoring, counselling, funding assistance, organising community activities, promoting student mutual aid, and helping to solve learner difficulties. Furthermore, they should assist students with their needs in terms of professional development, first aid, social services and leadership training. In particular, universities should focus on helping students adapt to their new environment in all the aspects mentioned.
The third is to offer diverse and standardised tutoring services.
Distance-education universities should provide online face-to-face targeted tutoring to different categories of student groups and covering a variety of types of course, with particular focus on new and online students. They should set up web-based tutoring teams to make up for tutor shortages at rural study centres. Furthermore, they should formulate standards to help determine who is to be tutored, the number of students, and how often and how long online face-to-face tutoring sessions should be.
The fourth is to integrate online and offline services via information technology.
Distance-education universities should optimise their services through information technology and the integration of online and offline services. They should provide both online and offline counselling by telephone and other means to give immediate in-depth mental-health and career-development advice face-to-face. Moreover, they should design online and offline activities to facilitate student participation in activities. In addition, they can provide ways to bring students together, both online and offline, for mutual aid and other purposes.
The fifth is to enhance student mutual aid.
Distance-education universities should encourage student interaction and mutual assistance. Universities should establish student unions, extend them to each study centre, provide student associations with financial and venue support, and encourage the students to manage themselves. They should borrow the practice of having senior-grade students or graduates give guidance to new arrivals via information technology. Furthermore, they should set up special scholarships for student-union members, offer credits to seniors giving guidance services, and encourage students to interact and engage in mutual aid.
About the Authors:
1. The school supporting association fee was initially established to have parents assist in the construction of the university, with the fee as a financial back-up. Later this fee became one that students had to pay (Yang, 2000).
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