A Brief Discussion of the Online Course Development of Undergraduate Distance Degree Education in TCSOL

Xu Xiaoxiao,  Wang Shuo

Chinese Language Centre of the Open University of China, Beijing, 100039

Abstract: The development of online core courses is the foundation of distance degree education. In order to establish distance undergraduate programmes in Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (hereinafter referred as TCSOL), the Open University of China (hereinafter referred to as the OUC) is committed to the further construction and improvement of ten online core courses to support the degree education based on the existing 50 training courses for international Chinese teachers.

These courses, under the guidance of the latest standards for for teachers of Chinese to speakers of other languages, cover five fields: Chinese language abilities and skills, Chinese teaching methodology, classroom management, Chinese culture and cross-cultural communication, and professionalism. The course leaders and teaching team make use of local and international resources built on years of forums on the development of international Chinese teachers. The design concepts integrate and utilise the latest research achievements, and absorb the theoretical and practical achievements of MOOCs, U-learning and E-learning, including not only comprehensive video teaching materials, but also short but well-built five-minute courses. These online courses can be used for blended learning, flipped classroom, and other teaching modes. They not only serve degree education but also support the further study and training of local teachers. In combination with the online learning space, learning support, online learning assessment, and opportunities for overseas teaching practice, the OUC’s TCSOL programme integrates quality education resources from regular universities and creates complementary advantages from them, making innovations in the development model for Chinese international education learners.

Key words: distance degree education; TCSOL; online course; MOOC; blended learning mode

In 2015, there were 342 universities offering undergraduate programmes in TCSOL and 107 postgraduate programmes in TCSOL in China. Rough statistics show that about 16,000 undergraduates can be trained each year; since 2007, about 30,000 postgraduates have passed through the programmes. The number of TCSOL personnel cultivated in China meets or even exceeds the needs of the domestic market. However, overseas teaching resources are scarce in comparison, especially in the face of the more than 100 million overseas Chinese learners. The reason for this scarcity lies in two aspects. On one hand, there are few local overseas Chinese teachers, and on the other hand, the TCSOL professionals trained in China are not qualified to work overseas. A big challenge facing university education in China is how to develop excellent employees and human resources with a solid and diverse knowledge structure, and strong cross-cultural communication abilities. In recent years, a number of explorations have been made into how to improve the quality of teachers from the perspectives of cultivation model, development ideology, teaching method, teaching material compilation, curriculum setup, and practice. This essay sets out to explore the construction and application of online courses and the unique role of distance education in TCSOL from the perspective of integrating TCSOL and distance education.

I. Background for the development of undergraduate distance degree education in TCSOL

(I) The integration of the internet in teaching Chinese as a second language is an inevitable demand of the era

The development of TCSOL in China has been concurrent with the development of distance education, starting from Xiamen University's correspondence-based overseas Chinese course in the 1960s and continuing on through teaching Chinese as a second language via the SCOLA satellite TV network by China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU, the predecessor of the OUC) in 1996 to the establishment of the first online Confucius Institute at Michigan State University (CI-MSU). With the deepening of education reform, more attention has been paid to distance education in China, gradually transitioning from the previously complementary education to the most important form of lifelong education. Some more specialised universities have also positively developed non-degree distance education in TCSOL in recent years. For example, Beijing Language and Culture University has gradually built brands such as “Online Training for Non-degree Chinese Education” and “Online Training for Chinese Teachers.” Moreover, a great number of business institutions have also emerged in the education market driven by the capital to offer internet-based online Chinese teaching and training along with the universities. Furthermore, online education has also been used in the training of teachers of Chinese as a second language, including the “Distance Degree Education Class” 1 offered by “Overseas Chinese Language and Culture Education Online” undertaken by the Overseas Education College of Xiamen University entrusted by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council. Other examples include Confucius Institute Online’s “The Online Learning System of Volunteers Training ”2, and the online Chinese teacher training courses provided by some private training institutions. Although these are all great efforts in the field of teacher training, there are still a number of problems and space for development.

At present, domestic TCSOL and distance (online) education mostly overlaps in the field of Chinese learning, with teacher training at the primary stage of development. However, little practice has been done in distance degree education for TCSOL programmes. This is related to the fact that the open education cause in China is still at a developmental stage. By seizing this opportunity, the OUC can learn from the experience of institutions in the UK, US, and Hong Kong, in order to establish and improve distance degree education for different majors and vigorously develop non-degree education. Since its nascence, distance education has been married to the then most advanced information communication technology in order to meet the needs for high quality professionals and skills under a developing and changing economy and society. All majors can and should be combined with distance education. It is inevitable that the internet will be used to further develop TCSOL in the current day and age.

(II) The foundation for the OUC to develop distance degree education for TCSOL programmes

1. The advantage of the OUC education system: Distance higher education in China, represented by the OUC, is entering a stage of vigourous development and innovation. “The Open University of China”3 is not a university but an operational education system with headquarters in Beijing and branches distributed all over China: 44 provincial RTVUs, 774 prefectural RTVUs, 1,988 county RTVUs, and 59,731 classes (or study centres). Its distance education and teaching, management, and learning support system all have strong Chinese characteristics and its advantages lie in its wide enrolment scope, large teaching coverage, and far-reaching influence. In recent years, the OUC has paid equal attention to the development of both degree and non-degree education. Degree education offered by the OUC headquarters alone covers over 70 undergraduate and junior college majors, while non-degree education includes nearly 20 schools operated in cooperation with industries and enterprises. Priority is given to social education for public benefit, including community education, education for the elderly, and education in culture and art. The construction of undergraduate TCSOL programmes is a top priority, aimed at improving the OUC's discipline structure and level of internationalisation.

2. The advantage of e-learning resources: The OUC’s learner development model is represented by “Six Network Integration”, namely the integration and inseparable interconnection of online core courses, online learning spaces, online teaching teams, online learning support, online learning assessment, and online teaching management. At each stage of its development, the OUC has been committed to the construction of digital learning resources to support the development of degree, non-degree and lifelong education. At the end of 2012, the OUC launched a project to create “five-minute courses”. In 2013, the OUC stated that its annual focus was “to begin the construction of about 100 online core courses”. In July 2013, the web portal of the OUC was officially released, and over 3,600 “five-minute courses”, as well as several public video courses and online core courses, were put online. By 2015, there were 19,405 five-minute courses covering 10 disciplines. The five-minute courses are full of creative ideas; they are content-rich, meticulously designed, and professionally produced. All of these are completely open to the public and are extremely popular with learners. 4 The existing e-learning resources of the OUC lay a solid foundation for the development of undergraduate degree education in TCSOL.