Editorís Note: Tao (Helen) Hou provides informative insights into the developmental plans and challenges of distance education in China. It is an exciting time in China as they create a distance education system that will effectively meet their higher education learning needs.
OPEN Public Commonwealth Support System
of Distance Education (PCSSODE)
A Practice of Supplement Quality Assurance System
of E-Education in China
Since Renmin University of China, Hunan University, Beijing University of Telecommunication and Zhejang University, launched pilot projects of online degree education programs approved by China Ministry of Education (MOE) firstly in 1999, the tide of e-learning had swept China. By the end of 2003, 68 universities have received approvals for supplying online degree education programs from MOE, and over one million students spread in 2700 learning centers in China had being pursuing their bachelor degrees or college diplomas by distance education in China (data from MOE)
With the internet bubbles broke up, the fever of online education cooled down. The universities offering online program began to rationally retrospect their practices at online education. They find that their professors who used to teach in class rooms are bewildered with virtual students, new teaching methodology and internet behavior as well as the traditional learning culture challenges. The on line courses arenít accessible in less developed areas because most online courses have used large digitalized video. The online materials are boring because most of them are just typed from textbook and they lack any teaching design. The shortage of interaction between students and professors which can help solve the learning problems promptly, keep students motivation or even merely maintain group learning atmosphere for oriental students, has greatly impacted the studentís examination results and education quality (Zhang Weijian, 2001). Meanwhile, with less distance education management experience, the universities are frustrated to handle kinds of education administration affairs at local learning center thousands miles away at the social environment of lacking popular reliable online banking service and credible examination services. Also, a growing number of the student complaints involving poor services raised here and there, have placed great pressure on the MOE or local governments. The answers of following question are exigent and crucial for the further development of online education.
How to deliver multi-media courses and materials to every student in time especially in the less development areas with poor internet accesses which usually have big distance education markets?
How to supply professional student support and educational administrations services at present technical and culture environment in far away learning center to assure the education quality?
Concept of PCSSODE
The idea of establishing a public commonwealth support system of e-education (PCSSODE) as the systematic solution of common problems faced Chinese online-education is proposed by China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU). The public means that all the services of PCSSODE are available for various distance education program provider. The distance learning center of PCSSODE would open to all students registered in various universities who would pay PSSODE for high quality local student services and management services. The main services supplied by PSSODE are:
High quality e-learning facility at local e-learning center including computers, high speed internet access, satellites receiver, experienced educational management staff team and other convenient service facilities.
Learning recourse and information transform services using combined Satellite and internet techniques and web-base education platform.
Standard management service at local learning center including consulting, registration, technical support, tutors guidance of public course, book ordering and examination service as complement of quality assurance system of distance learning.
Institutions of OPEN PCSSODE
The Ministry of Education of China approved the pilot project of public commonwealth support system of distance education based on China Radio and TV University (CRTVU) system at the end of 2001. CCRTVU and CRTVE-Online, of which CCRTVU own 50% share, constituted OPEN Distance Education Center to execute the pilot project in Oct. 2002.
The OPCSSODE is franchise system which consists of three tiers of organizations (Fig. 1)
Fig. 1. OPEN PCSSODE Ė three tiers of organization
The OPEN Distance Education Center is the center and soul of the OPEN PCSSODE. It authorizes the schools that pass the assessment of OPEN the right to use brand of OPEN to supply distance education services according to Openís criterion and standard. It supply technical support and training to RCs and LCs. OPEN signs the contract with e-University who would cooperate with OPCSSODE and in charge of the satellite broadcast services and running of education platform.
The OPEN Regional Center of Distance Education (RC) play the important role of hub that joins the OPEN Distance Learning Center and learning center. It follows out the instruction of OPEN Distance Education and carries out the support work to regional learning centers and is responsible for the legal affairs and public relationships with local governments.
OPEN Public Learning Center of Distance Education (LC) is the element of the OPEN PCSSODE. It equipped with excellent facilities that supply local face to face support and group work environment for local students. Students can enjoy various services of registration, technical support, book ordering and collection, tutor guidance of public courses, examination service and even psychology consulting at nearest local center. The learning center also support e-Universities and OPEN Distance Learning Center get feedback of students and do other management job.
OPEN Distance Learning Center aimed at setting up a franchise system with 1000 standard public distance learning centers covering 31 provinces in 5 years. 44 provincial Radio and TV Universities, their 752 city branches and some other adults schools have been motivating to participate the project. By the end of Oct. 2004, 270 schools with eligible facilities and experienced tutor teams are assessed and granted to join the PCSSODE by OPEN Distance Education Center. 87 OPEN LCs are running, about 15000 students of 13 Universities of Zhejiang University , Xiían Jiao tong University， Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beijing Jiao ong University, Shandong University, University of Petroleum，China University of Science and Technology，Northeast University of Finance, Northeast Teaching University, Central University of Music Dalian University of Science and Technology, Northeast University of Agriculture are enjoying the services of PCSSODE.
The technical mode of OPEN PCSSODE
The operating of OPEN PCSSODE is based on combination of internet and satellite communication technology. Using Satellite transmission techniques benefits the students in less developed areas to help them access the video and stream media courseware easier locally. The online courses in various formats on a learning platform are packed and upload by the center of OPEN PCSSODE to the digital IP broadcast server of China Education TV station (CETV) and broadcasted to the local VAST station at learning center through Satellite Asia II IP channel. After unpacking, the content will be released on either the education platform installed on the LAN or TV in learning center (Fig 2). The students could browse the information stored at LAN at their convenience at learning center. Individuals could also receive the broadcasting through Cable TV at home by installing a special top-TV box while others who have board band internet access can use the internet to do the same work. The ceremonies of term beginning are broadcast live at every term when freshmen start. Live classes broadcast both through satellite and internets are available according to the feedback of students and teaching plan.
Interaction of teacher and student are realized on the web-base online platform through the internet. Every learning center has wide band port access to the internet. The platform of the OPEN Education Management System (OEMS) support function of real time class chat room, class forum, BBS, self-assessment that encourages students to enjoy their studies. This is very crucial for the student in the less development areas who are without enough eligible tutors to give them face to face assistant classes. Besides virtual support, students are encouraged to communicate with their classmates and to collaborate on assignments at times in face to face meetings at learning centers.
The digital satellite broadcast are being efficiently used now at OPEN PCSSODE, however the cable pass is not optimistic option because of high financial charges of the cable suppliers. The realization of the Satellite VOD potential will require more work to save storage room at there local servers.
With the rapid grows of online education in China, the student support and education management of distance learning center have faced big challenges. OPEN Public Commonwealth Support System of Distance Learning (PCSSODE) aims at supplying distance education provider and student professional services as a way to supplement the quality assurance system by setting up a franchise system based on CRTVU system employing satellite transmission and web technology. The ongoing pilot project reached milestone of service 15000 students and 13 Universities by now. The idea of OPEN PCSSODE has potential educational benefits but will need time to verify.
Approval of pilot project of Constituting Public Support System of Distance Learning based on CRTVU system. Letter 268 of Higher Department of Ministry of Education of China, Dec. 2001.
Comments of the Ministry of Education Concerning Enhancement the Management of College of Online Learning in Universities and Improvement the Education Quality, Document 8 of MOE, 2002.
Zhang Weijian, Wu Gengsheng, Li Fei, The Executing Condition of China Distance Learning Program, A Survey on Distance Learner , China Education and Research Network, Sept. 2003 http://www.edu.cn/20030912/3090827.shtml
Handbook of OPEN PCSSODE, OPEN, Distance Education Center, V1.0 , 2003.
Li Guobin, The Open Education Platform Based on Internet and CEBSAT, Dissertation of Engineer Master degree of Beijing Polytechnic University June, 2004.
About the Author:
Tao (Helen) Hou got her MS degree and BS in Engineering Mechanics from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She is Ed. D Candidate in Peking University.
Ms. Hou is Vice President of CRTVU Online Educational Technology Ltd, Associate Director of OPEN Distance Education Center and the member of Distance Learning Expert Group of Beijing Education Committee. She had been a classroom teacher at university for 4 years and has 10 year experiences of management. She is recently engaged in a new MOE project of Alliance Quality Examinations of Four Fundamental Courses on China Online Education Students.