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Sharing good practice on the international stage

Posted 8th January 2018

Ann Walshe, Staff Tutor in the School of Computing and Communications and eSTEeM project leader, visited Shanghai Open University (SOU) Institute of International Exchange as an International Visiting Scholar from the 13-24 November 2017. Grateful thanks to the Head of School for granting permission to pursue the opportunity, to Mark Endean for invaluable assistance with writing a research proposal, and to Clem Herman for writing a glowing letter of recommendation.

The Visiting Scholar group included Ann from the OU and 8 other academics from universities in Russia, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Sudan, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa. 

The schedule included presentations by various offices and departments of SOU, as well as visits to the Shanghai Educational Resource Center, the Engineering Center and three Branch Schools. Each Visiting Scholar gave a seminar. The Visiting Scholars also participated in the UNESCO Unitwin Network 20th anniversary celebration.

The program provided a rich immersive Chinese cultural experience with visits to Yuyuan gardens, Zhujia Water Town, the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, the China Art Museum, the ERA- Intersection of Time acrobatic circus show and opportunities to sample Shanghai speciality cuisine.

Ann carried out an international comparative study of tuition models in open and distance learning universities. All the universities represented by the Visiting Scholars, as well as SOU, attach great importance to face-to-face provision and have networks of study centres within easy reach of all students. Distance education can enhance but not replace the interpersonal nature of face-to-face tuition. Particularly in the case of open entry, where students may need to develop their study skills, face-to-face sessions are important for motivating students.

SOU uses the WeChat social media tool extensively for communicating and sharing resources as well as nurturing the student group. Unlike an OU tutor group, a WeChat group can exist beyond the lifetime of the module thus enabling further communication and collaboration. In another of the universities, a Chat schedule for talking with Faculty members is provided. This is similar to the OU concept of drop-in sessions but using Chat rather than Adobe Connect.

There is a need for further research around the pedagogy of online teaching and tuition, and around the competencies required by online teachers and tutors. More use could be made of peer evaluation for quality assurance and sharing of good practice.

There is also a need to explore the question of how the effectiveness of distance education can be defined and how it is measured, whether by the percentage of students graduating, the number of alumni who got better jobs or went into postgraduate study or research, or by some other metric.

Image: Ann Walshe