Since its discovery in late 2019, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world, upending the lives and work of hundreds of millions of people. In order for universities to continue their curriculum into the spring semester, the Chinese government and universities across the country have turned to online education.
On February 4, 2020, the Ministry of Education announced online education guidelines as a pandemic countermeasure, requiring Chinese universities to continue offering courses through online channels. In the past seven weeks alone, more than 952,000 staff from over 1400 universities have offered 7.13 million online courses, with a total of 1.18 billion student interactions. This transition, from physical to digital, has not only transformed the way staff teach, but also the way students learn, creating a whole new paradigm and a fresh range of learning activities and styles in the process.
More than 41,000 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and 110 online education platforms — created jointly, by industry and universities — have played an instrumental role in making the transition to online education a reality. Indeed, most staff members and students have been satisfied with the quality of online courses offered over the past several weeks. The reason for such success can be attributed largely to the close coordination of all sectors of society, I think. The University-Government-Business (UGB) model has emerged, harnessing the leadership of government and combining it with the traditional strengths of universities and the powerful resources of private enterprise, to build a vibrant MOOC community with high levels of engagement from teachers and students alike.
Creating an online education ecosystem is no easy task. It involves the adaptation of courses for online teaching, development of MOOC applications, teacher training in new technologies, educational reforms, and a shift to a more adaptive teaching style. In order to carry out education reform as the demand for online learning surges, universities also have to manage staff motivation, student engagement, incentive policies, and effective management of online operations. In addition, MOOCs and online education services need to be standardized and evaluated to ensure a consistent, high level of quality. Here, specialized online education and IT companies can play a critical role, by offering technical support and educational services.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for all of us. But in crisis, there is opportunity. After we have overcome the hurdles that we currently face, we will find that we have a valuable opportunity to drive the rapid development of online education in China. Online education — such as MOOCs — represents a revolution of IT/Internet + education. But teachers and students are the ones who will ultimately decide whether or not online education will be widely adopted or simply falter. If the merits of such as system are made clear to both parties, online education may not simply be a current trend of circumstance, but become a key pillar in the education system overall. Through learning, exploring, and putting online education and MOOCs into practice, China has developed a solution for both that works. This solution and the lessons learned can be applied elsewhere in the world, to help build a supportive global online education community.
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