If necessity is the mother of invention, then COVID-19’s global impact has resulted in a reinvention of teaching and learning processes to ensure the education of millions of students.
Last spring, as the outbreak gathered pace, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, an international joint venture university in Suzhou, went fully online within just one month. This autumn, with 90 percent of students back to campus and 10 percent scattered around the globe, the University is embracing use of “hybrid-flexible”, or HyFlex, teaching methods, which combines advantages of online and onsite teaching in the same class.
While many universities see the increased use of online teaching as a stop-gap to deal with the pandemic, Professor Youmin Xi, Executive President of XJTLU, says the University has long planned to include aspects of online learning even in onsite teaching.
“The pandemic simply sped up the timeline of our plans to move toward the new learning ecosystem we envision for XJTLU’s future that includes blending the best of online and onsite education methodologies,” says Professor Xi.
Professor Youmin Xi, Executive President of XJTLU
Combined online-onsite education is a tool to achieve the University’s educational strategy, a departure from the tradition where a teacher imparts knowledge to passive learners, he explains. The departure is necessary since today’s knowledge cannot solve tomorrow’s problems.
“With advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, use of big data and digitalisation, the world will be a different place in 10 years,” Professor Xi says.
“Instead, a University should help students learn how to learn, to have a lifelong learning plan and future-oriented mind set,” he says.
“Students with these skills and traits will be better prepared to face the unknown changes and challenges the future will bring.”
XJTLU, founded just 14 years ago and today educating 17,000 students, used its blank-slate beginnings as an opportunity to find new ways to educate.
“We use a continuous innovation model that enables students to choose their own paths, whether to become experts in their field or future industry leaders,” Professor Xi says.
Implementation of online or combined online-onsite teaching provides new ways to exercise student-centred, interest-driven learning. For example, last semester during all-online instruction, XJTLU instructors found that when they posted videos, articles and other resources for students to study in advance, they could save lecture time for more meaningful in-class discussion and analysis.
In addition, last semester many students discovered the benefits of recorded lectures, since they could re-watch the recordings to increase their understanding.
Now that some classes include both online and onsite students, XJTLU has implemented measures to ensure all students receive the highest quality of teaching and learning.
High-definition, light-sensitive web cameras on tripods with top-quality microphones ensure students who are online can see and hear the same information as students in the physical classroom.
“Students both in the classroom and online can ask questions, receive answers and feedback in real time, and interact with one another no matter where they are located,” said Roland Sherwood, educational technology manager of XJTLU’s Educational Development Unit (EDU).
This semester’s online-onsite modules pave the way for future learning and teaching that will occur simultaneously between the site of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) (to be completed in 2022), and XJTLU’s existing Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) campus.
They also prepare XJTLU students for a future of lifelong learning available via the XJTLU Learning Mall (XJTLU-LM), a unique online and onsite, campus-to-community learning hub that will be at the heart of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang). The XJTLU-LM will raise the bar for lifelong learning, moving away from a traditional concept to one addressing the need to continually up-skill during working life. On offer will be non-credit-bearing courses, programmes and training from leading educational content providers around the globe to benefit students, alumni and the greater public.
In 2019, before the pandemic, UNESCO’s Futures of Education Initiative was launched. UNESCO believes it’s time for “knowledge, education and learning need to be reimagined in a world of increasing complexity, uncertainty, and precarity.”
If ever a year was defined by uncertainty, it would be 2020, and at XJTLU that reimagining is taking place right now.
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[All photos courtesy of XJTLU]