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Coronavirus Pushes Online Learning Forward

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While the physical campus at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) has been closed due to coronavirus (now referred to as COVID-19 by health experts), faculty have quickly adopted an online teaching platform to reach their students through remote instruction. Using a combination of BigBlueButton, a web conference system for online learning, an "interactive communicative environment" (ICE) and lecture capture and management with Sonic Foundry's Mediasite, instructors have made 450 courses available online.

The campus, which is about 60 miles west of Shanghai, is a joint effort of two institutions, the University of Liverpool and Xi'an Jiaotong University. More than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the school (which has 700 academic staff from 50 countries).

The online platform, designed by the university's Management Information Technology and System Office and the Institute of Leadership and Education Advanced Development, can accommodate between 6,000 and 8,000 students simultaneously. Through the system, instructors have access to an interactive whiteboard, shared notes, screen-sharing, polling and a quiz function. They're using video analytics and a reporting function to track attendance.

Most of the faculty participants have taken a course on online teaching, and for the new round of courses, they've made a point of setting up live-streaming introductions so that students can meet the instructors and each other face-to-face.

The university's President, Youmin Xi, said the epidemic "has proved a catalyst," according to a campus article about the initiative — leading to an infrastructure and technology upgrade that was put in place in a month rather than "one to two years."

Ying Chang, an online course coordinator in the Department of Urban Planning and Design, suggested that the while COVID-19 should be considered a "national trauma and life event for all Chinese people," the move to online teaching has become a "university collective and proactive endeavor to overcome the adverse situation."

As he noted, "Every student represents a family. Any support we give to the student will indirectly support their family. That's what an educator can contribute to speed the recovery of the whole society. By doing so, we feel closer to the wider Chinese community."

As for faculty themselves, the shift in instructional modes is "an opportunity to transform the educator's perception on online education and a great leapfrog toward more engagement-led pedagogy," said Chang.

The university has also used the epidemic as a learning opportunity in another way. Recently, it completed delivery of a two-week, non-credit online course, titled "Developing Global Citizenship," to which students could invite family members. Developed and delivered by the Institute, the class gave students an opportunity to "develop their abilities to cope with the coronavirus crisis and improve their awareness of global citizenship," the university reported. Students could discuss topics such as "individual social responsibility and the sustainable development of society under highly uncertain living conditions in such a crisis."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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