With the increasing application of emerging technologies, such as Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, in the economic development and social progress, the future of education based on technology is showing unprecedented dynamism and creativity, and becoming an important factor to adapt to the world. In September 2019, UNESCO launched the “Futures of Education” initiative which aims to rethink education and shape the future. However, due to COVID-19 outbreak, global education has been severely impacted. According to UNESCO statistics, as of April 20, 2020, more than 1.5 billion learners in 191 countries were not able to attend school or university, accounting for 91.3% of the students around the world. In order to response to the complex and volatile landscape worldwide, it has become an important issue for educators in various countries on how to effectively cope with the challenges brought by online teaching during campus closures, and how to utilize technology to expand the extension and deepen the connotation of higher education.
On April 17, 2020, an international webinar entitled “Futures of Education: How to Assure Quality Higher education during University Closures
” was held online during 17:00-19:00 (GMT+8). The webinar was organized by the Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University (SLIBNU), UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE), UNESCO International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education (UNESCO INRULED) and International Centre for Higher Education Innovation under the auspices of UNESCO (UNESCO ICHEI) ,
co-hosted by Centre for Research and Development in Learning at Nanyang Technological University (CRADLE, NTU), Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), International Association of Smart Learning Environments (IASLE), and supported by the global online learning community Edmodo, a subsidiary of NetDragon Websoft Holdings Limited (HKSE: 0777). This webinar was the third after the first one entitled “How to Keep Students Learning during Schools Discruption in COVID-19 Situation” and the second one entitled“How to Help Children be Active Learners at Home during Educational Disruption”. Several experts, scholars and policy-makers from China, United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Russia and Japan were invited to share their experiences and discuss the topics on futures of education, higher education, smart education, etc., trying to seek prompt educationasl responses and develop innovative smart education.
On behalf of the research project team, Junfeng Yang, Professor of Hangzhou Normal University, shared the Guidance on Flexible Learning during Campus Closures: Ensuring Course Quality of Higher Education in COVID-19 Outbreak
. This handbook was realized by the research team led by Co-Deans Ronghuai Huang and Dejian Liu and included five parts, namely “Lessons Planning of Flexible Learning during Campus Closure”, “Choosing Appropriate Delivery Methods for Flexible Instruction”, “Preparing Materials and Tools for Learning and Teaching”, “Facilitating Flexible Learning with Diverse Activities”, and “Checking Learning Outcomes and Evaluating Accordingly”. The handbook has rethought the current situation of ICT in higher education and analyzed the change of educators’ roles. It also discussed how to integrate formal and informal learning, bridge the achievement gap of students, as well as utilize new technology to transform pedagogy. Based on diverse cases of higher education from China and overseas, the handbook proposed practical suggestions for all aspects of higher education, so as to support the practitioners and researchers in higher education worldwide.
Dr. Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE mentioned that we need to take the opportunities to look to the future of education while addressing COVID-19 challenges. Due to COVID-19 outbreak, education has embraced the digital transformation earlier than expected, which indicates that universities will become universal, and higher education will become digital and more innovative. In the future, higher education resources will transcend the boundaries of campus and regional restrictions, literally covering everyone in the world. Educators should also be prepared for the digital transformation of education by driving educational reform with technology and leading educational development with innovation.
Dr. Ming Li, Professor of Southern University of Science and Technology, China, and Director of UNESCO ICHEI, pointed out that ICHEI has launched the International Institute of Online Education (IIOE) platform in collaboration with many universities and enterprises. IIOE is an online platform of ICT training for teachers, especially those in developing countries, so as to help them adapt to online education as soon as possible. Prof. Li highlighted the following characteristics of IIOE platform: 1) IIOE has provided the first set of online ICT courses in multiple languages with ICT capacity testing tools; 2) IIOE has established its own quality insurance framework and relevant quality insurance tool to ensure systematic online training; 3) IIOE has carried out relevant training on teacher professional development for developing countries; 4) As an open and non-profit platform, IIOE is devoted to realizing joint construction and sharing open resources.
Afterwards, experts from different countries shared their expertise and experience, and discussed the challenges of global education, the opportunities of future education, as well as how to maintain quality higher education.
Dr. Chris Dede, Professor of Harvard University, U.S.A. proposed the New Models for Lifelong Learning in the Global Digital Economy: The 60 Year Curriculum. He predicted that emerging breakthroughs, such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) and 3-D printing would considerably transform career development in the future. Educators should construct intelligent educational systems to help students prepare for a lifelong series of careers, as well as excel in the roles that a succession of social, civic, and professional opportunities present. He highlighted that Engineering Learning would play an important part in the future of education. Learning engineers will work in collaboration with teachers to design learning activities, so as to effectively promote the efficiency and outcome of learning.
Dr. Diana Laurillard, Professor of UCL Institute of Education, U.K. introduced the role of higher education in the future. Based on several case studies about co-designing MOOC, she summarized the challenges of online teaching, and discussed how to gather inspiration, generate ideas and construct knowledge by collaborative learning. She pointed out that higher education in the future would be conducted collaboratively. Educators should further focus on promoting inclusive education. Focusing on what mankind needs, educators should always plan for changes in demand. Also, educators may as well promote hybrid programs and blended learning courses, and strive for cooperation and support from all sectors of society. In this way, future education will achieve better adaptability and resilience.
Dr. Isak Froumin, Professor of National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia described the impact of COVID-19 on Russian higher education. He mentioned that different universities responded differently in Russia. More than half of the universities do not have access to synchronous communication systems with sufficient volumes to organize online learning throughout the university, or do not use Learning Management System (LMS) to organize educational activities; a few universities even do not have the infrastructure which is necessary to organize online education. Besides, although most students can adapt to online learning and give positive feedback, more than half of the students said that learning became less effective after switching to distance learning. Therefore, educators need to work on educational strategies and innovate learning approaches to ensure the outcome of learning.
Experts from China, Japan, Singapore and other countries also participated in the discussion. They agreed that we should have long-term vision of future education despite the current crisis of COVID-19 outbreak. Also, they put forward suggestions based on the current situation of higher education in their own regions.
Dr. Kampei Hayashi, Associate Professor of Shinshu University, Japan revealed the lack of ICT literacy skills within Japanese teachers and students. Additionally, the non-reliability of infrastructure, as well as the language barrier in Japan’s online higher education can affect the teaching experience. It is suggested that educators should adjust to this new flexible situation and take prompt measures, such as paying attention to the copyright regulation of educational resources, focusing on students’ self-regulation abilities, and caring for students who need special support.
Dr. Chee-Kit Looi, Professor of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore shared his opinions from two aspects, namely crisis and opportunities. He discussed whether international collaboration in higher education would be stronger or not during school closures, as well as whether the strength of technological platforms will be a negative factor to obstruct real communication and mutual understanding. He held the view that universities need to reflect on themselves and innovate their educational systems; technological platforms may as well collect and integrate the diversified online learning models of dozens of countries and thousands of schools, so as to achieve technological innovation.
Dr. Jianhua Zhao, Professor of Southern University of Science and Technology, China, and Senior Expert of UNESCO ICHEI pointed out that we should analyze the advantages and drawbacks of higher education in the future and seek for innovative solutions based on the current educational system and statistics. Teachers may utilize IIOE to improve their ICT literacy and teaching skills, strengthen cooperation and share expertise and experience with each other.
Dr. Cher Ping Lim, Professor of The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), China shared the responses that EdUHK had taken and the open educational resources website that had been launched. He suggested that short-term solutions should be related with long-term educational plans to facilitate educational reform and pave the way for future education.
Dr. Ronghuai Huang, Dean of Smart Learning Institute of Beijing Normal University (SLIBNU) gave a brief summary of this webinar. He emphasized that Guidance on Flexible Learning during Campus Closures: Ensuring Course Quality of Higher Education in COVID-19 Outbreak
is not merely for the response of universities closures in COVID-19 outbreak; more importantly, it aims to share practical experience and look to future education under the “Futures of Education” initiative. During school closures, this large-scale online learning practice in higher education has basically “maintained” the continuity of learning, and has also ensured the quality of courses via a variety of innovative methods. In the future, the ideas, measures and approaches in this practice will certainly give many implications to the "future" of global higher education, specifically speaking,
Rethinking Higher education. Higher education is broadly defined as one of the key drivers of growth performance, prosperity, and competitiveness, and plays important roles in sustainable economic and social development including creating a quality workforce, supporting business and industry, and caring out research and promoting technologies. During school closures, the courses are provided through live broadcasting, videos, and open resources, which are affordable to everyone and cost-effective. Internet has become crucial for effective teaching and learning experiences, where it allowed students to be in constant touch with their teachers or with other fellow classmates with the help of social media, messaging apps and chat forums (educational communities).
Changing the roles of educators. In face of the huge changes brought by emergencies to school education, institutions are taking steps to help educators transform their teaching practices, by the creative use of technology. They are more or less employing a variety of technology-based tools and engage in online discussions and collaborative authoring, leveraging active learning methodologies, such as project and problem-based learning. With learning shifting towards being more in the control of the students, educators are now acting as guides and facilitators.
Integrating formal and informal learning. Institutions have started providing flexible programs that provide credit based on prior learning, courses in diverse ways and extracurricular experiences. They recognize that informal learning validation with increases visibility of learning outcomes and appropriate value of these experiences, and help to cultivate the pursuit of lifelong learning in all students and faculty and to increase interest in “self-directed, curiosity-based learning”.
Bridging Achievement gap of students. The achievement gap reflects a disparity in the enrollment and academic performance between student groups, defined by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or gender. While the utilization of the new generation of information technology has made it easier for students from these groups to engage with learning resources. The one-size-fits-all approach of traditional higher education paradigms is changed by online or blended offerings with personalized and adaptive learning strategies.
Transforming pedagogy through new technology. Although technological developments can potentially improve the “quality of learning and operations” at universities, “Staying organized and coherent” is difficult for academics and the technologies are replaced incredibly swiftly by newer versions, making it difficult for education to keep pace with development. Institutions are making efforts to ensure that any selected tool sis in service of deepening learning outcomes in measurable ways, and designing high-quality learning experiences with procedures for technology and pedagogy discovery so that educators can process information in an “efficient and insightful manner”.
Finally, Prof. Huang highlighted that the discussion on the futures of education would never stop here, but would become a long-term issue in education. Educators should keep considering and searching the answer of the futures of education.
Currently, completed by the research project team led by Co-Deans Ronghuai Huang and Dejian Liu, the two guidance handbooks have been released on the official website of UNESCO IITE. That is, Handbook on Facilitating Flexible Learning During Educational Disruption: The Chinese Experience in Maintaining Undisrupted Learning in COVID-19 Outbreak
, and Guidance on Active Learning at Home in Educational Disruption: Chinese experience on promoting student’s self-regulation skills during COVID-19 outbreak
. The handbooks have been reported and reprinted by international organizations and academic websites like ALESCO, IASLE, ResearchGATE. SLIBNU will continue strengthening collaboration with UNESCO, ALESCO and other international institutes to explore the futures of education, launch a series of handbooks and share them in a series of webinars, striving for international cooperation and support in research projects.