April 25, 2014

Massive growth of online learning in Asia

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Aakash 2: already 3.5 million ordered

Adkins, S. S. (2012) The Asia Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis Ambient Insight, October

In all the hoopla about MOOCs, it is worth noting that in Asia, credit-based online learning is already reaching many millions of learners. This report from Ambient Insight, targeted mainly at the corporate e-learning market, provides a host of fascinating statistics about the Asian market for online learning.

Several countries for instance are putting their entire k-12 curriculum online. China’s goal is to have their entire K-12 population of over 200 million students online by 2020. In South Korea all primary and secondary schools must be entirely digital by 2015, and every child with have a personal learning device. In India, the Aakash 2 tablet, which launched this month, already has 3.5 million orders.

The report also highlights ‘explosive growth of online higher education enrollments‘ in Asia. One institution alone in China, ChinaEdu, has nearly 200,000 students taking degree programs wholly online, and over 100,000 South Koreans are enrolled in cyber universities.

Perhaps most interesting of all though is the author’s comment on how the digitization is occurring:

The content digitization tends to start with converting print-based textbooks to eTextbooks. Yet, once the infrastructure and learning technology is in place, the buyers are increasingly opting for interactive, self-paced multimedia content. Several of the newer initiatives are leapfrogging eTextbooks altogether and building out interactive media as a core component.

If you want to pay for a full copy of the report, contact: info@ambientinsight.com


Who has the richest professors? Canada!?

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© Higher Ed Morning, 2011

Jaschik, S. (2012) Faculty Pay, Around the World, Inside Higher Education, March 22

Philip Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak, Iván Pacheco (in press) Paying the Professoriate: A Global Comparison of Compensation and Contracts London/New York: Routledge

The Inside Higher Education reports on a fascinating study conducted by researchers from the USA and Russia that compares academic salaries around the world, after adjusting for the cost of living in each country (but not for taxes, for some reason).

Canada has the highest paid faculty, both at entry and as an overall average, followed by Italy, South Africa, India and the United States, in that order.

The web site for the project has several very interesting maps showing relative salaries by country.


Such comparative studies are always open to criticism (see the comments after the Inside Higher Education article), but having travelled to many of the countries, the results make sense to me. It’s how you interpret them and what they may result in that matters.

First, one result of globalization is that there is an ‘arms race’ in salaries to attract the best faculty. However there are other factors too, such as the availability of research grants, and working conditions, especially teaching load, and other extras, such as the availability of consultancies and other extra work, and the proportion of much lower paid contract instructors. Nevertheless, the need for knowledge workers and the importance given by governments in many countries to their universities in producing such graduates means that there will be continued pressure to keep salaries increasing in a ‘free’ global labour market. In this sense, it’s probably good for Canada that it’s ‘top’.

Second, the report points out that despite the trends in salaries, most university faculty are well outside the top 1% of the wealthy.

Third, the USA is such a diverse system, with many ‘universities’ that barely deserve the name, as well as top rank elite universities, that an average for that country doesn’t mean a lot. Canada’s high salaries generally result from making comparisons with the elite universities just south of the border.

Fourth, expect Canadian salaries to come under pressure (or rather, not to continue to increase at a rate compared with other of the top five countries) over the next few years as some provincial governments grapple with budget deficits, and students (and politicians) try to limit increases to tuition fees. Canadian universities slid relatively unscathed through the 2008 economic recession compared to the state universities in the USA, who are currently undergoing massive cuts to their budgets, but that comparative advantage is not going to continue for ever as the US economy slowly recovers.

Fifth, India and China make interesting comparisons. Despite a massive increase in student numbers in both countries, India has managed to protect the salaries of its academics across the board, while China has had to rely on paying high salaries to a small elite of professors, but the general faculty salaries are still low in China even when the relatively low cost of living is taken into account. I leave it to you to speculate on what that ‘gap’ in salaries means for the future.

Lastly, what does all this mean in terms of value for money? Faculty salaries are by far the biggest single item in university budgets, accounting for at least 70% of all teaching costs. They have increased at least in North America at a much faster rate than inflation over the last 20 years, while teaching loads have actually dropped. Do higher salaries though lead to better teaching? I doubt it. What universities are looking for are top researchers rather than top teachers. Is there any way to tie increased salaries to teaching performance? Probably not, except perhaps for internal promotions. It looks like students and/or tax payers in Canada will continue to pay more without any expectation that the teaching will get any better or more productive. How depressing.

Webinar on Chinese online teaching

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Title: The Chinese Top Level Courses: Improving the quality of online courses in a new educational climate

The next presentation in the series of free online CIDER sessions features a presentation and discussion with Stian Håklev, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Since 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Education has supported the creation of more than 12,000 open courses with the purpose of improving the quality of undergraduate teaching in the rapidly expanding Chinese university sector. This project, called the Top Level Courses Project, includes both traditional undergraduate courses, vocational courses, and online courses. Based on interviews with Chinese professors, administrators and bureaucrats, this study situates the project within the history of higher education in China, and examines how the curriculum design process and course evaluations have developed very differently from what is common in North American universities.

Drawing examples from the role of the online courses offered, the presentation will also discuss a number of current and future trends in Chinese distance education policy.

When: Wednesday, 6 April 2011, 11am – 12pm Mountain Time (Canada) *Local times for the CIDER sessions are provided on our website: http://cider.athabascau.ca/CIDERSessions/

Where: Online via Elluminate at: https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?password=M.8B71B60F2931D029AC3837DC06B70

China’s telecommunications activities in Africa

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Photo of Chinese and African workers

Marshall, A. (2011) China’s Mighty Telecom Footprint in Africa e-Learning Africa News Portal, February 15

For those interested in infrastructure for e-learning, this extensive article provides a great deal of information about China’s extensive involvement in building telecommunications infrastructure in Africa.

Apart from donations of equipment, China does not appear to be playing a direct role yet in e-learning in Africa.

The article is very balanced looking at the cons as well as the pros of China’s involvement. It also has an extensive list of references for those wishing to follow up on this topic.

Comparing Chinese and British HE systems through their distance teaching universities

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Wei, Runfang (2008) China’s Radio and TV Universities and the British Open University: A Comparative Study Nanjing China: Yilin Press

This has been sitting on my desk for a long time, waiting for me to review it. That was a mistake. I should have read it thoroughly when I first received it.

First it is an extremely accurate account of the philosophical, social and economic context in which both these institutions have developed. The book shows remarkable scholarship and some very interesting comparisons between and perceptions about not only the two distance teaching universities, but also the major philosophical and ideological thinking that underpins higher education in general in these two very different countries. As an example, consider this extract (p.329), which follows a detailed examination of the changing philosophies and ideologies of higher education from earliest times to the modern day in both China and Britain:

‘”The essential difference between capital and socialist societies with respect to economic growth and development is the extent to which national policies and individual behaviour are centrally planned and controlled by the state.” (Fagerlind and Saha, 1989). As the proportion of stakeholders in the higher education system grows, the centrality of the system to the society and its basic institutions increases, to the point where the system becomes a quasi-public utility. At that point, boundaries between higher education and the political system blur as higher education becomes a central venue for the achievement of public policy goals, and the faculty becomes the servant of a new academic order with new rules, new opportunities, and new dangers (Trow, 1973). No matter whether it is in socialist China or in capitalist UK, their only difference is the degree to which each higher education system is centrally controlled.’ [My emphasis]

I was also fascinated by her discussion of the differences between Western and Chinese ‘theories’ of distance education. Now I have never been a great fan of distance education ‘theory.’ For me, distance education is just another way of delivering education. It can be behaviourist, constructivist, individual, social, interactive or passive, with or without teacher presence. (Now ‘good’ distance education is another matter, but that is driven by theories of teaching and learning, not by theories of distance education). If there is an underlying construct behind distance education, it is that distance education changes and develops according to the media and technologies available at the time.

Runfung Wei though argues that there is also a cultural dimension to distance education theory:

‘Practice and theory of distance education are Western phenomena, and when they are transplanted into another culture, they are bound to cause conflict between the eastern and western educational systems. The job of distance education researchers is not to dodge the alienation caused by the collision, but to face it and find out the reason why, so as to improve and enrich the theory of distance education.’

However, for me the real conflict is not in the theory of distance education, but in cultural differences in teaching and learning. Nevertheless Runfang Wei challenges us all to rethink our conceptions of distance education, open learning (another interesting discussion in her book), educational technology, and different approaches to teaching and learning, within a multicultural but globalised world.

This book will be of value to anyone wishing to understand in depth either the British Open University or the profoundly different Chinese Radio and Television Universities, the historical and philosophical development of higher education in both countries, and the cultural and social similarities and differences between the two systems.

David Brigham, State University of New York, Empire State College has also reviewed this book for IRRODL.

Brigham, D. (2009) Book Review: IRRODL, Vol. 10, No. 4

Books on DE theory in waste paper basket

I have never been a great fan of distance education 'theory.'