Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions
in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. These nationwide closures
are impacting over 91% of world’s student population (UNESCO 2020). In China, schools
and universities are deploying a mix of innovative and renewed approaches to ensure
the right to education.
Chinese Higher Education in the Pandemic Outbreak
Chinese government has imposed strict measures to contain the spread of the Covid-19
pandemic. Most face-to-face activities, including teaching, have been banned. Chinese
universities and colleges have postponed the beginning of spring semester. Students
are not allowed to return to campuses without approval. To provide flexible online
learning to over 270 million students, Ministry of Education has launched an initiative
entitled ‘Disrupted classes, undisrupted learning’.
On February 5, 2020, the initiative was followed up by ‘Guidance on the Organization
and Management of Online Teaching in the Higher Education Institutions During Epidemic
Prevention and Control Period’ (Ministry of Education 2020). The Guidance requires
national and local governments to encourage colleges and universities, together with
the rest of the society, to participate in joint implementation of online education.
Ministry of Education further requires that new online courses are of the same quality
as previously delivered face-to-face courses. It demands that teacher workload in
delivering online courses should be recognized as equivalent to teacher workload in
delivering face-to-face courses; it also encourages students towards online self-directed
learning. The Ministry urges universities to conduct multi-dimensional learning evaluation,
and to appropriately credit student online achievements.
Institutions of higher education systems promptly reacted to these measures. By February
2, 2020, 22 major online curriculum platforms opened 24,000 online courses for higher
education institutions to choose from, including 1,291 national excellence courses
and 401 national virtual simulation experimental courses, covering 12 undergraduate
programs and 18 tertiary vocational programs (Wang 2020).
Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University
On February 24, Beijing Normal University (BNU) started its new semester with online
national flag-raising ceremony. The campus is vacant, yet online classrooms are full.
A total of 4,036 courses have been planned for this semester, involving tens of thousands
of students, with 3,238 courses being offered online by 1,151 faculty. For the first
time in its 118-year history, all courses at BNU’s 30 schools and faculties are delivered
online. This historical move demands joint efforts from faculty, staff, and students,
in equal measure.
Faculty of Education responded immediately. We developed an online teaching implementation
plan covering components of teaching delivery, online classes management and supervision,
and learning assessment. Faculty are encouraged to choose appropriate learning platforms
they are familiar with. In order to support faculty in their work, we developed five
A line-up of main online education platforms were introduced to all faculty by email,
Wechat discussion groups, and school website.
Faculty were encouraged to share their previous experiences with platforms including
Blackboard, TronClass, Zoom, Classin, Wechat group, and QQ group.
School of Educational Technology assembled a professional team for providing faculty-wide
support. The team shared their knowledge and skills about different platforms and
conducted online training. Further, professional companies were invited to train our
faculty on using specific tools.
Learning online is a big challenge for our 2,096 students. The team informed students
about changes, provided two teaching assistants for each online class, and ensured
that every student is able to participate in digital learning. Special attention was
given to students coming from poor regions and difficult family backgrounds.
The team collected information about all online courses, including their delivery
platform, class size, schedule, and student readiness. Few classes were selected for
trial lessons at a variety of platforms with the aim to pilot online learning strategies
before their large-scale implementation.
Following these activities, on Feb 24, Faculty of Education successfully implemented
307 courses through online systems, 15 of which are aimed at international students
and taught in English. This involves over 183 faculty and over 2,000 students at all
levels including 250 international students. At the moment of writing this article,
the transition has been under way for about 6 weeks. Most courses seem successful;
students seem to enjoy online learning, and some professors even report that students
seem more active than in their physical classrooms. At the research front, we organized
a series of webinars which created opportunities for scholars within and beyond China
to share their research and thoughts on issues relating to the transition, with the
aim to start developing more resilient education systems for the future.
Online learning is defined as learning experience in synchronous or asynchronous environments
using different devices (e.g. mobile phones, laptops) with Internet access. Using
these environments, students can learn and interact with instructors and other students
from anywhere (Singh and Thurman 2019). The easiest part of this transition for Faculty
of Education was providing online learning platforms and courses. However, we are
meeting some persistent obstacles and challenges. Online course delivery, interaction,
and data collection require stabile digital infrastructure and platforms, yet learning
of some students across China and overseas is interrupted by poor Internet access.
Students require capacity to conduct self-disciplined and self-directed active learning,
and faculty require further professional development. Challenges also include lack
of holistic quality assurance systems for online teaching and learning. The pandemic
has revealed that quality does not refer only to achieving learning outcomes, but
also to social and emotional development of students (see Peters et al. forthcoming).
Chinese institutions of higher education have initiated a series of real-time research
projects about higher education experiences during the pandemic. It is believed that
this research will result in improved evidence-based policy-making mechanisms and
more user-friendly digital learning systems.
Vision for Future: Teaching and Learning After the Pandemic
Coronavirus outbreak has significantly accelerated development of online education
in Chinese higher education. Internet, big data, Artificial Intelligence, 5G, and
cloud-based platforms, among other technologies, have been put into service of education.
However, a more flexible way of teaching and learning does not end up with infrastructure.
Rather, infrastructure is only the first step towards a new paradigm of teaching and
learning in post-pandemic time. This paradigm could represent a shift from traditional,
teacher-centered, and lecture-based activities towards more student-centered activities
including group activities, discussions, hands-on learning activities, and limited
use of traditional lectures. This requires conceptual and philosophical rethinking
of nature of teaching and learning, roles, and connections among teachers, learners,
and teaching materials, in postdigital learning communities (Jandrić et al. 2018).
Full long-term integration of online teaching and learning into university curricula
implies further attention to quality. Nearing the end of Covid-19 pandemic in China,
we think that our further steps should be focused to the following activities:
We need to continue development of open educational platforms which allow access to
the high quality of learning resources.
We need to conduct quantitative and qualitative research and evaluate current models
of online teaching and learning, with a particular focus to their long-term sustainability.
We need to develop staff–teachers’ capacity for online teaching, and professional
staff capacity for supporting teachers and online systems.
We need to encourage cooperation between universities, international organizations,
private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders, to promote high-quality online
learning throughout the society.
Teachers are crucial for inclusive and equitable provision of high-quality distance
education. They are expected to have knowledge, skills, and ethics to conduct online
teaching, and that calls for more flexible and dynamic post-pandemic teacher education.
Post-pandemic national teacher education could be composed of face-to-face teacher
education, blended teacher education, and online teacher education (Zhu 2020). National
online teacher education could be categorized into sections which provide learning
opportunities to future teachers at all levels: early childhood education, primary
education, secondary education, vocational education sectors, etc.
Online teacher education platforms could function as a traditional teacher education
institute which provides pre-service and in-service programs. This could be supported
by online platforms with rich digital materials and resources. Curriculum and pedagogy
need to be updated, and should become models of successful online pedagogies that
could be taken into future teachers’ practices. Last but not the least, it is critical
to build up an enabling institutional environment for sustainable national online
teacher education. We need to develop evidence-based policies supported by guidelines
for their implementation. To provide professional reference base for online teacher
education, a framework of competencies for conducting online teaching, and other standards,
should be developed.
In our postdigital context, online and offline (teacher) education cannot be thought
of without each other (Jandrić et al. 2018). Therefore, we advocate development of
a holistic teacher education system, regardless of used mode of delivery, which could
support present and future teachers in becoming more resilient to crisis similar to
the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a huge disruption to all spheres of human life.
Chinese higher education, and Beijing Normal University in particular, have responded
to the crisis with reasonable success. However, we strongly believe that the impact
of Covid-19 pandemic on Chinese education system should extend well beyond tacking
the current crisis—it should also bring out potential development opportunities for
the future (Jandrić 2020). Our current situation requires innovation and renewed attention
to more research, study, and reflection, about each sector of education in China and
globally. It is only by doing this research within the pandemic that we can develop
a more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable education after the pandemic is gone.