Visiting scholarship scheme draws research projects on AI and online learning
Chang Liu, Ning Liu and Tengfei Ma of Open University China benefited from a range of resources
Their expertise in higher education brought a group of scholars in China to the University of London to carry out world-class research into trends shaping the sector today.
Chang Liu, Ning Liu and Tengfei Ma of Open University China travelled to London for a placement with the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) from February until June.
"We were delighted to work with the three visiting scholars from the Open university China, who joined the CODE community and contributed extensively to events, conferences, research and workshops while with us," says the centre's director Dr Linda Amrane Cooper.
Our work with the Open University China goes back several years and in addition to hosting visiting scholars, we have had the pleasure of working with over 350 staff at OUC on a professional development course run by CODE in collaboration with OUC. As Chang and Tengfei were tutors on the course as well as visiting scholars, we were able to deepen the engagement.
The trip, which came after an extensive selection process, allowed English teacher Ning to draw from CODE’s diverse resources to explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the sector.
Ning, whose research project focuses on teacher learning, says AI “plays an important role in education.”
It is interesting to consider how teachers perceive the role of AI and how AI assists the role of teachers. That’s why I take teachers’ professional learning especially learning about AI as my academic interest,” adds the practitioner with more than 16 years’ experience in the sector.
Her placement allowed Ning to visit federation members and meet various academics. She also attended the centre’s Research in Distance Education and e-Learning (RIDE) conference.
A fixture in the University’s annual calendar of events, RIDE brings together practitioners, researchers, educational technologists from around the world to explore trends in online, flexible, blended and distance learning.
“The RIDE annual conference in CODE, the workshop, the webinars and all the other academic activities are supported by CODE fellows who can exchange viewpoint and explore cooperation highlights. I am lucky to be a visiting fellow in CODE and have joined in all the activities held in CODE for these four months,” Ning says.
Ning was “impressed by the working atmosphere in CODE which is led by Linda. All the CODE fellows cooperate and contribute to the development of CODE.
“They form a loose but tight community. The community is loose because they are from different colleges and with different educational backgrounds. The community is tight because they possess a common aim that is to develop online and distance education,” she adds.
Tengfei – whose area of expertise lies in mental health and educational psychology – agrees.
The trip marked Tengfei’s first time in London and she recalls having “very happy and unforgettable days”, particularly discovering the University’s Senate House building and meeting other scholars and academics.
“I saw CODE as a very harmonious and warm family with a strong leader, which has very clear goal to move forward, and many CODE fellows are very passionate and friendly and have a strong willingness to keep an open mind, to communicate with others, to share and learn new ideas,” Tengfei says.
Her research project centres on the professional identities of early career teachers working in distance education in China. She hopes to support teachers and how they relate to their roles.
I think the most exciting part will be that through research I could find a better way to improve and to establish a new development programme that could support teachers better in their identity formation.
The scheme opened new areas of enquiry. “The resources CODE provided me made me think more about questions that I’ve neglected before. The contents are rich and comprehensive, and the forms are very diverse.”
Another visiting scholar, Chang, says the trip – sponsored by the China Scholarship Council and the Sino-British Trust – as a “very rare opportunity.”
Chang’s research explores ways to keep adults engaged in their online learning – a field of research inspired by her role with Guangzhou Open University.
“This research project originated from my online modules. Because many of my students are adult learners with full time work, it is difficult for them to balance their works and studies,” she says.
And in the past few years, I have kept on doing some online classroom transformation for my students to help them learn better and enhance their online engagement. So I brought some of my data and research outcomes to UK to explore deeper insights on this project. What I want to explore is not one specific solution to solve all the online teaching problems, but the possible research thoughts and streams to inspire me to update my online modules and provide better online learning environment for my students.
Chang says she benefited from close contact with Linda as well as her supervisors. “My supervisors spent a lot of time with me to discuss my research projects.
“We talked about how to find a more specific research topic, how to extract more on the research title, how to do research design, how to choose the research methodologies and etc. Thanks a lot to my supervisors. I was deeply touched that every time I did my presentation, they always sat behind and supported me.”
Any advice for others taking part?
“Time flies fast in four months,” she says. “Be well prepared for the research project. Do contact your supervisors in advance, especially when you want to do some data works, discuss with Linda and supervisors in advance before you come to London.”
Chang adds, "Remember that there is no big deal in life, just be open-minded and keep a good mood, don’t be shy to ask for help because CODE is a big warm family. Enjoy your life in London.”