Monday, December 22, 2008

AAOU, 2007 (Oct. 29-31)

Thanks to our departmental support, Doug and I successfully presented our paper, Developing Effective Interactive Learning Experiences for Online Distance Education Courses, at AAOU (Asian Association of Open Universities). About 300 people from 20 different countries gathered in Malaysia Kuala Lumper and shared their common interests and distinctive experiences. The rich and informative conference helped me to open my eyes to a new context, Asian Open Universities.

With the Vancouver sky covered with grey clouds, I headed to the airport. Hoping to meet different people, I became a little bit excited and nervous. Life is full of indescribable moments. The mysterious moments always come to me and I sometimes fall into an ocean of unknown territory, dreaming of new explorations.

Previous expectations: I felt I was a naive in the environment of Open University but expected to see some common interests from this conference. At the same time, I wanted to compare and contrast between Asian and Western cultures in the discussion of Distance Education.
Experiences: The conference theme was Empowering Asia through Partnerships in Open and Distance Education. Therefore, sharing and partnership were the key words throughout the conference.

One of the Keynote speeches was presented by Sir John Daniel, who is the President and CEO of Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver. His title was Blending for Success in Open and Distance Education: Public/Private Partnerships; Human and Social Capital; Free and Copyrighted Content; Mixing the Media. He emphasized that it is timely to discuss sharing and partnerships in open and distance education and he elaborated some related issues for healthy partnerships.

Here is an interesting citation from his paper.

Our challenge, as open universities, is to blend technology and people so as to help students learn. The way to achieve success is to keep our focus on our students, not on the latest technology or on the internal dynamics of our institutions. If we keep that focus then we will find our way naturally into partnerships. We shall find ourselves blending the private and the public, thinking in terms of both human and social capital, being pragmatic about our use and licensing of learning content, and being ready to blend different media to achieve our purpose.

In line with Sir John Daniel’s partnership, I attended an interesting presentation, entitled Empowering Asia through General Curriculum Adaptively Based on Cultural Differences in Open and Distance Universities presented by Iranian scholars. They shared barriers in sharing and creating partnerships. There are issues which thwart creating partnerships: language barriers, literacy issues, lack of respect, recognition, trust, and reciprocation. The presenters pointed out different cultural aspects between Asia and North America. I thought that the meaning of sharing could be differently interpreted and practiced in different contexts.

In addition, language is one of the practical issues. I wonder how the language problem could be solved for non-native speakers of English. How can a partnership be accomplished without a shared language?

Also, how can we deal with the cultural differences, because it is hard to generalize what Asian culture is because there are many uniquenesses existing among Asian countries? The term, culture, which is made by the values that its people bring to their daily lives, always makes me confused and fascinated at the same time.

In other sessions I attended, some barriers in sharing and building partnerships were also discussed. There were three main issues in the discussions: language, cultural differences, and accessibility.

Doug and Sunah’s Presentation Our presentation went well. We had good feedback and several questions after the presentation. Our twenty min presentation was extended to forty min due to the next presenter’s absence. We had a good number of audiences (more than 30). Doug’s professional and profound experience in distance education services made our presentation successful.

ReflectionsI was surprised at the large number of students studying in Open Universities in Asia. For example, In Malaysia, 60,000 students (20 PhD students through online) with a wide variety of different students from different areas. In Taipei, there are 160 Open Universities with a four-year program. Through the journey to AAOU, I learned that UBC is one of the respectful sources in Distance Education. With Tony Bates’ legacy in contribution to Open Universities and Distance Education, reputation as the birth place of WebCT, and our continuing and flourishing leading role in technology and education, I became proud of being a member of OLT here at UBC.

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