This handbook aims to define the term “flexible learning” with vivid examples and touching stories. It describes several implemented flexible online learning strategies during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These strategies are presented based on six dimensions, namely (a) infrastructure, (b) learning tools, (c) learning resources, (d) teaching and learning methods, (e) services for teachers and students, and (f) cooperation between enterprise, government, and schools.
Story1: “Course Supermarket”
Binbei School in Shandong Province opened a “Course Supermarket”, which provides students great flexibility in learning from home and helps them develop self-management skills. The topics of the courses offered by this “supermarket” range from photography, calligraphy, reading, housework, music, fitness and bodybuilding exercises. Examples of the course topics are presented in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Binbei School (Shandong, China) opened a "Course Supermarket" that offers courses with a broad range of topics
Story 2: Free and open learning resources provided to students
he Ministry of Education of China coordinated 22 online learning platforms that totally offered 24, 000 free and open online courses at the national level1. Schools and educational corporations at the province level also provided a huge amount of open learning resources so that the quantity and flexibility of resources can be guaranteed during the special period of the virus outbreak. The modality of the resources includes filmed lectures and educational games, as showing in Figure 2. Schools like Wenzhou Experimental Middle School further customized the public resources based on the characteristics of its students to fit their needs2.
Figure 2. Parts of resources provided in different modalities3
2 data source: Participants who attended the webinar on Online Education Needs and Implementation in COVID-19 Situation hosted by CIT, on February 19, 2020.
3 Graphs from http://jypt.tjjy.com.cn/acommonapp/chome/mindex.do and https://www.xianshua.net/app/hbszxxxsjxpt/
Story 3: Real time chatting tools facilitated assessments
The instructors at No.1 Primary School in Puyang, Henan province, required students who study at home to write their answers to the test questions on pieces of paper. Students should then take photos of their completed answer sheets and send them to their instructors via real time chatting tools, such as WeChat. Instructors' grading and comments were then manually added on the photos of the answer sheets by using the image processing tools like Drawing and then be sent back to students, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. An assessment delivery method by using image processing tools and real-time chatting tools
Story 4: The Q & A platform of “Smart Learning Partner”
To address the needs of the students' non-real-time Questions & Answers counseling, Beijing has launched an online Q & A platform. By February 23rd, 2020, there has been 13,705 instructors registered for qualification checking.
All students of grade three in junior high school in Beijing can access the Q & A module of the "Smart Learning Partner" through their computers, mobile phone APPs, or the WeChat Subscription. They can upload and publish their questions as text or pictures. Teachers can give students ideas and methods to solve problems through text and pictures. Only one best answer can be adopted for each question.
Figure 4 Online supports for learners and instructors
Story 5: DingTalk to -
DingTalk is a multi-terminal platform (e.g., PC, Web and mobile devices) for free communication and collaboration created by Alibaba Group for Chinese enterprises. It also supports the mutual transmission of files between mobile phones and computers. Although DingTalk is originally designed for the enterprises, it has been widely used by a large number of primary schools and secondary schools in China to resolve school closures caused by COVID-19. More than 5 million students from more than 10,000 universities and primary schools in 17 provinces attend live-streaming classes via DingTalk.
In response to "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning", DingTalk further developed a distance education package that can help both teachers and learners. For instance, this package provides health reports on students, online class reports and live interaction. DingTalk also provides real-time class announcements, school notices. Additionally, DingTalk provides free access to online and live classes for schools and colleges across China via computers and mobile devices, supporting more than one million students to learn at the same time. These online classes offer online teaching, online homework submission and correction, online examination and other learning simulation scenarios. Finally, DingTalk provides free access to online conferencing for all teachers, managers, and principals, ensuring fast and normal coordination between all school members (teachers, directors, etc.).
Figure 5. The main functions provided by DingTalk to support "Disrupted classes undisrupted learning"
Figure 6. Creating and managing an online class by DingTalk on smartphones
Figure 7 Delivering live-streaming classes of Chinese, Maths and English by DingTalk
Story 6: Providing appropriate learning resources on the National Public Service Platform for Educational Resources
National Public Service Platform for Educational Resources is an initiative of the central government of PRC in providing basic public services for education. The platform creates a network of communication, sharing and application environment for resources providers and users, and serves all levels of education. Large amounts of resources have been provided for teachers and students of schools at all levels, including digital resources that are synchronized with classroom teaching in primary and secondary school (e.g., teaching plans, courseware, teaching videos, course material), problem sets and tests database for the high school entrance examination and the college entrance examination. Additionally, the platform also provides MOOCs for students, teachers and principals of schools at all levels, and resources for vocational education, safety education, moral education, education for physical, health and art.
In order to support the "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning" during the coronavirus outbreak, the ministry of education of PRC quickly launched the National Network Cloud Platform for Primary and Secondary School based on National Public Service Platform for Educational Resources. To meet the students’ learning demands in this special period, appropriate resources modules of 10 topics in time were added to the platform, including epidemic prevention education, moral education, curriculum learning, life and safety education, mental health education, family education, classic reading, trip learning education, film and television education, and electronic books.
On the first day of operation on February 17, 2020, the platform had more than 8 million clicks with millions of users covering 31 provinces of China. Users also from 47 countries and regions logged in to this platform. About 85 percent of visitors used mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets.
Figure 9. National Public Service Platform for Educational Resources
Story 7: Reliable communication infrastructure provided by CMCC to ensure “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning”
China Mobile Communications Group Company Limited (CMCC) is a mobile communication operator based on GSM, TD-SCDMA, TD-TEL and FDD-LTE standard network. Over the years, CMCC has actively promoted the development of national education informatization through taking the lead in jointly releasing the campus broadband "doubling plan" with the Chinese Ministry of Education, and carrying out the campus broadband acceleration and fee reduction.
In order to support the "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning" during the novel coronavirus outbreak, CMCC assisted four cloud service providers to complete the IDC bandwidth expansion to 2.18T, reserved 12.95T resource for use, opened the SMS capacity of 16,000 pieces/second flow rate, and expand the capacity of 414 mobile cloud hosts. On February 17, 2020, CMCC successfully ensured the smooth launch of the "National Network Cloud Platform for Primary and Secondary School ", which served 180 million primary and secondary school students in China to study at home and provided 50 million students with online access at the same time. In addition, CMCC has also actively carried out network security and mobile cloud security of provincial public platform for education resource service in Guizhou province, Jiangxi province, Beijing city, and Shanxi province.
Figure 10. National Network Cloud Platform for Primary and Secondary School supported by CMCC and other companies
In Hubei province, CMCC strived to support the launch of "Air Classroom Based on Wuhan Education Cloud” and provided the "Hubei Synchronization School" service, which can provide synchronous curriculum resources on demand service for 6 million primary and middle school students in Hubei province. Supported by "Air Classroom Based on Wuhan Education Cloud”, 700000 primary and middle school students in Wuhan city can simultaneously watch live online teaching videos at home. In Hebei province, CMCC, as the exclusive cooperation unit of the provincial department of education, undertook to build and guarantee the launch of an online teaching resource platform of primary and secondary education. The platform can serve 15,000 primary and secondary schools and 12 million teachers and students in Hebei province. In Jiangxi province, CMCC has also covered remote villages to enable children in the village to access the online courses of the new semester, ensuring inclusive learning where "no child should be left behind".
Figure 11. Air Classroom Based on Wuhan Education Cloud supported by CMCC and other companies
Figure 12. The online teaching resource platform of primary and secondary education in Hebei province supported by CMCC
Figure 13. A student was learning online at the remote village in Jiangxi province supported by CMCC
Story 8: Appropriate digital learning resources for all education levels provided by Tianjin municipality
Tianjin is a municipality directly under the central government in northern China. It has 16 districts, with a total area of 11966.45 square kilometers, a permanent resident population of 15.60 million, an urban population of 12.97 million, and an urbanization rate of 83.15%. There are about 1.17 million students in primary and secondary schools, and there are more than 100,000 students in junior three and senior three who need to take entrance examination every year.
In order to support the "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning" during the coronavirus outbreak, the government of Tianjin quickly adjusted the teaching arrangement and launched relevant policies according to different demands of students in kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. The Tianjian Municipal Education Commission provided guidance on learning, and physical exercise at home during this special period. The guidance on resource entry and selection has been instantly shared to students, teachers, and parents via WeChat.
For the students who need to take the entrance examination, groups of refresher courses were recorded in a short time. Each course was taught by two teachers with senior or above professional titles. These courses broadcasted to the whole city through Tianjin cable television. At the same time, various types of learning resources covering the main subjects of primary and secondary schools were provided to all the teachers and students. These resources were stored on the Tianjin public service platform of education resources for primary and secondary education, the cyber-learning spaces, the personalized learning service system, and the digital library of primary and secondary schools.
Figure 14. Guiding students to choose appropriate resources through WeChat public account
Figure 15. The Tianjin public service platform of education resources for primary and secondary education
Figure 16. Cyberlearning spaces for connecting each student of Tianjin province
Figure 17. Digital library for primary and secondary schools in Tianjin province
Story 9: Free electronic textbooks for primary and secondary schools provided by People's Education Press
People's Education Press (PEP) is a large professional publishing company affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of Education. It is mainly engaged in the research, compilation, editing, publication, and distribution of textbooks for primary and secondary education and other kinds of textbooks for education at all levels. It does not only publish paper medium books, but it also engages in electronic audio-visual and multimedia products publishing and printing, copyright trade, books, and related products logistics services, digital publishing and services.
In order to support the "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning" during the coronavirus outbreak, PEP has provided open and free access to all digital teaching resources on an APP named “PEP Touch & Read” to primary and secondary school students in China. The digital teaching resources involve texts of three disciplines uniformly compiled by the state and digital teaching materials compiled by PEP, coming with thousands of video and audio micro courses synchronized with the textbooks. In order to support the 6 million teachers and students in Hubei province, PEP provides free digital textbooks and digital application services for 3 months to the teachers and students of primary and secondary schools in Hubei Province. In addition, PEP provided free digital textbooks for the spring semester of 2020 to teachers and and students of primary and secondary schools across compulsory education, senior high school education, secondary vocational education, and special education. The digital textbooks involve nearly 600 varieties of more than 20 disciplines.
Figure 18. The official website of People's Education Press
Figure 19. The staffs of People's Education Press are working overtime to make the resource on the APP named “PEP Touch and Read” free for all users
Figure 20. The interface of the APP named “PEP Touch and Read”
Figure 21. The unified entrance of all digital textbooks for education at all levels
Story 10: Self-directed learning encouraged by Guangzhou Nansha No. 1 Middle School
"Self-directed learning" is a prerequisite for students to form good cognitive habits and a key factor of academic success. As early as January 27, 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a notice on the postponement of the spring semester in 2020 due to the spread of the epidemic, urging schools to use online platforms.
Yang, a senior 3 student at Guangzhou Nansha no.1 Middle School, said it was "important for her to keep up with the pace of study". Every day Yang gets up at 6 am, opens the learning application from 6:20 to 6:50 to practice oral English, read out loud, retell stories, play different roles highlighted in the application, and conduct special exercises by simulating tests scenes. From 6:50 to 7:20, she recites the Chinese ancient poems and famous quotes she knows. After breakfast, Yang sat at her desk at 8:00, waiting for the school's live lecture to start. For Yang, online classes not only helped her keep up with the pace of the college entrance examination, but also provided her an opportunity to practice her "self-discipline" Learning.
Figure 22. High school students study independently during epidemic prevention
Story 11: “Rain-Classroom” to deliver synchronous and asynchronous classes
Rain-classroom is a smart teaching tool jointly developed by Xuetang Online and the office of online education of Tsinghua university, with the purpose of comprehensively improving the classroom teaching experience, enhancing the interaction between teachers and students, and making online teaching more convenient. Rain-classroom integrates the complex information technology means into PowerPoint and WeChat, establishes the communication bridge between the extracurricular preview and the classroom teaching, and makes the classroom interaction never offline. With the help of Rain-classroom, teachers can publish the pre-class preview courseware with MOOC videos, exercises and voice audios to students' mobile phones, so that the teachers can easily diagnose the problems of students’ learning and give feedback in time. Rain-classroom also provides classroom live broadcast, during which student can answer real-time questions and interact with teachers through “bullet screen”. In addition, Rain-classroom provides teachers and students with complete three-dimensional data support, personalized reports, and automatic task reminders.
On February 17, 2020, Tsinghua University started its online classes on Rain-classroom. In the first week of the new semester, there were 264,000 teachers and students attending Rain-classroom, completing 10,635 online lessons involving 3,923 courses, with a total of 395,000 hours. Among these courses, 152 courses were undertook by 73 foreign teachers from various schools and departments, and delivered in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, Australia, and Germany. This is the first time in the history of higher education in the world that a large-scale, real-time, interactive, long-distance and decentralized online teaching system has been implemented.
In order to make more teachers skilled in using rain classes, the teacher development center of Tsinghua University, together with the Xuetang Online, the academic affairs office and the graduate school, conducted live training on the use of Rain-classroom for teachers in the spring semester of 2020. Yinan Guan, who works in the online teaching and training center of the school, first guided the teachers to experience the basic environment and functions of the Rain-classroom as students, and explained the methods of downloading, installing and using relevant software. The participating teachers conducted real-time interaction with Yinian Guan through “bullet screen” and posts, and got familiar with the teaching environment of the Rain-classroom.
Xinjie Yu, a professor of electrical engineering and who has a rich experience in using Rain-classroom, organized a training about "pre-class, in-class and after-class" arrangement of online teaching. As Yu pointed out, teachers should first change their teaching philosophy before class and "split" their teaching content. The original course should be divided into several 20-30 minute paragraphs, breaking the big story into small stories, breaking the whole course into paragraphs. In order to achieve the ideal teaching effect, Yu suggested that teachers should take full advantage of the interactive advantage of Rain-classroom to intersperse with rich interaction between the three parts to keep attracting students' attention.
Figure 23. A teacher is interacting with his students on Rain-classroom
Figure 24. Yinan Guan is conducting a live training on the use of Rain-classroom for teachers
Figure 25. Xinjie Yu is conducting a live training on the teaching application of Rain-classroom for teachers
Story 12: Education enterprise “Squirrel AI”: Using AI teachers to create personalized learning system for students.
Squirrel AI is the first AI unicorn company to apply adaptive learning technology in AI in K-12 schools. It has established more than 2,000 learning centers across the country. The Squirrel AI online learning system is different from ordinary live lessons. It not only supports online teaching and learning but also provides AI service to students’ online learning. First, Squirrel AI sets a personalized learning path to locate students' weakness in learning accurately to shorten learning time and improve learning efficiency. Secondly, it can visually display students' learning status, monitor learners’ learning behaviors in time, provide big data learning analysis, and support learners to real-time view their learning reports. Third, squirrel AI provides different functional views for teachers and principals to monitor and manage their live classes.
Figure 26. the characteristics of platform of Squirrel AI
After the outbreak of coronavirus in China, Squirrel AI responded quickly and provided 500 million free online learning courses for primary and secondary school students nationwide. On January 26, 2020, Squirrel AI conducted online trainings for public school teachers, compiled user manuals, organized account registration, and established guiding teams. At present, more than 160 public schools located in Shandong, Hubei, Fujian, and Jiangsu provinces are using squirrel AI for classroom learning, covering the subjects of Chinese, Math, English, Physics, Chemistry. In the course, more than 200,000 students across the country use squirrel AI accounts to study online. It is expected that the demand for squirrel AI student accounts will soon exceed 500,000.
During the epidemic, students and teachers talked about their feelings after using the squirrel AI classroom. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, students who have to take the entrance examination of senior high school or colleges had too many difficulties and pressures. Xiao Zhang, a third grade middle school, mentioned that he was not good in math, but Squirrel AI helped him improve, since detailed reports on his learning performance and recommended materials are instantly provided. In a face-to-face video interview, Xiao Zhang stated: "I didn't expect to learn like this! In the first class, the assessment system highlighted my learning weaknesses precisely. This kind of learning experience is so helpful and interactive."
Figure 27. Using Squirrel AI system to facilitate student’s smart learning
Teacher Wang, a public school teacher, who often uses the squirrel AI system in his class also talked to us about his feelings:
"The squirrel AI system classroom is indeed easier and more effective than regular classrooms! After logging in to the system, I can supervise my course. Although there are many students, I can quickly know the answers of each student through the generated dashboards. After a student finishes the pre-test, the system displays course questions that match his/her ability. After each question is completed, the student can immediately get feedback on each question and the process of solving it. After the class, the system will automatically generate a learning report of each student, and this helps me better monitor my students. "
Figure 28. Using Squirrel AI system to monitor students' learning process
Source: The photo/picture was provided by the cooperation school of Squirrel AI in Zhijiang city, Hubei province. The texts were provided by the cooperation school of Squirrel AI in Kuiwen District,Weifang City, Shandong Province.
Story 13: Diversified Supports for Online Teaching and Learning
E?ective supports and services are important to ensure the quality of online learning. These services can be for both teachers and learners and based on the collaboration between governments, schools, enterprises and families.
The national cloud classroom (www.eduyun.cn) provides e-textbooks compiled by the education department. These digital e-textbooks are widely used in various areas and cover all levels of middle schools and high schools. The school can also use the authoring tool embedded in the platform to create a flexible curriculum by using the provided resources on the platform as well. Additionally, the platform supports online lecturing and interactive tutoring functions.
Besides, there might be limitations of the internet access in remote areas, therefore the ministry of education requested China Education Television to broadcast courses and resources through TV channels to meet the needs of students studying at home in these areas. The Ministry of Education also coordinated with both the education departments in Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Zhejiang provinces and schools affiliated to Tsinghua and Renmin University in China to develop high-quality open learning resources during the mergency.
At the same time, the People's Education Press provided the mobile application "Touching and Reading of PEP ", which offers free digital teaching resources. During "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning," the government required education departments and schools at all levels to cooperate with each other. The Ministry of Education also encouraged a variety of social organizations to proactively offer more diverse learning resources with high quality for the public.
Figure 29. Teacher assigns and checks homework through the network
Handan Education Bureau has made efforts to support "Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning" from two aspects. One is to help teachers to improve their online teaching skills. The other one is to provide various resources to support, guide, and encourage students to carry out independent learning activities at home. Handan city further developed the platform "Classroom on Air" at the city-level. This platform is supplemented by the national primary and secondary school network cloud platform, China Education Television Station, and various excellent education resources platforms. It supports students to study independently at home. In some villages with limited internet connection, students can watch educational videos offline via the "Classroom on Air" platform and carry out asynchronous learning by using national and local resources. These resources help maintain the quality of learning, but also help develop the skills of self-regulated learning. To meet the needs of different students in both synchronous and asynchronous learning, filmed presentations were produced by well-known teachers and then broadcasted via "Classroom on Air". To enhance the quality of teaching, Handan Education Bureau also recruited teachers in each subject from all schools in the city to work together on course production for everyone.
Figure 30 Students study at home and some of them are accompanied by parents
The author of photography: Qingfeng Duan, Handan Municipal Education Bureau, Hebei Province
Figure 31. Parents are supervising their children's independent study at home
The author of photography: Hang Lu, BNU PhD. student
Figure 32. A high school student in a village, listens to lectures online on her mobile phone at home
The author of photography: Hang Lu, BNU PhD. student
Figure 33. Online homework correction, real-time guidance of students
The author of photography: Qingfeng Duan, Handan Municipal Education Bureau, Hebei Province
Figure 34. A teacher is recording a lesson for "Classroom on Air"
The author of photography: Qingfeng Duan, Handan Municipal Education Bureau, Hebei Province
Story 14: Collaboration between governments and schools in Wuhan City
Since February 10, 2020, many districts in Wuhan City, have implemented the "Disrupted Class, Undisrupted Learning" initiative by using the educational cloud platform of Wuhan city. Each district organized micro learning at the class level via the channel “Classroom on Air”. Specifically, all the schools within each district followed the same learning schedule; classes in the morning, while questions and answers, and assignments are planned in the afternoon. During the implementation phase, district-level governments and schools worked together and solved several challenges. For example, the City Board of Education guided researchers to help the front-line teachers to adapt the 20-30-minute online teaching process and improve their online teaching skills and strategies.
Figure 35. Zhiling Peng, an eighth-grade student from Tongji High School, is taking a class. While listening to the teacher's voice, he also interacted with the teacher in the chat box
Story 15: Governments & enterprises coordination: Technical services support improved
To support the “Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning” initiative by the Ministry of Education during the COVID-19 outbreak in China, NetDragon, a global leader in building internet communities, announced that its online education platform “One Stop Learning” will provide a new free service plan for live-streaming of courses to over 10 million users.
“One Stop Learning” platform not only updates the latest information of COVID-19 and measures for public health, but also provides services including teachers’ class preparation and teaching, online assignments and exams, live-communication between schools and parents, academic research, and operational management that allow users to effectively accomplish their daily work.
Figure 36. Online Courses on ¡°One Stop Learning¡± platform
On February 01, the Fuzhou Bureau of Education further published the “Guidelines on proper management of education for primary, secondary, and vocational schools amidst postponement of school semesters”. The guidelines state that “One Stop Learning” is chosen as the official platform in support of Fuzhou’s “Continuous Learning amid School Suspension” mandate. The platform will then facilitate online learning of over one million teachers and students as well as several million parents.
Meanwhile, “One Stop Learning” platform has also been aiding the Department of Education of Hubei Province to support the national initiative entitled “Disrupted classes, Undisrupted learning”. In collaboration with Hubei Province, NetDragon established the “Hubei Education Cloud Platform”. After the construction and testing of the platform were completed (in three days), live trials were conducted on January 30, in three cities, including Macheng, Xiantao and Yangxin, and over 10 thousands live courses were carried out since then. The company has cooperated so far with Hubei, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Shandong and other provinces to provide online educational services including live teaching and online courses.
Figure 37. A pupil is studying on “One Stop Learning” platform
Source: The texts and images were provided by ELENITY.