IT Development for Higher Education
8 IT Development for Higher Education
If education is to serve social progress and economic development, the information technology (IT) for it must advance ahead of social progress. Given the unevenness between regions in education development, underdeveloped regions can make a quantum leap to catch up only by making the most of IT. Thus, high on China's agenda for higher education development are such tasks as the construction of the infrastructure for education IT, the building of education databases, the cultivation of professionals needed in this field, and the increase in the use of modern IT in education.
The infrastructure under construction for IT in the service of education includes the China Education Broadband Satellite Net (CEBsat), the CERNET, and campus networks. They are the basic channels that form the foundation for IT development in education.
The CEBsat got off to a good beginning in 1985, when the government gave the China Central Radio and TV University the go-ahead to rent special-purpose satellite transmitters to broadcast education programs. By 2003, China Central Education Television (CCETV) had developed three satellite television channels, and there were 104 education television stations at provincial and prefecture levels, over 10,000 satellite ground stations, and over 60,000 projection centers around the country. Over 70% of the cable television stations were broadcasting satellite-transmitted education programs.
In 1999, the government launched a modern distance education program to transform old satellite television networks and build a new broadband satellite transmission network. The idea was to give up the outdated one-way analog television and to use broadband satellite telecommunication technology to provide digital television and multimedia broadcast services (known popularly as the “Sky Net”) for college education, teachers' training, vocational education, and continuing education. Sky Net, the China Education and Research Network (CERNET), and “Ground Net,” which includes radio broadcasting, cable television, metropolitan area networks, and campus networks, would be connected to form a nationwide
education service network to provide schools, education administrative departments, and individuals with a real-time or non-real-time interactive teaching environment and ready access to education resources. CEBsat was officially launched in October 2000, but by 2003, it was already operating through eight television channels, eight audio channels, and more than twenty IP digital channels.
The main users of the CEBsat's post-secondary education programs and their functions are as follows.
Online colleges and institutions of modern distance education
Of the sixty-seven online colleges established so far across the country, thirty-one offer distance education programs. Their multimedia courseware is transmitted to the CEBsat via special ground cables and to teaching centers all over the country by satellite. Some lectures are also delivered via television. Nearly 1 million students are engaged in studies at nearly 1,000 CEBsat learning and teaching centers that are installed with satellite reception equipment.
Teachers' training in the western regions
A total of 15,000 pilot teaching stations for modern distance education have been established in elementary and secondary schools in the poverty-stricken parts of the western regions. By receiving CEBsat information that allows for offline Internet surfing, these teachers' training centers enable teachers to gather new knowledge and gain access to a variety of education resources without leaving their home or school. A teachers' training center for elementary and secondary school modern distance education in the western regions has been set up, with the backing of local universities, to produce teachers, technicians, and managers.
IT service platform
A national distance education program for IT training and application is broadcast on the IT channel of CCETV. Users may download the courseware so that they can study it at anytime. The “Star Television” program run by the State Information Center provides users throughout the country free of charge with healthy and popular information products, carefully selected from outstanding websites by making full use of the State Information Center's database. This program, based on a satellite digital broadcasting system, has been aired through the CEBsat since it was unveiled in 1995, and its information, which is updated daily, at the speed of 100Mbps, covers politics, economics, entertainment, education, and law, and is popular with users.
At the beginning of 1994, with government financial support, Tsinghua University and Peking University collaborated with eight other prestigious universities to begin building the China Education and Research Network (CERNET). The CERNET has undergone three stages of development, as is indicated by the increases in its backbone network's transmission rate.
The formative stage (1994–1995)
By developing a government-invested pilot project for CERNET, China built its first national academic computer network with a backbone network that was connected by 64Kbps DDN lines to eight big cities and covered all the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities except Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Tibet. With 108 member-universities and more than 30,000 users, the CERNET was the largest computer network in the country at the time. The adoption of a 128Kbps international telecommunications (telecoms) line enabled the CERNET to connect with the Internet and establish a national networking center, eight regional branches, and two major nodes, thus shaping an administrative and operational structure at national, regional, and campus levels. During this formative stage, the CERNET also developed its own networking resources and user software, including China's first electronic journal, Shenzhou Xueren(China Scholars Abroad), and the first BBS site (at Tsinghua University).
Consolidation and enhancement (1996–1999)
During this stage of consolidation and enhancement, the CERNET undertook three more projects:
First, developing a computer information network and researching its key applied technology.
Second, upgrading the backbone network.
Third, building regional trunk networks and an information service system for key academic fields.
The upgrading in 1998 enabled the CERNET to raise the speed of its backbone network to 4Mbps by tapping the telecommunication capacity of both satellite and DDN information channels and sharing the information load between them, to extend its satellite information channels to Lanzhou, Yinchuan, Xining, Urumqi, Kunming, Guiyang, and Chongqing, and to open 512Kbps satellite channels that connected with Harbin, Changchun, and Dalian. As a result, more than 400 organizations were linked to the CERNET, which now covered more than seventy cities in all the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities on the mainland. The CERNET had by now acquired more than 800,000 users. When regional trunk networks and the information service system for key academic fields were completed under Project 211, the CERNET acquired a basic framework and a service network, consolidated its infrastructure for thirty-eight regional networking centers and major nodes, and improved users' log-on abilities. In this way, the CERNET vastly improved its network information services, connected all the universities in the country, and became a major server of basic information for higher education and research work.
Rapid growth (since 1999)
The current phase of rapid growth began when the construction of the CERNET's high-speed backbone network started in September 1999. This project has given the CERNET a transmission network with a capacity of 40Gbps, a total length of approximately 20,000 kilometers, a maximum transmission speed of 2.5Gbps, and a series of regional networks whose 155Mbps transmission speed enables 100 universities to log on to the CERNET at speeds ranging 100–1,000Mbps. Thus, the long-standing problem of inadequate telecommunication resources has been redressed. The project greatly reduced the strain on the trunk lines, effectively eased the difficulties faced by provincial nodes in accessing the CERNET's trunk network, and offered high-speed CERNET access to nearly 100 universities in east, central, and west China. The project also completed an initial high-speed CERNET networking platform whose CCERT safety services, time services, networking administrative services, and multicast services provided a strong backing for large-scale promotion of online education.
In 2003, the CERNET completed a DWDH/SDH-based high-speed transmission network. Having a total length of 20,000 kilometers and total capacity of 40Gbps, it acquired a high-speed trunk network with a speed of 2.5Gbps and medium-speed regional networks with a speed of 155Mbps that reached out to 200 cities, including thirty-six provincial capitals and cities functioning as independent accounting units. The CERNET developed a national networking center, ten regional networking centers, and twenty-eight regional networks, and its major nodes accommodated 1,300 organizations. More than 300 universities could log on to the CERNET at speeds ranging 100–1,000Mbps. The number of connected terminals topped 5 million, the number of users exceeded 15 million, and the number of IP addresses surpassed 8 million. The CERNET also opened international and regional information channels, connecting to networks in the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Hong Kong, at a total bandwidth of 800Mbps. The CERNET today is a prestigious national academic network of considerable global renown. It is also by far the world's leading education and research network, one of the world's three major academic networks, and the second-largest network in China. The high-speed link between the CERNET and the CEBsat has brought about a nationwide modern distance education transmission network that combines satellite transmission and ground stations, and lays a solid foundation for delivering modern distance education and guaranteeing a robust and balanced national education development.
The universities were the first to introduce IT to education in this country. During the CERNET's formative years, one university after another built campus networks to be connected to it. Before long, Tsinghua University and Peking University found that the circulation volume of their campus networks had exceeded that of some elite universities in developed countries. At the beginning of the 21st century, all the universities in east and central China had acquired their own campus networks. By 2002, 70% of the universities throughout the country had established campus networks, though most newly built post-secondary vocational and technical colleges did not have enough time to erect their own networks.
As a result of uneven regional economic development, IT development in education is progressing rapidly in the coastal areas of east China but slowly in the western regions due to lack of money. This has resulted in a disparity in the level of IT development between eastern and western universities. Underdeveloped campus networks have not only hampered the western universities' effort to keep up with burgeoning IT development, but have also directly held back higher education development in the western regions and the transmission of quality higher education resources from east China to west China.
In 2001, 30% of the 152 universities in the western regions did not have a campus network. Even those networks that had been set up on campuses could not play an adequate role because of their low technical level. The government raised money by issuing treasury bonds to complete the building of computer networks in all the 152 western universities, so that educational resources could be shared, the east-west gap in education development narrowed, and IT development speeded up. This would be the first step toward a quantum leap in the development of education in the western regions and subsequently, the gain of high-level intellectual support for socioeconomic development of these regions.
Thanks to efforts made in the past few years, all the 152 western universities have acquired a campus network with an infrastructure close or up to the level of their counterparts in the coastal regions. Speedy network connection has been guaranteed so that these campus networks can directly enter the CERNET's main nodes to access the education resources of the eastern regions. In light of the characteristics of higher education in the western regions, user systems in the service of teaching, research, and administration have been set up on the basis of the campus networks, and students' computer rooms have gained in popularity.
In the drive to boost IT development in higher education, the construction of networks is the basis, the development of resources holds the key, and the application of networks and resources is the purpose. In China, higher education information resources develop largely in sync with the growth of satellite television networks, the CERNET, and campus networks. Local governments and universities have undertaken resource-development projects and developed application platforms, software, online teaching programs, courseware, databases of lectures, case studies, source materials, and examination problems, so that every university has access to these education resources. The national higher education public service system—whose construction had a good start with the completion of the China Academic Library & Information System (CALIS) and the System of Information Resources for Key Academic Courses—provides a basic digitalized information platform and largely achieves public sharing of resources among all the country's universities.
The CALIS is one of two public service systems under Project 211. As an alliance of university libraries with government financial backing, the CALIS is designed to combine, by using government investment, sophisticated technology, and a modern concept of the library, the abundant library and intellectual resources of universities to build a united database with the China Higher Education Digital Library at the core, so that information resources can be jointly developed and shared, and subsequently, yield maximum social and economic results in serving higher education in China.
In the 1990s, development of the CALIS was centered on the construction of a library and information service network and the digitalization of library information resources. The project comprised the completion of the building of an administration center, four national library and information centers, and eight regional library and information centers. These, together with the universities' library and information networks, formed a three-tier service network that encompassed the national center, regional centers, and university libraries. With regard to development and digitalization of library and information resources, the CALIS comprised the completion of a united digital database of indexes of books and periodicals in Chinese and foreign languages, a database of indexes of current university journals, a database of digests of degree theses of various universities, a database of twenty-five key academic fields, and a navigational database of networking resources in 217 key disciplines of study. Moreover, the CALIS has brought in foreign electronic databases by way of “group purchases” to form a major source of information on digitalized campuses. In 2003 alone, the network imported the electronic versions of 13,000 periodicals in foreign languages.
In the early 21st century, scientists from China and the United States jointly initiated the China-America Digital Academic Library (CADAL) in order to digitalize 1 million books before the end of 2005. These books—500,000 in Chinese and 500,000 in foreign languages—have all been authorized by their copyright owners to be made publicly available online, with no limit to the number of copies being duplicated. On this basis, the scientists went further to develop the China Academic Digital Library and Information System (CADLIS) to make full use of the book resources of various universities and build an online digital library accessible to most universities with the support of the CERNET's broadband resources, and to facilitate direct library and information connections between universities and with major foreign libraries in the service of teaching and research. It is planned that by end-2005, an open and world-class higher education digital library will be established in China.
Information resource systems for key academic fields
During 1996–2000, Project 211 began developing information resources for key fields of study throughout China. When that period was over, China had completed ten information mirroring networks that covered the world's elite universities and major international academic organizations, and basically completed the information mirror networks for twelve global-level key academic fields—molecular biology, major diseases, chemistry, plant conservation, education, materials, power machinery and engineering thermophysics, physical chemistry and applied chemistry, law, mathematics, microstructures, and chemical industry—with an information volume that topped 800GB.
To provide users with multiple and ready access to abundant teaching and research information, the CERNET also completed a worldwide web resource system that covers the websites of 107 world-class universities, the entire mirror websites of nine prestigious international organizations, and an FTP resource system with twelve world-class mirror databases. It has also constructed a giant distributed English and Chinese full-text search system based on a platform of multiple agreements, operational systems, and networks, with a full-text search system in both Chinese and English covering 1.5 million pages and a search system that covers 1 million documents. These networks offer Chinese universities convenient and prompt access to information resources on higher education and key academic fields that are being developed in foreign countries. This saves China a colossal amount in international telecommunication expenses.
In 2001, Project 211 entered its second phase whereby development of information resources for key academic fields continued on the basis of the CERNET's high-speed backbone networks, local networks, and their basic safety-guaranteeing systems. From the available mirror systems, eight academic fields that were in great demand had rich resources and a good foundation, and were under sound administrative systems, were selected to have their information resource systems expanded. Six more key fields were added later—literature, history, philosophy, energy, environment, and economics—with relevant information resource administrative systems established. The other items on the agenda of the Project 211 second phase are: developing network storage and backup systems for the information resources for the selected key academic fields; improving their security and backup systems; building their information resource index service systems and providing data categories management and indexing services; establishing balanced-load systems for portal websites information services; and gradually developing a CERNET-based distributed large-capacity information service system covering multi-disciplines.
Developing modern distance education resources
Fostering an environment in favor of modern distance education
In 1999, China began fostering an environment for modern distance education, and built a platform in support of online teaching, a distance education database management system, and a distance education information managing system. So far, 500 universities across the country are using, free of charge, the platform in support of online teaching on a trial basis; the distance education database management system has connected nine higher education databases in experimental operation; and the distance education information management system is providing information management services, publicizing related government policies and legislation, providing information on the trial operation of available systems, sharing teaching information, offering consultancy on distance education, and handling administrative affairs online.
Developing resources of universities that experiment with distance education
The universities running online credit education on a trial basis are offering 8,557 courses on 140 specialties in ten disciplines of learning. They have also developed 9,338 courseware publications, and accomplished the initial transition from providing computer-assisted instruction (CAI) courseware to developing online courses. The Ministry of Education has shaped the norm for resource development and built a number of online teaching platforms. The universities experimenting with distance education have developed their own online education and examination problem databases, and their campus networks offer such services as online registration, course selection, academic record administration, and disclosure of all sorts of information. In the process, they have cultivated a contingent of experts, technicians, and managers for online curriculum development. The experience they have gained has laid a solid foundation for the further development of online education.
Online curriculum development
Universities throughout the country attach due importance to the building of an online curriculum, while education administrative departments, through public bidding, are trying to drive the development of fundamental and model online courses and databases on case studies of teaching, textbooks, and examination problems. In 2000, the Ministry of Education set guidelines for 250 development projects, and received about 2,000 applications from university teachers wanting to undertake these projects. On the basis of a careful screening, 320 applications from some 100 universities were awarded contracts for these projects.
Developing other information resources
Digital university museums
There are more than 100 university-run museums in China. Covering a wide range of fields of learning, they are major teaching and research resources for universities. The government and universities are working together to digitalize the museum pieces in order that the public can access these resources and that the development of online public resources can be accelerated. The nation has built a software platform for digitalizing university museums, set the norm for the digitalization work, and improved the data storage, public sharing, and re-use systems, so as to put the museum information at the service of college teaching and research and public promotion of scientific knowledge.
Academic databases for the University Center for Online Cooperation
The platform of the University Center for Online Cooperation runs a series of databases on academic books and references, making it possible for the resources and information in relevant academic fields to be widely exchanged and shared. Many cooperative online research centers have developed software systems on a video transmission and communication platform, formed stable teams of researchers, and pooled scattered intellectual resources and laboratory apparatus and equipment.
For example, the open and authoritative national Handsbrain-China Children's Science Education Net has been established to promote a science education reform plan and speed up research on learning on the basis of the principles of how the brain works. This network also provides an avenue for the online exchange of information on science education reform and teachers' training, a science education database with a 20GB capacity, and platforms for distance training of teachers, international exchange and cooperation, online disclosure of information, and users. It also operates a pictorial database on Chinese brains, and a database on the results of basic studies on the brain and relevant materials. The national Handsbrain-China Children's Science Education Net is connected to other international science education networks.
Education information technology is developed for practical purposes. To make better use of modern information technology, we must start with setting benchmarks, promoting it, and cultivating new talent for it.
Standardization and promotion of IT
Development of education technology in China's universities has undergone the following stages: audiovisual teaching, computer-assisted teaching, and online learning based on the Internet and multimedia technology.
Prior to the 1960s, slide shows, and projection and film screening were major teaching aids. In their wake came audiotapes, videotapes, radio and television, and satellite-transmitted television, which are collectively known as tools for audiovisual education. In the late 1980s, personal computers began to gain popularity in China, paving the way for the rise of computer-aided teaching, and universities set up research centers or laboratories to study how to use the computer as a teaching aid. The National Association of Computer-Based Education was born as a result, and the use of audiovisual technology and computers was popularized in universities. Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has grown rapidly and networking technology is widely used in higher education.
Standards are a major indicator of the level of information technology development in education. China attaches due importance to benchmarking various information technologies for education. The government certifies IT standards in the field of education and has established testing and application mechanisms for this purpose. It studies the relevant legislation and administrative mechanisms, and has built a multi-level education IT standard service system with multiple interactive functions.
In 2000, China established the Chinese E-Learning Technology Standardization Committee, whose task is to study, shape, and promote education IT standards, ensure IT research and operation, tackle technological problems, and provide consultancy and services to users engaged in modern distance education. The committee also functions as a member of the State Information Technology Standardization Committee as well as a group member of the Sub-Committee 36 of the Joint Technical Committee under the International Standards Organization (ISO JTC1/SC36) and of the Learning Technology Standards Committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE LTCS).
Building digital campuses
The digital campus refers to a schooling environment with a high degree of IT development, where a university's major information resources and their administration, exchanges, and transmission are digitalized by means of multimedia and Internet technologies. Such a campus means a great deal in the development of a new mode of college education befitting an information society, for making full use of information technology in building new, open, and independent schools of higher learning, and for raising the quality and efficiency of teaching.
In teaching, the digital campus facilitates the public sharing of quality information and intellectual resources by way of multimedia and Internet technologies, promotes teacher-student interaction at a high level, and promotes cooperative research-oriented study. By developing a pattern of open and efficient teaching, the digital campus helps enhance students' awareness of information and improves their trouble-shooting and innovation skills.
In research, the digital campus makes full use of the Internet to promote public sharing of research resources and equipment, international academic exchanges, and online cooperative research, and to accelerate the transfer of the latest research results to teaching, industry, and the market, thus vastly increasing the innovation level and impact of research work.
In administration, the digital campus uses information technology for the automatic management of information on administrative functions, facilitates ready communication between different levels of administration, facilitates sharing of information, aids coordination between departments, helps put the decision-making process on a more scientific and democratic footing, enables staff downsizing and hence, improves work efficiency, and brings about a brand-new, dynamic administrative system.
In public service, the digital campus furnishes a fast broadband Internet environment that covers on-campus teaching, research, administration, and daily life, provides teachers and students with basic Internet services and copyrighted software, sets up digitalized libraries, archives, museums, and high-quality art galleries, and operates an electronic personnel identity and accreditation system that provides strong backing for teaching, research, and administration.
In community service, the digital campus meets the requirements of outsourced university logistics and services by providing a variety of highly intelligent community services online such as e-business, e-doctors, and efficient and integrated daily services and entertainment.
Online university administrative services on student information
Universities throughout China enroll students through the Internet. There is also a computer system to assist the administration of college students' registration and academic records, a national higher education academic degree and diploma registration and information network, and a national students' loan-in-aid information network. These networks enable universities, graduate schools, and education administrative departments across the country to computerize student administration with good social and economic results.
Universities, graduate schools, and adult universities in China have basically computerized their administration of student information. However, because most of them operate independent computers, the level of sharing of information is low. The widely scattered data makes it difficult to gather comprehensive statistics that reflect the overall picture of higher education, thereby failing to provide information support for efficient overall planning and decision-making. To further standardize and modernize university student administration systems in the current drive to develop a national IT-based administrative system, the Ministry of Education is hastening the establishment of a national system for integrated administration of university student information. The latest information technology will be employed to gather information on university enrollment, college students, and graduate employment for a national platform on the administration of university student information, to build a database on college students throughout the country, and to achieve the sharing and in-depth development of these information resources. On this basis, the ministry will proceed to build a national university public student information service system, that will act as an information bridge to connect graduates and employers, and a higher education personnel database that supports overall decision-making for education administration and economic development, and provides the public with higher education information services. The China Graduate Student Enrollment Information Net (www.ChinaYZ.com.cn) has been launched for the benefit of both graduate schools and applicants. By using the Internet to share information on enrollment, monitor the enrollment process, and provide online registration services to applicants to master's programs, the China Graduate Student Enrollment Information Net has standardized the administration of enrollment information and services.
Developing academic programs on education technology and cultivating related professionals
Competent personnel hold the key to the success of any human endeavor. In 1983, some universities began to offer undergraduate courses on education technology. By 2000, this field of study had reached a sizeable scale. Today, the country operates a comprehensive, multi-leveled and multi-dimensional system, which embraces 140 undergraduate departments, thirty-eight graduate departments, and five PhD programs for the cultivation of professionals in education technology. There are also 108 teachers' education technology training centers and 74,849 education technology organizations. A total of 200,000 are engaged in work relating to education technology, and hundreds of thousands work as part-time teachers in education technology.
The Committee of Textbooks on Audiovisual Education was established in 1991 to coordinate the work in and administration of this field. It was renamed the Ministry of Education's Steering Committee for Teaching in Audiovisual Education in 1993, and regrouped in 2001 to become the ministry's Steering Committee for College Teaching in Education Technology. The task of the committee is to guide and participate in shaping the goals, plans, curriculum, and structure of the study of education technology. So far, the committee has already compiled a set of textbooks for major courses on education technology.
Teachers and students in the study of education technology and other branches of computer information science provide solid personnel backing for the sustained development of education IT.