Many lecturers feel that with the digitalization of teaching content and new technologies in the classroom, yet another burden has been added to their teaching load. Especially in the field of sinology (Chinese studies), we still lack digital teaching resources as well as commonly recognized standards or guidelines.
As part of the workshop “Sinology 3.0 – Theoretical Framework and Practical Application of E-Learning-Methods” at the FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, I presented some thoughts on improving the sustainability of e-learning in the field of sinology. In this blog post, I have summarized the main points.
“Sustainability” is a concept that evokes images of recycling, waste reduction, and demand-oriented production. As I will argue, “reduce, reuse, recycle” indeed sums up what should be the guiding principles in creating e-learning content for teaching Chinese language and culture.
In our preparation e-learning content, we are usually following these steps:
1. Course planning: What are the goals of the course in general and this lesson in particular (language skills, critical thinking, working with sources, etc.)?
2. Technical aspects: Which digital content or tools are best suited to meet my goals?
3. Creating content: Selecting tools, digitizing content, and making content and tools available for students.
When we have successfully concluded the lesson, next week’s class is already breathing down our neck. So we often leave our teaching materials in our digital drawer to be retrieved only in the following semester. Especially in such small disciplines like sinology, where you rarely find ready-made textbooks, most lecturers spent countless hours preparing teaching content. The sharing of worksheets, of questions for discussing key theoretical texts, etc. would thus save time and resources. (You see where I am going with my allegory of sustainability now…) To prepare digital teaching materials (not to be confused with digitized teaching materials) is even more time consuming, yet technical hurdles often obstruct the dissemination and the accessibility of digital teaching content. German universities, for example, each use a different online platform, so that a digital quiz or an interactive video can only be accessed and saved within this particular platform.
In the following, I will thus present a few steps that should give you some idea of how to make your resources accessible and how to use the resources others have prepared.
Step 1: Documentation
Take notes already during the planning process on the content, methodology, and the general aims of your teaching resource.
Example: You want to prepare a quiz on the Han Dynasty and the tombs in Mawangdui. To give other lecturers a general idea of the intention you had in creating this quiz, you should note the level of knowledge on Chinese history the students had before taking the quiz, on the assigned reading materials that served as preparatory materials, etc. You might also include some notes on your teaching experiences with this resource.
Also, if you make use of images or maps, you should only use pictures with a creative commons license (e.g., from Wikimedia Commons) and note the picture source and credit.
Step 2: Content Sharing
If you want to give other lecturers the chance to make use of your digital teaching resources, there are some basic rules you should keep in mind (they resemble the FAIR Data Principles):
Your resources should be…
Findable and accessible: If you upload your teaching resources on your personal or the university homepage, it is not very likely that other teachers will find them. You can make use of online repositories like OER Commons or Wikiversity instead. (You might already find some of the content others have shared here very useful.) For your quiz on the Han Dynasty, you can add tags such as “Chinese History” or “Chinese Culture,” the student level, the language, and format.
A good example is the “Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization” by Patricia Buckley Ebrey. Take a look at the webpage, and you will see that you find detailed descriptions of the purpose, the contents, and copyright issues as well as a teacher’s guide. Here you can also see that the sourcebook has its own webpage, but it is at the same time integrated into the OER Commons platform.
Interoperable: As I mentioned above, many universities use different learning and teaching platforms which makes it more difficult to share content. In Erlangen, for example, we use StudOn, a platform that only students and lecturers of the university can access. This means that my quiz on the Han Dynasty cannot easily be exported to another platform. However, when we prepare teaching content, in this case, the questions and answers of the quiz, we often use file formats, such as .doc, .xls, .txt and .csv. If you share these files that you prepared in advance of uploading the content into the teaching platform structure, your colleagues can easily open and modify these formats (much better than a .pdf document or a picture).
Reusable: Here again, the copyright issue becomes essential. Other colleagues will probably not make use of your teaching content when they fear that they might commit copyright infringement. To avoid this, you should assign a creative commons license to your teaching resources clearly stating what you expect from your colleagues when they use your material. You can consult the creative commons guidelines to get an overview of different licenses.
Step 3: Reap what you sowed
Sharing teaching resources can have numerous positive effects: Colleagues from other universities can get in touch, seek advice, and hopefully share improved or expanded versions of your material. The documentation can also help you to keep track of older courses and make it more transparent to students why you designed the classes the way you did.
Overall, the documentation and uploading of teaching resources might take time and energy, but this will probably be only a fraction of the overall time you spent on preparing the content. We should thus make sure that high-quality academic teaching becomes just as visible as our other research output.