Blended Course Design for Students in China: Challenges, Problems and Design Solutions, Part 2


Ahmed Lachheb and Victoria Abramenka-Lachheb, Fort Hays State University

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Designing a course to be delivered in a blended format for students who are on the other side of the globe is very challenging due to many environmental factors, mainly technological, administrative, and linguistic. Not only do these challenges govern the process of course design, but they impact the final outcomes as well. In this article, we share: (1) Design features of courses that are now being taught in a blended format for Chinese students (who are in China) and, (2) how these features were responsive to the technological, administrative and linguistic challenges imposed by the students’ learning environment.

This is a three-part blog post that will cover one key challenge and solution each week.

Challenges, Problems and Design Solutions:

#1: Administrative Challenge: Large Class Size (see Part 1) 

#2: Technological Challenge: Internet Censorship and Low Speed Bandwidth

Most of the well-used web tools for online courses available in the US are blocked in China.  YouTube, Google Apps, Wikipedia, and other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Blogger, which are needed for one of the courses named “Global and Social Networking”, cannot be accessed unless a complicated VPN is being used. This is due to the Internet censorship policy in place, which is also known as the “Great Firewall of China”.

This challenge resulted in an instructional design problem: limited content resources and technology tools available for teaching and learning. This technological challenge caused a particular inconvenience in designing and teaching the “Social and Global Networking” course as well as other courses where the use of these tools and other media is crucial, if not important. For instance, the main course objectives for the “Global and Social Networking” course are aimed at introducing the students to a variety of social media platforms in order to practice using these tools in professional contexts.

When designing this course, we looked for alternative Chinese web-based tools to integrate, that are not blocked in China, but also that students are familiar with. Instead of YouTube, we put to use Instead of Twitter, we implemented Sina Weibo. Instead of Google, we utilized Baidu. As a communication tool between the teaching team and the students, we used WeChat.

Our university IT administration had been aware of the bandwidth issue way before starting the partnership. In fact, our university installed two Blackboard Learn servers inside the Chinese partner’s schools in order to ensure continuous connectivity for the students and for the Cooperating Teachers, all behind the Firewall of China. However, due to a slow bandwidth, the server’s response time was quite slow when accessed from the US. For that reason, we did all the course design in the FHSU university US domestic Blackboard server and then copied the course using the Blackboard Export-Import method. Also, since most of the tools were blocked and bandwidth was quite slow, we made sure to have the audiovisual content uploaded, not linked, to the Bb course site so that the CT and the students could download it and access it offline on their computers. We also looked for original media content in English hosted on Chinese websites (sometimes with Mandarin closed caption) and linked them to the course site on Blackboard.

In fact, looking for alternative web-based tools that are not blocked in China, uploading and linking original media content that can be played offline, and designing the course on a local US based Blackboard server allowed us to overcome this technological challenge.

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IMG 7 Embedded and Linked Videos

IMG 8 Uploaded Video\

Check back next week for Part 3 of this 3-part blog post. 

About the Authors:

Ahmed PIC

Ahmed Lachheb is the Instructional Technology Support Specialist and Instructional Designer at the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technologies, at Fort Hays State University. He holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Grand Valley State University, College of Education. Ahmed is famously known as the “Blackboard Guru” on Fort Hays campus. He is passionate about educational technology, instructional design for language learning, and best practices to integrate Ed Tech tools for good teaching and learning experiences. He’s also a young scholar with a few publications and conference proceedings in the field of instructional systems, design and Ed Tech. Ahmed is originally from Sfax, Tunisia, and he came to the US in 2010 as part of the NESA UGRAD Fulbright Exchange Program. He’s married, and his love to cook almost equals his love of his job and his wife (aka the love of his life, Victoria Abramenka).

Vicky's PIC

Victoria Abramenka-Lachheb is a full-time instructor in the Department of Communications Studies at Fort Hays State University. She holds a Master’s Degree in Communications from Grand Valley State University School of Communications. Victoria teaches social and global networking, writing in the professions, business and professional presentations and introduction to business English courses both on campus and at Sias International University through the online China program. Victoria is passionate about foreign languages, cross-cultural communication and technologies in education, and she always seeks opportunities to apply best practices and integrate the best technological tools to meet learning objectives.

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