Technology Infusion in A Chinese Middle School: A Comparative Perspective

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Learning about technology and about integrating it meaningfully into teaching and learning are daunting tasks. What models of professional development really work to help teachers with this challenge? How can teachers help themselves? How can teachers enlist the help of their students? In the United States, despite the recognized need for teachers to use and teach new technologies, a large percentage of teachers remain under-prepared to cope with technology in classrooms (Perischitte, Tharp and Caffarella 1999; ISTE 1999). Reengineering pedagogy represents a profound paradigm shift that is well advanced in U.S. economy and culture. While China started well behind American schools in access to and use of information technology, it is impressive how rapidly it has been able to mobilize and train teachers to infuse technology into their curricula.

The success of Chinese middle (secondary) schools1 in preparing students for academic excellence in the university and life beyond is often discussed in the West. However, there has been little in-depth analysis of the comprehensive educational process and the continuous growth philosophy, along with the strategy of its curriculum, teachers and staff in the maintenance of students and the institution. More recently, middle schools have played a key role in infusing modern technology into Chinese education and industry. Computer education starts as part of the core curriculum at the middle school level. The content ranges from computer basics, operation and application, keyboarding, Chinese language processing and commonly used software, to more complicated databases, programming languages, and computer impact on modern society (Lan 1997; Bao, Lan and Chen 1997). Accordingly, middle school teachers across subject areas are expected to reach a level of competence sufficient to incorporate technology into teaching and to reinforce student technology competence.

In this study, the authors report their investigation of one of the leading middle schools in one of China’s most sophisticated cities, Shanghai. The authors, three of whom are currently professors in U.S. universities and one a senior educator in QiBao Middle School, are the product of such middle schools in Shanghai in the mid 60s and 70s. Through this study, the authors suggest relevant experiences and examples for schools in the United States.

QiBao Middle School

QiBao Middle School in Shanghai was founded in 1947. It was designated as one of Shanghai’s key middle schools2 in 1961. Today, there are 2,500 students enrolled in 50 classes ranging from the 7th to the 12th grades. Approximately 1,800 at QiBao are boarding students. Among 250 school employees, 70% (178) are teaching faculty. Eighty percent of the teachers have a four-year university degree; 10% have a graduate degree (all masters except one with a doctoral degree); and 5% have two-year degrees. Fifty-six percent of the teachers have worked in QiBao Middle for 20-30 years, about a third are new teachers, and some have worked in QiBao for over 40 years.

Technology infusion has been a high priority during the recent decade. The school has designated several areas to effectively utilize technology to meet the overall instructional goals:

  • Strengthen the development and research of modern education technology through continuous exploration of new and more effective instruction and learning models;
  • Enhance the application of modern education technology in the school;
  • Enhance the application of multimedia and network technologies;
  • Extend the use of technology to all teachers and staff; and
  • Increase the use of the technology facilities.

Many activities are planned for each specific area. In this article, the authors discuss these activities as a comparative example vis a vis the American experience.

Technology Infrastructure

Currently, all of QiBao’s instructional facilities are connected to two networks: an interactive closed-circuit video network and a campus computer instruction and management network connected to the Internet. The two networks are connected to office buildings, a library, dining rooms, the gym, an art building and the guest house. Thus, every instructional facility is capable of providing comprehensive and interactive instruction with data formats in text, pictures, images, sound and animation, using technologies from network, computer, VCD player and multimedia projectors. Multimedia is used to enhance the quality of instruction and instructional management. These instructional facilities include classrooms and labs, one-way observation rooms, three multimedia computer labs, the conference room, two multimedia language labs and the library multimedia reading room. These facilities are controlled by three control centers containing multimedia and computer control systems, network administration stations and closed-circuit exchanges.

The three computer labs have 57 Pentium workstations each. Two of the three labs are equipped with Pentium 133 and Pentium 166 computers, respectively, and have a simulated Internet environment, something rarely done in the United States. They are used by 7th and 9th grades to learn how to use the Internet. The third lab is a multimedia lab that is actually connected to the Internet. Eighth and 10th grades use this lab for multimedia classes, where they learn how to author multimedia programs; and 10th through 12th grades use the lab for Internet activities: developing home pages, sending e-mail, or communicating with others in discussion forums or chat rooms. In addition to the three labs mentioned above, there is an electronic reading room that has 20 computer workstations, all connected to the Internet.

The offices are connected both to the Internet and the intranet (campus network). Teachers, staff, and school administration are all networked. The school’s Center for Multimedia Development has 20 Pentium 350MHz workstations with multimedia peripherals dedicated to developing multimedia materials for instruction.

Technology Competence and Training for Faculty and Staff

In Chinese middle schools, technology training is mandated for teachers, staff and the administrative personnel. In order to provide meaningful and relevant technology training to faculty, staff and administrators, the school has developed standards and set up timelines for various constituents, with the focus on three groups: middle level administrators3, clerical staff, and young and middle-aged faculty.

Middle Level Administrators

This group includes senior academic and administrative personnel (e.g., dean of academic affairs, dean for administrative affairs, bursar, etc.). Training activities for middle level administrators are designed to improve their ability to use information technology to optimize their leadership and management roles. Middle level administrators must learn:

  • How to search information on the Internet that is useful to their work;
  • How to communicate effectively with their ?constituents regarding the guidelines and regulations from the above; and
  • How to use an Internet browser and e-mail.

Clerical Staff

This group includes secretaries and data entry personnel. Traditionally, secretaries are required to be proficient in typing Chinese. With today’s computer technology, they must learn keyboarding to type Chinese characters using a conventional English alphabet keyboard.

Training activities for clerical staff are designed to meet these requirements:

  • Mastery of keyboarding and the ability to type 90 Chinese characters per minute with 90% accuracy;
  • Mastery of basic computer maintenance and upkeep skills;
  • Skills in data entry using required software programs and communicating with all levels of administrative offices in specific forms; and
  • Knowledge of using advanced DOS system, Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel, FoxPro, and other commonly-used program packages. Clerical staff is expected to learn these programs to prepare them for the Office Automation Exam, through which they earn a certificate issued by the city government necessary for promotion.

Young and Middle-Aged Faculty

This group is composed of teachers under the age of 45. Seventy-eight percent of QiBao’s teachers fall into this group. They form the backbone of instruction.

Again, the objectives for this group’s training are accomplished in two units. The first unit covers:

  • Basic knowledge and familiarity of Internet and Intranet;
  • Internet information search and access;
  • Use of multimedia courseware on the Internet;
  • Software download from the Internet;
  • Familiarity with features of multimedia software;
  • Use of commercial multimedia software;
  • Use of Internet browsers and e-mail; and
  • Use of campus network to make comments and ?suggestions to school management.

The second unit covers more advanced techniques, e.g., the design and development of multimedia courseware using PowerPoint and FangZhen Author, a multimedia authoring system for the Chinese platform, developed by Beijing University. It also covers the use of word processing and network safety and security issues.

During the first part of 1998, the school introduced the technology plan and new facility to all teachers, and informed teachers about the campus network, the Internet, and the features of multimedia software. Training of the two units started in the latter part of 1998. The school made several requirements for the training: 1) All teachers should be able to use the Internet by the end of 1998; 2) Every young and middle aged teacher must be able to use multimedia courseware in class instruction at least once during each school term; and 3) Each program area (teaching and study group) must develop at least two applicable multimedia courseware programs. The multimedia course programs teachers use usually come from three sources: commercial software packages; more specialized and sophisticated courseware developed jointly by teachers in QiBao and computer specialists to meet specific curriculum requirements; and teacher-developed courseware to solve relatively simple and particular instructional problems.

The school also made it a requirement that teachers’ use of multimedia to facilitate instruction be well distributed across the program areas within the school. The school has kept a record of all multimedia courseware used or developed in the school. Software quality and the teaching outcomes are also on record. These records have become part of the year-end program and individual evaluations. Currently, the Shanghai municipal government requires that all young and middle-aged professionals, including teachers, pass an exam on computer competence in order to be promoted to senior ranks. Most young and middle-aged teachers in QiBao willingly take the exam as a way to strengthen credentials for promotion. They take great pride in acquiring technology skills as they consider it an inevitable teaching tool of the new millennium.

Technology Expectations and Activities for Students

While providing training to develop technology skills for administrators, faculty and staff, many activities are designed to involve students in technology infusion. Teachers are designated to direct after school programs to ensure the quality of these activities. The following are some examples.

Student Journalism Group. The former student broadcasting group, student newspaper group and student photography group were combined to form the Student Journalism Group. This group combines computer technology with photography, videotaping, interviews and broadcasting to report the school events and news from faculty, staff and students.

Student Computer Club. This club has several groups: programming, multimedia, network, database and maintenance. The groups meet once a week. Members of the Student Computer Club are knowledgeable in computer technology. They are a leading force in the school’s effort to apply modern educational technology. They participate in the development of multimedia courseware, providing faculty with technical mentoring and assistance, and relieve them from tedious data entry routines. Club members also contribute to the management of the various campus networks.

The Multimedia Computer Lab opens to students twice a week during the day. Students can use their own software in the lab, or use the school’s multimedia software collection that covers almost all subject areas. The General Purpose Computer Lab also opens twice a week for students to study the use of computers. It is required of all students to take at least 80 hours of hands-on computer instruction each year, and to use computers at least one hour each week during their free time. The computer lab that uses a simulated Internet environment is managed and operated by students. The labs that have direct connection to the Internet are open to all students during the noon hours and in the evening.

 

The Impact of Technology in QiBao

Modern information technology has played a crucial role in realizing the important goals the school set to reach before the turn of the new millennium. It empowered QiBao and aspired faculty and students in their daily exchange among themselves, with educational organizations, and others in and out of China. It has brought great convenience to teachers and parents in their communications with each other, and access to school information. It also enables more effective school and instructional management. Through training, classroom teachers in QiBao have learned how to develop multimedia courseware, use the campus network and the Internet, and use technology equipment. Today, about 50% of QiBao teachers (82 of 172 teachers) have the ability to develop multimedia courseware. The school has given the task to the network center to lead the development of databases for instructional materials and archives. This project will make resources ready for teachers to develop multimedia courseware, enable more teachers to join the effort of courseware development, and further technology infusion to strengthen QiBao’s rigorous and comprehensive curriculum.

Discussion

What are the similarities and differences between QiBao’s practice and the American experience? What are the educational, cultural, political and economic reasons for the educational and administrative style and practice at QiBao? More importantly, what can we in the West learn from the QiBao experience? The answers are complex. Some are undoubtedly unique to the China situation and may be advantageous only in that particular environment at a point of time. It is likely, for example, that there are more restrictions on accessing and distributing Internet information. Yet, for quite different reasons, the answers may have relevance for American schools.

This discussion will focus on those experiences that can be transported to U.S. schools. At the moment, it may sound absurd to some educators in the United States to think about learning technology infusion from China — or anywhere else. Indeed, copying practices from others can be risky. National cultures, traditions, and institutional characteristics heavily influence educational practices. But it is always useful to focus on best principles. If we understand why certain practices work and what distinguishes them fundamentally from other practices, we will be able to identify the underlying principles involved. That universal idea can then be transported and applied to local context. The authors believe that the principles discussed here can be transferred. There is nothing culturally specific about the appropriate strategy to develop educational technology to support well-articulated instructional goals of a school.

It is a fact that both China and the United States are concerned about the quality of education, acknowledge the power of technology as a means for education reform, and focus on developing faculty capacity for technology infusion. Both systems wish to build state-of-the-art technology infrastructure. However, the specifics, e.g., the content of the standards, the methods for training, the level of sophistication of the infrastructure, etc., are culturally, politically and economically influenced.

At QiBao, as in many other schools in China, technology is presented as a necessary tool to achieve the instructional goals established by the mission of the school, instead of a peripheral skill which may be well understood by those who implement technology and attend the computer labs, but little understood and sometimes resented by those who "have to" accept it as additional skills to be acquired. This latter group often sees little relevance between the technology skill acquisition and the professional practice of teaching. To the authors, it is interesting that teachers in China rarely complain about having to use technology. This phenomenon could be interpreted as a result of a less democratic environment. But the authors believe that for teachers in China, being able to use technology is considered just one more competitive lever among many others. Its purpose, very simply, is to achieve the instructional goals of the institution. In US schools, the view and purpose of technology in education may seem to be less clear. Information and technology opportunities, though widely available, are often poorly understood by teachers who were trained in traditional methods and continue to stick to the tradition as the only means of teaching.

QiBao places significant emphasis on training its teachers beyond the basic level of technology competence. In addition to using software applications, teachers are trained to develop software to use in their own teaching, and software development is across curriculum. This approach makes sense because such software programs are more likely to be applicable in teaching, and teachers are more likely to use the material they have developed. Using this approach, skills that teachers learned in training are reinforced, relevance is established between technology skills and instruction and, very likely, students benefit from the teacher-developed software. In the United States, there is always a struggle between computer literacy and curriculum infusion. Teachers who are teaching in traditional disciplines are not uniformly trained to use technology. Therefore, there often is a disjunction between what the technology students must learn in computer education classes and the subject area learning in classrooms. Information technology users and information technology specialists are two distinctive classes. This creates two different cultures that seldom interact, and sometimes even clash (Bensaou and Earl 1998).

In the United States and China, there are significant differences in the policy formulation and administrative process. The obvious emphasis of the traditional "top-down" model of policy formulation in QiBao is in contrast with the clearly visible "bottom-up" influences found in most American educational systems. QiBao’s systematic and directed approach to training is in obvious contrast with America’s largely voluntary self-directed approach.

The authors believe that cultural change in institutions requires grass-root initiatives as well as policy reinforcement. Grass-root initiatives may provide the fertile soil for institutional change, but to sustain the change and provide a foundation for a paradigm shift, grass-root initiatives alone are not sufficient. Policy is required to define and reinforce a positive change.

At QiBao, training to master and use technology appears to be well-organized, contents are carefully planned, and training is provided to all school employees. Everyone is expected to support the comprehensive school mission. These directed undertakings have produced impressive outcomes. All of QiBao teachers use technology in instruction, and about 50% of them now have the ability to develop multimedia courseware.

To the American educational culture, it may seem an overwhelming demand to require the participation in training, passing of exams and timelines with promotion consequences. It is not hard to imagine resistance and some resentment from everyone: teachers, administrators and clerical staff. But we don’t have to look beyond the American experience to find examples of rigorous professional requirements. A number of professions in the United States have licensing examinations for initial entry and for continuous professional certification, e.g., medicine, engineering, accounting, etc. Why not education? Why not teachers?

One of the interesting practices at QiBao was using a simulated Internet environment for students to learn the Internet. For resource-limited China, it frees up lines for other more necessary uses, saves connection cost, and perhaps it is considered necessary for the control of information access and distribution. Nonetheless, the schools in the United States could also benefit from this idea to save time in classrooms, and alleviate the concern of student access to inappropriate information on the Internet. There are software programs on the market that can provide a simulated Internet environment, such as WebWhacker 2000 (Blue Squirrel, Inc. 1999), which allows the download of an entire Web site to be replayed from a hard drive or even a floppy or Zip disk.

The authors found that QiBao is very effective in enlisting help from students in technology infusion. Student participation has assisted faculty in developing multimedia courseware and at the same time, helped faculty to develop their technology skills. Student participation played a crucial role in managing and maintaining the schools’ network systems. Some American schools are doing the same, but more schools need to develop strategies to involve students in technology activities, and to foster an environment where learning in technology as well as in other subjects is a reciprocal process between teachers and students.

Developing state-of-the-art infrastructure and goals that are realistic and relevant to the school’s mission, providing systematic and organized training for all employees, involving students in implementing technology, focusing on curriculum infusion, using policy reinforcement — these practices communicate a clear message to everyone at QiBao that technology is important.

Authors

Jiang (JoAnn) Lan, Ed.D
Director, Office of Academic Computing and Technology
Assistant Professor, Educational Technology
School of Education, University of Alabama at Birmingham
E-mail:
jlan@uab.edu

Shujia He
Associate Professor of Computing
QiBao Middle School, Shanghai, China, PRC
E-mail:
qibaozx@online.sh.cn


John Ronghua Ouyang, Ed.D
Associate Professor of Instructional Technology
and Elementary Education
Bagwell College of Education
Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Ga.
E-mail:
rouyang@ksumail.kennesaw.edu

Qiu Zhonghai
Senior Lecturer of Education and Principal
QiBao Middle School, Shanghai, China, PRC
E-mail:
qibaozx@online.sh.cn

Qiu (Julie) Bao, Ph.D
Associate Professor in Teacher Education
College of Education and Human Services
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
E-mail:
jqbao@ship.edu

References

Lan, J. 1997. "An Analysis of The Evolution of Computer Education in Shanghai Secondary Schools: Relevant to American Schools?" Technology and Teacher Education Annual, 2, Association for the Advancement of Computer Education (AACE), 701-704.

Bao, J., Lan, J., Chen, X. 1997. "Massive Dissemination of Information Technology Through Testing in Shanghai." Technology and Teacher Education Annual, 1, Association for the Advancement of Computer Education (AACE), 512-516.

Persichitte, K. A., Tharp, D. D. and Caffarella, E. P. 1997. "A Report to the American Association of Colleges For Teacher Education and The Research and Information Committee." Washington D.C.: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

ISTE. 1999. "Information Technology in a Teacher Education Study Report: Will New Teachers Be Prepared To Teach in a Digital Age?" [Online]. Available: http://www.milkenexchange.org/research/iste_results.html

Bensaou, M. and Earl, M. 1998. "The Right Mind Set for Managing Information Technology," Harvard Business Review, 119-128. Sept.-Oct.

Blue Squirrel. 1999. WebWhacker 2000. [Online]. Available: http://www.bluesquirrel.com/products/whacker/whacker.html

 


 

  1. Chinese middle schools usually cover 7-12 grades. Elementary schools usually start at grade 6 and end at 12.
  2. Key middle schools are designated by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission with the mission of producing graduates who will pass the university entrance examination with higher scores. Students must obtain higher scores on the entrance exam to be admitted to key middle schools. Such schools usually have better facilities, more competent teachers, and a very competitive learning environment.
  3. Middle school classification includes three levels: At the top level are school principals; at the middle level are dean and associate dean for academic studies and administrative affairs (e.g., bursars, admissions, etc.), and directors and deputy directors for teaching and scientific research; and at the first level are heads of programs and libraries.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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