East Meets West: Technology Training in the People's Republic of China

DR. VIRGINIA E. GARLAND, Associate Professor University of New Hampshire Durham, N.H. and DAVID J. YANG, International Programs Development Director California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, Calif. s we walked into the Beijing Institute of Education for our first computer training workshop, we talked about our hopes and fears in meeting the technological needs of our Chinese colleagues. We became involved in this project because we believed that we had the expertise to assist those Chinese faculty members who were so enthusiastic about adopting the latest advances in educational technology from the United States. At the same time, we were also painfully aware of the lack of economic resources in the People's Republic of China to acquire much of the more recent hardware, software and telecommunications equipment that is generally available in Western countries. What is the present status of educational technology in the People's Republic of China? How can apparent barriers to change be overcome? Are there gender issues in computer training? What are the pedagogical and economic considerations in the current and future preparation of Chinese teachers and educational administrators in computer use and telecommunications networking? A discussion of the technical training workshops led by the authors at the Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai Institutes of Education suggests some ways to bridge the current gap in technology between East and West. The New Chinese Program The People's Republic of China is undergoing vast political, economic and educational changes. In this most-populated nation of the world, younger leaders are now gaining limited access to power, selected free market zones are being established and teaching methods are beginning to modernize. Traditionally, most education classes are formal lectures and students infrequently question the instructor. In the newer, but far less available technology-based instruction held in computer labs, education students and their professors appear to have more discussions. Those Chinese educators familiar with computer-assisted instruction are also interested in telecomputing. The research of Morgan and Sheets indicates that telecomputing in Asian nations can facilitate communication between time zones, intercontinental distances and large numbers of users.1 James and Snyder find that instructional technologies can also foster greater global awareness.2 For instance, according to Harper, computer programming has cross-cultural transference.3 In order to be part of this global technology, telecomputing is now clearly on the agenda of the Chinese State Education Commission. With the very recent, worldwide "explosion" in the academic use of telecommunications, efforts are now underway in China to acquire more powerful microcomputers. Higher education administrators intend to network several large teacher training institutions' campuses together, as well as link these colleges with universities in the United States. These instructional improvements, observed in the "mega-cities" (populations over nine million) of Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, are initial steps in the creation of greater interdependence between the Chinese people and the world. Although the objective of enhanced computer use in the People's Republic of China is beginning to change the instructional perspectives of teachers and school administrators, there are some very real obstacles to overcome in achieving the desired reforms. It is difficult for nations with developing economies to obtain the technology necessary for academic computing and telecomputing. The 1992 annual report of the Pacific Telecommunications Council indicates that telecommunications networks operate widely in the business sector of many Asian nations; however, this technology is largely unavailable to public educators.4 Not only is there limited access to computers and telephone lines, but also the hardware interface and communications software are too expensive for most government-supported schools and colleges in countries with limited resources. Because of the need for additional funding to implement computer training, the Chinese State Education Commission recently obtained a loan from the World Bank to purchase equipment and to obtain the advice of more technologically advanced educators. This new technology program is an attempt to improve the quality and equity of secondary and higher education in the People's Republic of China. Computer Training Workshops In the summer of 1992 the authors, who are academic computing and telecommunications experts from The University of New Hampshire and the California Polytechnic State University, trained colleagues at the Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai Institutes of Education as part of the new Chinese technology program. Nearly 200 faculty members, secondary-level teachers, educational administrators, computer lab technicians and librarians from the eastern regions of China were involved in the entire project. Approximately 100 educators, about 25 per session, participated in four separate workshops on the computer as a managerial tool in education. Teacher training faculty members came to other seminars on computer-assisted instruction and telecommunications. Two additional presentations on library automation trends were attended by librarians and media specialists. The three institutes of education relied solely on MS-DOS operating systems. Each of the three colleges' computer labs were equipped with about 20 IBM PC 286 and DOS-compatible computers with two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives and 640K of memory. Two of the institutes had one IBM PC 386 each. The three or four printers per lab were Epson, Brother, Goldstar and NEC products. There were no modems, no telephones and no communications software in any of the computer labs. Personnel in each lab included a manager and two technicians. These hardware configurations necessitated the selection of less powerful software applications for the four workshops. The authors chose a variety of software packages that could be used on the available hardware, IBM PC 286s, as training tools. DOS Tutor gave those inexperienced computer users a "hands-on" overview of the system. Integrated software packages allowed the participants to use databases, spreadsheets and graphs as means to administrate secondary schools and colleges. Since many of the Chinese lab staff members were already familiar with dBase III, we focused on using the popular Quattro Pro. Workshop participants were encouraged to link files when completing problem-solving exercises in budgeting and scheduling. They were also involved in a case study analysis of one school's computer management system. Computer-assisted instruction was another area covered in both the workshops and in general discussion groups. Touch Typing Tutor, PC Write Standard, Daily Log Book, Classic Chinese Literature and World Info were some of the software programs used to demonstrate CAI on the IBM 286. Additional topics presented by the authors included networking, student records, personnel management and library automation. The new technology program's participants were all enthusiastic, and the technical support staff greatly facilitated the completion of computer-based projects. Participants left the training sessions with increased knowledge and new skills. It is hoped that these 200 teachers, technicians and administrators from throughout eastern China will become, in turn, the "trainer of trainers." The authors' goals were not simply to increase computer literacy in these education institutes, but, more significantly, to suggest critical ways of thinking about the computer's use in varied academic and administrative settings. Some obstacles to change will have been overcome when an administrator integrates a database application with a spreadsheet in order to schedule next year's courses or when a teacher links statistical and graphics applications in teaching a physics class or when a librarian designs a template for the automatic recording of overdue books. Research Findings on Use During these training sessions in China, the authors researched the changes in technology used by Chinese educators from the 1980s to the 1990s and identified current and future dimensions of computer projects in the three teacher and school administrator training colleges. Two needs assessment surveys were administered to 62 of the workshop participants. There are 33 items in the first questionnaire, which compares the hardware and software in computer and telecommunications use in the 1980s with use in the 1990s. The second survey measures the content areas of curriculum and educational management in which the technology is used. The research tools are gender sensitive, so a comparison is made between female's and male's access to technology. Findings of this study indicate a continued focus on the managerial uses of computers in the three Chinese teacher and school administrator training institutes. Results from the first survey point to more frequent use of IBM and DEC micro and mini-computers in the 1990s for managerial and instructional purposes, as opposed to the greater use of Apple II series microcomputers in the 1980s. (See Table 1.) Digital Equipment Corp.'s spokespersons state that their "close relationship with academia" in the People's Republic of China may explain the expanded reliance on DEC micros and minis in the current decade. In the 1980s, the more available Apple II and IBM microcomputers were used primarily for word processing, statistics and database applications.


In the 1990s, however, workshop participants indicated that IBM as well as DEC micros and minis are more likely to be used for gradebook and student records programs. Word processing is also viewed as less important in the 90s, falling behind database and statistical software applications. (See Table 2.) In the second survey, the respondents were asked more general, open-ended questions about computer use. Two-thirds of the participants had been "involved in computer education" one year or less. They were also asked, "What is the main use of computers in your working unit?" The three main areas include: 1) management, 2) teaching or CAI, and 3) research and statistics. However, the responses to both questionnaires point to some gender differences in computer access and use. The women workshop participants had not been involved in computer education as long as the men, with more than twice as many females as males using the technology one year or less. Females were also two times more likely to use their computers for instructional rather than managerial purposes. The Chinese women educators were twice as likely as their male colleagues to have not had the opportunity to learn dBase III. Whereas the number one ranking of software considered "essential" for the 1990s by men is statistical packages, for women the preference is for word processing programs. Future Directions The Chinese State Education Commission, with the support of the World Bank for its new technology program, is already bridging the computer gap between East and West by addressing three important issues. First, existing computer hardware and software programs are being currently updated. Second, there have been recent training workshops to support use of the newer equipment. And, it appears that more Chinese women are gaining access to the new technology program. The presidents and vice-presidents of the Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai Colleges of Education are already planning to acquire newer IBM 386 and 486 computers for database and statistical applications, library automation and telecomputing. There is also interest by the Chinese Academy of Sciences for the newest DEC product, the Alpha AXP, a powerful 64 -bit computer. The four workshops in the three teacher and administrator preparation institutions mentioned here are part of a larger training program throughout other schools in China. The authors found that women workshop participants outnumbered their male counterparts in all three colleges. This recent emphasis on computer training for women indicates that there is current awareness of the need to give all Chinese educators access to the latest technology, particularly in administrator training areas. Overall, the greater use of computers in the People's Republic of China is modernizing the education of teachers and school administrators. Indeed, the gaps between tradition and reform, between men and women, and between East and West have been lessened by these efforts. Virginia Garland, an associate professor in the Department of Education at the University of New Hampshire, has also worked on educational technology projects in Russia. She has taught computer applications in educational administration for the last ten years. Garland's article in the November 1990 issue of T.H.E. Journal directly led to her recent work in China. David Yang, currently International Programs Development Director at the California Polytechnic State University, has also been the Information Systems and Computer Center Director at Cal Poly. Yang is currently developing several technology project exchanges with the People's Republic of China. References: 1. Morgan, W. and Sheets, F. M., "The Interactive 'Global' Classroom: A Model From the DoDDS. T.H.E. Journal, Vol. 19, No. 10 (1992), pp. 60-62. 2. James, J. and Snyder, T., "Integrating Technologies in Global Studies," Media and Methods, Vol. 29, No. 3 (1993), pp. 22-24. 3. Harper, D. O., "Cross-Cultural Transfer of a Programming Language," T.H.E. Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1992), pp. 66-70. 4. Koseki, Y., "Pacific Telecommunications Council - 1992 in Review," Pacific Telecommunications Review, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1993), p. 2. Other Resources: 1. Berenfeld, B., "Linking East-West Schools Via Telecomputing," T.H.E. Journal, Vol. 20, No. 6 (1993), pp. 59-62. 2. Petrazzini, B. A., "The Politics of Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries," Pacific Telecommunications Review, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1993), pp. 4-23. 3. Pierce, J. W., Glass, G. V. and Byers, J. L., "Computer Networking for Educational Researchers on BITNET," Educational Researcher, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1991), pp. 21-23. Products or companies mentioned: Alpha AXP & other computers; Digital Equipment Corp., Marlboro, Mass. Brother International Corp., Somerset, N.J. Classic Chinese Literature; R.K. West Consulting, Mission Hills, Calif. Daily Log Book; John Haynes, 103 Sycamore St., Somerset, KY 42501. DOS Tutor; Software Garden, Inc., Newton Highlands, Mass. Epson America, Inc., Torrance, Calif. IBM Corp., White Plains, N.Y. NEC Technologies, Inc., Boxborough, Mass. PC Write, Standard Edition; QuickSoft, Inc., Seattle, Wash. Quattro Pro, dBase III; Borland International, Inc., Scotts Valley, Calif. Touch Typing Tutor; Gray Design Associates, Northboro, Mass. World Info; Hinh Van Nguyon, 3643 Dale St., Lakeland, FL 33813

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.