Over-researching, sparrow and toothpaste


From wechat, I read a friend’s tweet of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC). It is an organization directly affiliated to the State Council for the management of the National Natural Science Fund. Apparently getting funding from NSFC is a very important key performance indicator so every one in his research university is burying his/her head writing proposals over the last week. This is becoming a mass movement to support an administrative policy to support STEM innovation.

I heard of two other mass movements in response to administration before. One was the mass killing of sparrows in 1950’s. The central administrator decided sparrow was a harmful animal and should be eliminated. For a while people spent all their spare time looking for poor sparrows unaware of their coming tragedy. I would not want to be a sparrow in 1950’s.

The other was the donation of empty toothpaste tube in 1980s’, answering the government’s calling for aluminium. Every household was in huge rush using toothpaste as fast as possible so that one could donate the empty tubes to contribute to national GDP. One family donated 20 toothpaste tubes over a week. I was taking every chance to find out if their teeth had become extra white.

I am not in academics so I don’t know if STEM innovation can be toothpaste. If one presses the tube harder, it comes out more.


Arranged marriage vs. One night stand – Chinese Khan Academy born!


Yesterday East China Normal University launched its MOOC platform (C20) for primary and high school students. A Chinese version of Khan Academy was born!

The baby was conceived in September 2013. It’s named C20. C stands for China, 20 means there are 20 primary school partners, 20 junior high school partners, 20 senior high school partners. (These schools are spread around China, not limited in East China Normal University’s home city – Shanghai). Parent of this baby is East China Normal University MOOC centre, which is composed of a MOOC research team and a MOOC partnership team.

I’m drawing some comparison between C20 and Khan Academy, a sibling eight year senior to C20.

(Arranged) marriage vs. One Night Stand – C20 is born out of a serious marriage among huge Chinese academic family. Its core members are all senior members (age 50+) of the university with significant titles. Khan Academy was born of one-night stand. Hedge funder Khan was initially just making videos to tutor his cousin and it grew much more serious than expected.

They both can afford to be kind-hearted kids – Both C20 and Khan Academy are free to use. C20,presumably, gets its funding from university/government. Khan gets its funding from users including Google and Bill Gates. (according to wiki)

Khan is nerdier – Khan has much more focus on STEM subjects, while C20 is a more balanced subject portfolio among STEM and non STEM content.

Of course C20 is much less developed but they probably will go different paths given they are different genetically – C20 is currently just a platform for teachers to share self-made video contents. There is no quiz, systematic curriculum, badge, high touch support such as coaching and mentoring. Khan, on the other hand, has developed so well and so fast. Of course, there is an age gap. Khan is 8 years old and C20 is zero. (8 years means so much in the world of internet). Having said that I am also very very aware of their genetic variances. C20 will be good at forming alliances and partnerships among Chinese schools. One day it might grow into a resource sharing platform among teachers to exchange modularised teaching content. For Khan Academy, after browsing its software engineer pool, I am pretty sure it’s fully equipped to get better and better in online, personalised STEM education for K-12 students.

I have also marked next year same time, for another assessment of these two brothers’ growth. healthy and grow a lot, C20 and Khan Academy.

How to upload video on Chinese Youtube – solution to accessibility


Youtube is used often for MOOC instructors to upload their lecture videos.  The fact it is blocked in China prevents many Chinese learners from accessing excellent resources on Youtube.  The alternative Vimeo is very slow in video streaming, which makes watching videos on that site from my Shanghai office a real pain.

One solution is to use the Chinese version of Youtube – Tudou.comTudou means potato in Tudou registration Chinese (Don’t ask me why ‘Potato’ became the Chinese Youtube). According to wiki – this video sharing website for People’s Republic of China went live on April 15, 2005 and by September 2007 served over 55 million videos each day.

Tudou manual picture

The Chinese interface of the website makes it almost impossible for non Chinese speakers to do anything there. The good news is that I have worked out English manuals on how to register and upload videos on Tudou.com in English. For MOOC instructors keen to explore 1.3 billion Chinese speaking learners, I will share these  manual with you via emails.

Contact me if you would like to get a PDF copy of the manual. And I am also willing to spend time helping you experiment it for the first time.

Please stop making me feel stupid!


Back in university, I had compulsory classes in coding. The lecturer was enthusiastically flooding us with terms I had no idea with. I sat in the classroom feeling (A) he is an alien (B) I am stupid. That prompted me into a stereotype (but wrong) conclusion – coding is for guys but not for me.

Year later I was recommended to take Mehran Sahami‘s programming methodology course and became instantly interested. He did a lot of things right. Every assignment poses a problem which requires problem solving skills rather than skills to memorise alien languages. Every time he introduced a new concept, new term, new mechanism he associated such newness with oldness: ie. things we were familiar with (such as toast machine). Such connection between knowledge existed and knowledge to acquire makes learning comprehensible. Plus he is funny, watching him teach feels like watching a standup comedy.

Thanks to this course, I picked up confidence in computer science – I am not a dumb in this world. I can reason well and solve problem creatively and efficiently, so if I set my mind to it, I have the potential to be good at it.

Funny-Animals-I-feel-stupidThis morning I reading the news about Kaikeba, China’s new MOOC platform specialising in software development education. What is truly awesome is that the certificates that students receive upon completion of a course can be exchanged for credits at these universities, a major step towards MOOC accreditation. I registered for a free course in Database structure and began to brown the content. Buuuuuuttttt, I was not able to understand anything and the same feeling about stupidity came back to haunt me. The confidence built evaporated and I was looking for un-enrol button already.

Please stop making me feel stupid! (That is not what I sign up an online course for)


Major challenges Chinese MOOCers have on English platforms

This blog summarises some major challenges Chinese MOOCers face when using English MOOC platforms. The following blog will list out my proposed solutions.
Accessibility be aware of slow page
  • Website loading – Sometimes it takes much time to load a MOOC website landing page. That automatically prevents people exploring the platform further.
  • Video streaming – There are many cries from people who were struggling with lecture videos streaming. When that happens, quite a few people assume the particular site is blocked by the government. The serious learners seek advise what to do. Meanwhile I am pretty sure many casual learners give up at this point. 
  • Great Firewall of China – Some sites blocked include Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, wordpress, BBC, CNN, NY Times, etc. Google is also pretty unstable. The means (1) any course/assignment materials from these sources are instantly unaccessible. (2) any community formed via Facebook or Google excludes a Chinese learner.
I dont understandLanguage – Language is another huge barrier. Learners with language difficulty cannot comprehend content without supports. Without the foundation of sufficient understanding, people will not reach the higher-order of learning such as reflection, application, evaluation and creation.
  • Lecture content – Learning new content online via a second language is challenging. One needs strong self-discipline to carry on. 
  • Subtitle –  Some people prefer not to have subtitle while some people find it very useful. 
  • Assignment – Some courses have content translated but such effort is not done for course assignment. 
  • Forum discussion – The concern of language also makes learners shy away from forum discussions. 
a lonerCommunity – Apart from technical accessibility issues and language issues, there are also cultural and demographic reasons why Chinese learners find it intimidating to participate in an English MOOC community.
  • The perception that learning comes from teachers & learning is an individual process – therefore learners will not see participating in peer interaction (such as forum discussion) as part of the learning process.
  • A much younger learner segment – according to a Chinese survey, more than 60% of Chinese MOOC learners are between 18-25. The average global student profile shows 11% of learners belongs to such age bucket. A younger student might find it intimidating to interact with a more mature, unknown adult socially.
Having said that, an independent Chinese language community becomes THE go to place for Chinese learners. Whenever one has questions to ask, experience to share, stories to tell, one goes there instead of reaching out to the English MOOC platform. I named it as the MOOC China Town. 
help meExtra support
  • Course recommendation – Many people asked for course recommendation either to learn out ofinterest or learn to acquire knowledge and skills
  • Study buddy – Many people asked IN CHINESE for learners who take the same course as study buddies.

These are some fundamental challenges for English MOOCs (cMOOCs and xMOOCs) to prevail in the mass Chinese market. However from an optimistic view, a problem means an opportunity. So I promise a more uplifting blog next time addressing opportunities.

What Chinese MOOCers were saying in 2012


I love data and I love analysis so I was doing something very nerdy. Guokr is a Chinese social networking website among lifelong learners. In 2012, the site launched a MOOC initiative academy with the mission to help spread the benefits of MOOC movement to Chinese society.  I went through its forum posts in order to gain some insights. Some data as below

Dates of Posts – Year 2012 (or to be more precise, from December 28th, 2011 to January 27th, 2013.)

Number of Posts – 126 posts. 71% of these posts relate to the general questions about MOOCs; 29% of these posts are course specific. We shall bear in mind that during 2012, MOOC was still emerging and learners were asking many questions just to understand how it works generally.  

MOOC academy year 2012 posts analysis - type of posts

Among the general posts 

  • 26 questions are basic Q&As how does it work
  • 15 posts share learners’ MOOC experience/stories
  • 13 posts introduce MOOC concept and different platforms
  • 9 posts are seeking for study buddy/peer
  • 9 posts ask for others’ recommendation on courses
  • 8 posts discuss a specific technical questions – how to climb the Great Fire Wall 
  • 7 posts show people’s concern about language (most people are not comfortable in an English learning environment. )

Among the 29% of course specific posts, I categorised type of course specific posts based on Benjamin Bloom’s Learning theory. Let us see what happens

Bloom taxonomy

  • Remembering – 12 posts are lecture notes.
  • Applying – 3 posts are discussion of assignments.
  • Analyzing – 2 posts show a certain level of analysis however very few posts manage a deep level of such process.
  • Evaluating – 8 posts provide recommendation for a course. Such recommendation, nevertheless, do not achieve a full-scale evaluation of what have learnt
  • Creating – 5 posts are about MOOC courses learners created by themselves (AWESOME)!  But they are more a creative action inspired by MOOC than that inspired by a course itself.

After reviewing 100+posts, I had the impression that language and internet connection are two major blocks for Chinese MOOC learners. The lack of in-depth analysis and evaluation is a result of these reasons rather than a result of people’s lack of critical thinking. 

The 10,000 half deaf/blind MOOCers


Before I moved back to Shanghai, there are a few concerns I had. One of them was access to external information (Facebook, BBC, NY Times, Youtube, Twitter). I was not able to imagine my work and life without these web tools so I found ways out.

Getting closer to the MOOC learners communities I came to really see the inconvenience (sometimes more as obstacles) Chinese learners are having

  • Any lecturers posted on Youtube are blocked as Youtube is blocked
  • Most video streaming is very slow (‘Download’ function is such a blessing in this case)
  • Any community formed via Facebook platform automatically leaves out Chinese learners who do not even have Facebook accounts
  • Any teaching content or assignment content with needs to access websites such as BBC, NY Times, Facebook is out of reach
  • Any social marketing using Twitter, Facebook has little impact here since generally they are blocked
  • Google is highly unstable such as toolkits such as Google Hangout, Google Doc, Google Calendar. (This makes my current virtual work with others quite a pain)

It is estimated that there are around 5,000 to 10,000 Chinese learners who are quite committed to MOOC learning. However having many online resources denied means we are half deaf/blind in the cyber learning space. What is more worrying is that over time, we half blind/deaf people are to led into such belief that the world we experience online represents the world out there. That is deeply unfair to both the half world we know and the other half world we don’t know. (While this might apply universally).