IT-assisted teaching is not a new terminology. Since the emergence of the Internet, all of the technical means have been applied professionally in the field of teaching. While, the teaching courseware and various kinds of resources uploaded by teachers are always in the Clouds, and students and teachers are still in a state of separation. Even if the Internet enhances the interaction between teachers and students, due to complicated knowledge cognitive processing, rigid requirement of teaching result in examinations, and the complexity and diversity of teaching tasks, etc., the interaction by virtue of information tool between teachers and students most of the times becomes an extra burden, which makes people love it and also hate it at the same time.
In February 2016, the “Rain Classroom”, an intelligent teaching tool mutually researched and developed by Online Education Office of Tsinghua University and XuetangX.com conducted the close beta tests at 15 classes in 8 universities, all obtaining good results. Now there are more and more teachers and students using “Rain Classroom” to assist them with teaching, growing their expectations from it.
Differing from past teaching assistance information tools, the “Rain Classroom” takes advantage of using WeChat, the most popular cellphone social APP, to integrate functions including pre-class information publishing, real-time answering, multi-screen interaction, comments on videos, and student data analysis etc. through the Rain Classroom’s official account on WeChat. Meanwhile, the teacher’s software of Rain Classroom is inserted in the PowerPoint software, which is widely used among teachers, in a way of a plug-in. It highly reduces the learning costs for teachers. At the same time of making PowerPoint coursework, the teachers can also add lecture notes, MOOC videos, and exercises at the time of their convenience. After uploading the completed PPT to WeChat, teachers can also add audio information so that students can listen while watching it.
At the class, the teachers’ course will automatically generate a QR code as soon as it starts, and the students can use WeChat to scan the code and join the class. Every page of PPT at the class will be immediately sent to the students’ side, helping students to save courseware and review the course. Besides, at the bottom of each page of the courseware, there are buttons indicating “favorite” and “unclear”. Students could sort and collect the unclear places in the course, and the teacher will get anonymous feedback of unclear data, and then adjust the speed and emphasis of the course. Moreover, if the teacher opens the video comments function, he/she will also see the questions, viewpoints and criticism of students.
In students’ software of the “Rain Classroom”, it provides functions including in-class exercises, “unclear” button, comments on video, preview before class, and PPT sharing etc., helping students preview, consolidate knowledge, and give feedback to their learning experience. At the teacher’s side, all learning behavior data of students could be automatically collected, helping teachers have knowledge of the learning effect of students and quantitatively master the learning curve of students.
Compared to existing online teaching tools, the “Rain Classroom” does not require a single platform like MOOC, while what learners acquire is the same teaching content, while not as random as open classes, lacking supervision of the entire teaching section. Especially when it is compared with traditional teaching systems, “Rain Classroom” pulls teachers, students, and teaching contents closer, and creates a more user-friendly interaction, which is both convenient and accurate. As what is said by Wang Shuaiguo, the project development head, “we think Tsinghua Online always focuses on cloud education, making it unpractical for the real class. While this new learning platform shows its down-to-earth side, turning clouds to rain, and that is also where the name of Rain Classroom comes from.”
Since it was formally and externally published and freely opened on April 1st, 2016, the “Rain Classroom” has attracted teachers from over three thousand academies and tens of thousands of students to use. As a new attempt for mixed teaching and flipped classroom, it is expected that, in the forthcoming fall semester, there will be more teachers and students becoming users of “Rain Classroom”, which will provide more feedback from reality for its technological updating and use.