The 2nd GSS Day on "Living Together Sustainably: Learning to Transform Oneself and Society"

The year 2020 has witnessed an unprecedented disruption, and then innovation, of education at all levels around the globe. Faced with the significant challenge brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have realized that the only way to cope with increasing uncertainties is that we, as individuals and societies, continue to learn to adapt both self-reflectively and collaboratively.

In the light of such understanding, the second day of the Tsinghua Global Summer School 2020 provided a platform for students to explore the theme of “Living Together Sustainably: Learning to Transform Oneself and Society”. This day was co-organized by the Institute of Education (IOE) and the Asian Universities Alliance (AUA) with three speakers: Professor Shi Jinghuan, Institute of Education, Tsinghua University, who delivered the keynote lecture; Associate Professor Zhong Zhou also of Tsinghua’s IOE; and Associate Professor Liu Jing of the Graduate School of Education, Tohuku University, Japan. These speakers are the key researchers who led AUA’s annual research project the Asian Higher Education Outlook with the 2020 theme of the University for Sustainable Development.

The day began with three workshops which focused on different stages of design-thinking to support students to co-create an online learners’ handbook for college students to ensure collaborative enquiry in addressing the key question of how to become effective online learners. Associate Professor Zhong Zhou and Associate Professor Liu Jing co-chaired the workshops. They discussed the evolving ideas of pillars of learning and the educational ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They also presented two case studies of teaching and learning efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic at Tsinghua and Tohoku University respectively. In each of the three workshops, all participating students broke into groups to share their online learning experiences during the pandemic, identify and analyze key “gains” and “pains” in online learning, and offer joint solutions to tackle major problems and shoulder shared responsibilities to promote learner agency and co-agency.

Until a few months ago, it was not a universally shared experience for higher education students across the world to engage in large-scale and continuous formal online learning as a substantial part of their academic degree program. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closures of many universities and schools across the world, students had to take their courses online, in the form of either real-time online classes or self-paced learning with online materials. During the group discussions, the students identified three key themes in online learning: enabling and improving online connectivity, developing capacity in both independent learning and social learning, and building accessible and inclusive education for all. These themes encompassed technological issues about digital information and communication, pedagogical issues at intra-personal and interpersonal levels concerning motivation, effectiveness and efficiency of learning, and also wider social and cultural issues concerning equity and equality of education in relation to the digital divide, identity building, socializing, and providing physical and mental care and support to the learners, including learners with special needs.

The students’ collaborative enquiry was richly informed by a keynote lecture by Professor Shi Jinghuan themed “To Be an Effective Learner in a Changing Society: Insights on College Student Engagement Research”. Professor Shi has served over the past eleven years as the Principal Investigator of the Chinse College Student Survey (CCSS), which is the largest student engagement survey in China. Professor Shi shared her findings from the CCSS longitudinal research about the characteristics of effective learners in the context of the rapid development of Chinese higher education, and also shared her latest research findings on online education at Tsinghua University during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring 2020 semester. According to Professor Shi, from the faculty’s perspective, most teaching behaviors were unchanged except for rapid capacity building in, and diverse applications of, information and communication technology in teaching. However, from the students’ perspective, the interaction among students decreased markedly while the interaction between students and teacher increased slightly. Drawing from both sets of research, Professor Shi shared her insights about the needs and successful practices of supporting the development of creative, active and resilient learners through effective learning engagement both online and offline. Concluding her keynote lecture, Professor Shi held a lively face-to-face Q&A session.

The keynote lecture was followed by a presentation by Associate Professor Liu on a word-cloud analysis of the students’ choices of key words conducted during the three earlier workshops. The key words were related to students’ experiences of online learning during the pandemic, their expectations after the pandemic, and their vision of the future of higher education as well as their responsibility to transform themselves and society through learning and living sustainably. The word-cloud analysis identified much common ground between the professors’ viewpoints and research findings and the students’ collaborative enquiry. “Interaction” stood out as the most shared need in online learning. Other needs included learners’ self-discipline and self-development, peer support, flexibility, convenience, and innovation. It is also important to note that the students exhibited marked diversity in their understanding of the learners’ responsibilities to live sustainably. Such diversity, to a large extent, reflects the all-inclusiveness of SDG 4.7.

Several students also delivered presentations, representing their group’s ideas from the workshops. The webinar concluded with Professor Shi offering valuable feedback and suggestions to the students. Professor Shi acknowledged that although one day’s summer school could not change their way of learning, it was an important starting point for the students to begin thinking proactively about how to develop themselves into effective learners during a period of increasing uncertainty and how to blue-print the future of higher education. Professor Shi concluded with a motto from Tsinghua’s 2020 Graduation Ceremony that this Global Summer School could serve as a place where “dreams start to fly”.

Source: Office of International Affairs
Editors: Guo Lili, John Olbrich

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