How East Asian classrooms may change over the next 20 years 

 

Tak-Wai Chan  

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Chan is Chair Professor of the Graduate Institute of Network Learning Technology at National Central University in Taiwan. He has worked on various areas of digital technology supported learning, including artificial intelligence in education, computer supported collaborative learning, digital classrooms, online learning communities, mobile and ubiquitous learning, digital game based learning, and, most recently, technology supported mathematics and language arts learning.

In 1988, Chan produced his doctoral thesis, a seminal work in artificial intelligence in education, proposing the concept of virtual learning companion – a learning environment consisting of multiple virtual characters, such as a learning companion and a tutor. An environment with learning companions can provide a rich social context, allowing students to interact in diverse social activities including collaborative learning. The field of learning companion research is currently an active sub-area of artificial intelligence in education.

Upon conferral of his PhD, Chan worked with colleagues to connect two IBM PC compatible personal computers via cable. Shortly thereafter, they put their efforts towards constructing a networked learning system comprised of tens of personal computers, thus creating an experimental research laboratory. In 1992, they published their work on this system, which they called a futuristic intelligent classroom. It was probably the first dedicated, synchronous, networked learning system in the world for collaborative learning and competitive learning games. Following those initial efforts, Chan and his colleagues continued to conduct a series of synchronous networked learning research via connected computers in classrooms through the nineties. Then, in 1999, with the realization that laptops were far too expensive and personal computers were still too bulky for the classroom, Chan, along with colleagues, developed an inexpensive wireless response clicker system called EduClick for enhancing teacher-student interactions in question-and-answer activities. He later found that he was not the first one to conceive of the design of such a clicker, but he was surprised by the swelling popularity of such clickers in classrooms over the world.

In 2000, with the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education, Chan led a 4-year learning technology project with a budget of 14 million US dollars. The project involved more than thirty professors across Taiwan. A sub-project of the project was to build EduCity (www.educities.edu.tw), an online learning platform. EduCity is comprised of a hierarchy of communities: EduCity itself represents the whole community, consisting of websites of schools called EduTowns; an EduTown represents a school, consisting of the websites of the classes in that school called EduVillages; an EduVillage represents a class, consisting of the personal websites of the students in that class; and the users of EduCity are called EduCitizens.

The technology that was created for EduCity is commonly referred to as Web2.0 today. EduCity provides students with various online resources and activities. For example, EduTowns (schools) can adopt online application programs called ‘service items’ provided by EduCity. Members of EduTowns have the ability to develop their own service items and, at their discretion, service items may be shared with other EduTowns. Additionally, we support collaboration among teachers for the development of learning materials and lesson plans, which can also be released as open content. Every EduCitizen, who may be a teacher or a student, can open an online course in EduCity.

Another sub-project of this large project in 2000 was the continuation of future classroom research. Chan and his colleagues investigated mobile learning in the context of the outdoors, in nature, as part of the future classroom. In real physical classrooms, they used WebPad, a pen-based and wireless enabled computer. Later, in 2003, when Tablet PCs first became available on the market, research was conducted into the future of Tablet PCs in the classroom.

By the time that the project ended in 2003, EduCity, with 1.5 million users, was possibly the largest online learning community in the world at that time (note that Facebook started in Harvard University in 2003). It was then transferred to the largest telecommunication company in Taiwan where it continues to operate.

Chan is now working on digital schools, called Schools of Tomorrow, after the name of the book written by John Dewey and Evelyn Dewey published in 1919. In particular, his team is developing digital content material in conjunction with novel pedagogical models for elementary schools. Digital curricula has been developed that covers mathematics, reading and writing of Chinese language, and learning English as a second language. Chan has, for a long time, recognized that the online learning environment of EduCity and the classroom learning environment are two separate worlds, no matter how rich the learning resources and how vibrant the communities in EduCity; accordingly, to bridge the gap between these worlds, Chan has been designing a conceptual architecture for EduCity 2.0.

In addition to conducting a vigorous research campaign and being one of the earliest researchers in the field in Asia, Chan bears a personal mission to facilitate the building of a regional research community. In the nineties, he co-founded two conference series, ICCE and GCCCE, and two international academic societies, APSCE (www.apsce.net) for the Asia-Pacific region and GCSCE (www.gcsce.org) for the global Chinese community. A few years ago, Chan initiated an international network of world-class researchers, G1:1 (www.G1to1.org), for promoting collaboration in one-to-one technology enhanced learning. In 2007, he founded an international conference series, the IEEE International Conference on Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning (DIGITEL). He also advocates building research communities by forming various Special Interest Groups (SIGs) at different regional levels: Taiwan, the Great China, and Asia-Pacific. Chan has served on the editorial boards of more than ten international journals, and he has served on project review panels in Taiwan, the US and the EU.

Chan was the major designer of the first Ministry of Education Master Plan for Information Technology in Education in 2001, the National Science and Technology Program for e-Learning in 2003 (a cross-ministry national program), and the research sub-program of its second phase in 2007.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, received his first degree in the UK, awarded his master’s and doctoral degrees from the USA, and worked in academia Taiwan since 1989, Chan considers himself truly a global Chinese. All his family members, except for him, have Canadian citizenship. He has said that he may retire in Africa.