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WIDE World Launches Course in China

On January 3, more than 250 public school teachers in Shanghai began taking an online course, Focus on Student Understanding: Teaching for Understanding 1, as part of a new collaboration between WIDE World and the Shanghai Distance Education Group. The multiphased collaboration has been in the works for over a year and could significantly increase enrollment numbers of WIDE World, said Executive Director David Zarowin.

Executive Director of WIDE World, David Zarowin (right), with Min Wang, vice president of the Shanghai Distance Education Group In an average year, WIDE World has between 1,800 to 2,000 students enrolled in its courses in the US and abroad.

The Shanghai program marks WIDE World's first development in China. Over three years ago, WIDE World began discussions with organizations in Shanghai regarding China's education reform movement, Zarowin said.

This course focuses specifically on helping professionals to teach in a way that will allow their students to process and internalize what they learn and make it their own. "Hopefully, this will give them the tools so they can think differently about how they do their jobs," Zarowin said.

This course is really a pilot program to see how Shanghai can bring professional development to the teachers, Zarowin explains. WIDE World initially approached the Shanghai Distance Education Group, who then worked with the Shanghai Education Commission and the Shanghai International Studies University.

"The education system is different in Shanghai because it is more centralized," said Qin Jiang, Ed.M.'05, China project international accounts manager for WIDE World. "So, decisions must be approved by the education commission."

Initially, the project was supposed to include about 20 to 30 teachers, but the Shanghai Distance Education Group was so excited by the proposal, they asked WIDE World to expand the course. It took over a year to organize the three-phase project.

"The education system is different in Shanghai because it is more centralized," said Qin Jiang, Ed.M.'05. "So, decisions must be approved by the education commission."

The first phase includes 256 teachers and administrators taking the course with 25 "coaches" or study group leaders, who act almost like teaching fellows. Phase two includes training about 75 of the teachers who studied in phase one to become apprentice online coaches by July. By phase three, the online study groups will be led by Shanghai-based coaches, who will lead the nearly 1,000 Shanghai public school teachers participating in the course, Zarowin said.

However, ultimately, the success of the program remains to be seen. After each phase of the program, WIDE World, the Shanghai Distance Education Group, and the Shanghai Education Commission will evaluate the progress and determine how the program should continue.

Among the challenges facing the online course is determining whether these methods will work for teachers whose classroom size averages 40 to 50 students. Traditionally, Shanghai teachers rely on lecturing as the only way of teaching, and the WIDE approach will lead to a more hands-on approach.

Similar to the U.S., China's places great value on high-stakes testing, particularly at the high school level. If test scores don't improve as a result of a new teaching technique, it is likely that teachers would return to a more lecturing style, Jiang said.

"Our course is set up to teach how to bring changes into the classroom," Jiang said.

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