E-Learning initiatives in China: Pedagogy, policy and culture

Helen, Spencer-Oatey (Ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007. Pp. xviii + 290.

Reviewed by Lisa Cheung
University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong

E-Learning initiatives in China: Pedagogy, policy and culture aims to offer critical insights into the current practice and future potential of E-learning in higher education in China. Taken as a whole, this single tightly-knitted collection provides the academic audience, mainly education specialists and e-learning experts, a comprehensive and indispensable discussion of the incorporation of digital technology into education in the region.
This collection comprises fifteen timely chapters which are separated into five sections. The first section, Background, starts with two chapters that give an introduction to digital technology (chapter 1) and present a full picture of e-learning in China, focusing on its application in the tertiary context (chapter 2). The five chapters in the second section, Designing and Delivering Online Courses in China, address a wide spectrum of pedagogic issues in the design and implementation of online courses in China. Some interesting issues explored include courseware design in the Chinese context (chapter 3), learner and teacher autonomy (chapter 4), building of online learner communities (chapter 5), flexible delivery (chapter 6), and training of e-learning tutors (chapter 7).

The five chapters in sections three and four, together, offer insights into the issues of Managing the Interplay between Pedagogy and Technology and Managing Collaboration Processes. Chapters 8 and 9 examine the plausibility of pedagogical methodology in the implementation of E-courses. Chapters 10 through 12 deal with the management of collaboration in the eChina-UK Programme–a range of e-learning initiatives such as the eChina-UK project and the eChina-UK DEFT project. The remaining three chapters in the final section, Addressing Policy Issues, are devoted to the discussion of intellectual property rights (chapter 13), the informationization of higher education in China (chapter 14) and e-learning developments (chapter 15).

Well organized and written in a highly readable style, readers will appreciate how this rich collection puts cross-cultural understanding and E-learning under the microscope as it taps into the insights of the micro-context of a particular activity or communicative interaction to the macro-context of educational policy and institutional structures (p. 8), yet the text is not without shortcomings. This first of which is that the book mainly focuses on the characteristics and trends of the e-learning initiatives from the eChina-UK Programme, but says little on the measurement of the success of these initiatives or how such successes are to be measured. On the other hand, discussion of manpower or training possibilities could be made since E-learning is not only about technology but also about training people. However, despite the limitations, the text is probably the best practical reader available today for understanding the discipline of E-learning in China.