What open learning materials are being downloaded in China?

Earlier in 2013, I completed a project for the Higher Education Academy, called iTunes U Reach. In this project,  I facilitated the launch of the University of Leicester’s iTunes U channel, of which the vast majority of items are licensed CC-BY-NC. Then I could observe how and what materials were consequently consumed by people around the world. Our university is particularly interested in what China is looking at, because iTunes U is visible in China, while YouTube and Vimeo are not. (I’m not sure about SoundCloud — anybody know? Leave a comment if you do!) Well, we launched our channel around Easter 2013, and the top ten collections and their consumption methods and numbers are below. It’s helpful to remember that not all of these collections were launched at the beginning; launching all of these collections has been a gradual process. For example, Model Organisms in Biomedical Research, number 9 on this list, was only launched on 15 October. So the numbers shown for that collection were achieved in less than one month.

Top Ten UoL iTunes U Collections with consumption rates and methods 16 March - 12 Nov 2013

Top Ten UoL iTunes U Collections with consumption rates and methods 16 March – 12 Nov 2013

Who has been looking at these materials? Below are the statistics of activity by country. China is the third most active consumer of UoL material. It is interesting to note that in recent weeks, I have noticed Turkey appearing in these numbers too. Turkey is another country which does not have access to YouTube, but does have access to iTunes U.

UoL iTunes U Site Visitors: Activity by Country

UoL iTunes U Site Visitors: Activity by Country

What items are being consumed by visitors from China? I chose to answer this question by looking at data from 1st through 10th August 2013, and pinpointing every bit of activity by someone in China on the UoL iTunes U channel. I grouped our iTunes U collections together by subject area, and also looked at whether the file was a downloaded or streamed video, audio, or text. I then showed subscriptions and browses separately, as these occur per collection, rather than per item. Here is what I found:

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 23.59.27

So the top 3 subjects of interest were, in order: English, Medicine, Psychology. Items of all three formats were chosen for download.  I had an expectation that perhaps the Engineering topic would be most popular, and that there might be a clear preference for video, and so these results were surprising to me. I should make it clear that the English materials are not for the teaching of English language. They are lectures on creative writing and on linguistic examination of social media communications. Of all of our UoL materials, these are the most downloaded by Chinese people.

One or two more interesting observations: On 22nd October and lasting for 2 weeks, Apple featured our collection “Model Organisms in Biomedical Research” in its New & Noteworthy section on its iTunes U home site. During that time, China became the number 2 country, immediately after USA, in countries looking at our materials. This suggests that China is particularly responsive to materials promoted by Apple. I also noticed during that time, that  the percentage of users consuming our materials using iTunes on a Windows computer increased dramatically, to number two just after iPad users. This suggests that Windows iTunes users are also particularly responsive to Apple promotion. It’s possible also that China’s iTunes U visitors are more likely to be using Windows computers — I would have to look more carefully at the data to say this definitely, but it seems reasonable.

A final comment I would make is that I found, from interviews of Chinese students and educators, that Chinese universities began in earnest to produce their own openly licensed learning materials, or at least learning materials being treated as though they are openly licensed. I found, for example, that the Chinese internet company NetEase has been releasing openly-licensed English language learning materials in its own app, after having added Chinese subtitles. NetEase has now begun to partner with MOOC-provider Coursera. I have not yet heard of any Chinese MOOCs, but perhaps they are right around the corner.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester tmb10@le.ac.uk

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