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How school moved to cloud this semester

2020.03.13 By Xu Shenglan, Li Li

The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 pressed the pause button on the rapid and sustained advancements that China’s been making in socioeconomic development. It’s also had a dramatic impact on education: on February 12, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology jointly announced that schools were suspended, but that crucially, learning wasn’t. 

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In these unique circumstances, implementing large-scale online education for hundreds of millions of students nationwide was an unprecedented move. We’ve witnessed one of the world's largest upgrade projects to China’s information infrastructure, involving training for teachers and students and one of the biggest trials of online education the world has ever seen.

Putting capabilities to the test

The shift to online education has affected everyone, from education authorities, schools, and universities to teachers, students, and parents. For the new school semester, live streaming has replaced the classroom as the main arena for learning. Blackboards have been swapped for screens, and teachers have put down the chalk and become knowledge hosts on students' devices. Transforming offline education into online learning has given rise to a new crop of educational scenarios, which in turn create huge challenges.

Can networks cope with huge traffic spikes? When hundreds of millions of students access online classes, the pressure on information systems is even greater than the shopping frenzies seen during China’s Singles’ Day, the UK’s Super Saturday, and Black Friday in the States.

Can teacher-student interaction in live-streamed classrooms be guaranteed? The nature of online education means that teachers and students who occupy different physical spaces have to interact over the Internet. Issues such as stuttering, blurred screens, video jitter, and out-of-sync sound can waste time and impact learning opportunities. It’s impossible for teachers to monitor students' classroom performance in real time, which can easily lead to misjudged teaching methods and outcomes. A good classroom experience requires clear video, uninterrupted sound, and seamless chat. It also needs to support multi-terminal access so teachers can conduct targeted teaching. 

However, without a powerful technical solution, meeting these requirements isn’t easy.

More than just a contingency

Although China has abundant online education resources, teachers in the nation’s central and western regions and rural areas aren’t used to using edtech or online resources. Many places are still stuck at the stage of students passively watching “sage on the stage” lecture-style distance learning. With the coronavirus forcing the shift to online education, a testbed has been created for new technologies such as AI, 5G, and cloud. Can they really tailor learning to individual aptitudes, improve classroom efficiency, and optimize the supply of educational resources? The true answer is that huge challenges still exist.

The pandemic is accelerating development

The Department of Education for Guangdong Province launched a distance learning platform that combines high-quality online courses from Guangdong Experimental Middle School and the Affiliated High School of South China Normal University. Built on Talkweb’s platform, supported by HUAWEI CLOUD’s cloud services, and aligned with the Department of Education’s overall digital transformation strategy, the solution is available nationwide. 

Pooling resources from Guangdong schools, the platform enables online teaching and learning and provides online learning services for 25,000 schools and 17 million teachers and students across Guangdong.

Teachers and students use the online learning center platform to conduct real-time text and audio/video interaction to ask and answer questions online. This improves student participation and allows teachers to understand how students are performing. Live-streamed lessons are automatically recorded, which students can watch after class. Teachers can also use the platform's online lesson pen to highlight main points. Students can virtually raise their hands to answer questions in the comment area and interact with teachers live streaming online. These functions go a long way to recreating teaching scenarios seen in offline classrooms.

Cloud Based Class

The platform provides five classroom teaching modes based on need. After a live-streamed lesson finishes, the system automatically performs a full range of data analysis on dimensions like online viewer numbers, number of interactions, and duration online, to provide data support for subsequent live streams. 

Talkweb also partnered with Huawei and quickly set up a HUAWEI CLOUD WeLink online office platform for the Guangdong Academy of Education. The platform supports online office, remote conferencing, teaching, research, and ancillary services.

Teaching administrators and teachers can use the HUAWEI CLOUD WeLink platform's remote office function for online meetings and training and to synchronize teacher-student information before school begins. WeLink allows students to check daily message notifications and provides small-scale video interactions online. They enter online classrooms through the Talkweb Online Learning app in the WeLink App Center. It's a quick and efficient way for students to attend large-scale livestream courses and interact without having to switch apps or accounts.

A nationwide effort to bring offline education online has begun. Talkweb is working with Huawei to deploy the online learning center platform for the whole country, having implemented it so far in the provinces of Hunan, Guangdong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Hubei. As of February 29, 2020, the platform had received over 170 million visits and over 16 million total visitors, supporting both teaching and epidemic prevention.

Learn Anytime Education Alliance 

As the coronavirus became a pandemic, HUAWEI CLOUD launched the Learn Anytime Education Alliance together with more than 100 education partners. Incentive policies encourage alliance members to provide various online teaching services for primary and secondary schools, higher education institutes, and training centers. The aim is to quickly bring offline teaching online, maintain high teaching quality, and ensure that learning continues even when classes are suspended.

The HUAWEI CLOUD online education solution provides a complete set of online lesson solutions, including the platform, live streaming, on-demand services, interaction, and content. As well as an offline classroom experience, it also supports anytime, anywhere access for connected devices.

For large-scale, time-critical online classrooms, HUAWEI CLOUD's video cloud can quickly and securely set up classrooms on-demand. It leverages advanced audio/video encoding technology to ensure smooth live streaming in various network scenarios and to greatly reduce bandwidth pressure and costs, ensuring that educators can provide stable online teaching.

The solution includes the HUAWEI CLOUD WeLink platform, video cloud, CDN, and real-time audio/video for different scenarios such as live streaming large classrooms, large-scale real-time communication (RTC) classrooms, massive open online courses, remote collaboration, and online learning centers. 

Since the Learn Anytime Education Alliance was set up, its solution has supported over 2,000 customers, delivering emergency teaching live streams for 5,000 schools and corporate customers for free. It has so far provided 240,000 lessons for over 50 million online students. These include students in Hubei (464,000), Guangdong (2.71 million), and Wenzhou (78,000). The solution can support more than 11 million concurrent online learners.

We believe that everyone, everywhere has the right to education and the equality of opportunity it brings. Both in China and abroad, providing every school with Internet access can bring global learning resources to remote and disadvantaged communities and ensure greater opportunities for children everywhere. Networked, personalized, lifelong learning are key features of education today, with nascent technology supporting the sector’s digital transformation into a smart, data-driven field. Huawei will continue to harness cloud, AI, and 5G to help ensure equal access to education resources and high-quality outcomes. We believe in forging the partnerships that will make this happen. We believe in Education4ALL.

Read more about HUAWEI CLOUD’s education solutions.