SRU and QUIE’s cross-continental connection

Published by Matthew Glover, Date: October 16, 2022
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With COVID-19 travel restrictions still heavily enforced in China, how does the Information Systems and Technology Management Department (IMS) teach Chinese students at a 12-hour time difference?

In 2018, the Quanzhou University of Information Engineering (QUIE) contacted SRU about starting a dual-degree program so their students could get an American education from American professors without leaving China.

SRU’s purpose for this program would be to give international students an American education, increase enrollment at SRU and give the university global recognition. Administration also hoped the program would persuade Chinese students to come to SRU for a semester and increase cultural diversity on campus.

The program also benefits the university with the revenue it brings in.

“This program is bringing a lot of money to the university,” Jallow said. “These Chinese students are paying a lot of money and they are not here. They’re not using our technology.”

Behre said the program brings in six figures of revenue for SRU, but that’s within the grand scale of the total operating budget which is $150 million.

Students join the program in their second or third year of college according to SRU President William Behre. They first get an associate’s degree from QUIE, which SRU accepts as its liberal studies requirement before taking 36 credits as an IMS major.

Those students then continue toward a four-year degree in China and a four-year degree at SRU.

Also in the partnership model, QUIE pays the university for educating their students, then that revenue is used to offset student costs at SRU.

Before the pandemic, the plan was to send a professor to China every semester to teach the joint program, then they would come back to SRU and another professor would go the next semester.

IMS department chair Abdou Karim Jallow and IMS professor Stephen Larson, who both participated in creating the curriculum, attended several meetings during the summer of 2018 then went on a week-long trip to China to sign contracts and see the facilities they would be teaching in.

When the pandemic hit, Jallow and Larson quickly shifted to teaching the curriculum online after planning for it to be taught in person for several months. As an additional difficulty, SRU cannot export the same software used on campus directly to China. It must first be modified.

“That’s not the most effective way to teach,” Larson said. “Especially speakers of a second language because they don’t get to see your body language and the Chinese students are reluctant to ask you to repeat something because we’re teaching in English.”

Jallow also said the students can be reluctant to speak up, but he believes it’s because of a cultural difference. Unlike students in the United States, students in China don’t casually talk with their professors.

According to Larson, none of the professors teaching for this program speak Chinese. It’s better that way because the students then have a stronger incentive to learn English.

There are classroom assistants though that are bilingual and can help when a student doesn’t understand a concept.

Most of the time, adjunct professors are hired specifically to teach these classes via Zoom. Their students sit in a classroom, and each have their own computer screen. Jallow and Larson have both had to teach these classes and had differing experiences.

Jallow enjoyed teaching his class from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“They do writing assignments, and I can tell you, they write very well,” he said.

Larson did not enjoy teaching those classes as much as Jallow. He taught classes in that program for two semesters. One was 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., and the other was 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

The first time, he took the position because the professor they had hired to teach the class had taken another job the week before the class started.

“The second time, we could not find somebody to teach the class because who wants to teach 10 to 11:30 at night,” Larson said.

The worst part of teaching those classes was that he didn’t get enough sleep, and he missed out on nightly family time, he said.

Professors also sometimes get stuck with overload, which means they’re teaching more than four classes. In one instance, a professor teaching for the program in the fall got sick and had to be replaced for the spring semester.

“You kind of get burned out when you’re teaching more than four classes (in a) semester,” Larson said.

When China’s travel restrictions loosen, SRU President William Behre thinks that enrollment for the program will likely increase. SRU also hopes to send professors to China and teach the program how it was intended.

However, Behre is also concerned that professors would not feel safe in China’s current geopolitical landscape. It’s in their contract that the professors may be asked to go, but Behre said he would not send somebody who felt unsafe.

There is no timeline for when SRU faculty may go to China, but Behre thinks it won’t be this year since people tend to worry more about disease during the winter.

“I think that if we are, as a world, going to build those bridges, it’s not going to be through the politicians,” he said. “It’s going to be through our students.”

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