Dr. Yongsheng Sun Talks Global Education and the Open Course Library

During the first week of May, Study.com attended the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), a gathering of educators and professionals interested in the availability and application of free online college course materials known as OpenCourseWare (OCW). We had a chance to speak with several industry leaders, including Yongsheng Sun, one of the heads of Washington State's Open Course Library (OCL) project, which is revolutionizing how college students obtain course materials.

By Stacy Redd

Dr. Sun

Study.com: Could you tell me about your background?

Yongsheng Sun: I was born in Inner Mongolia. I was educated first under the Russian educational system and later the Chinese educational system. I immigrated to the U.S. and got my doctorate here, so I joke with people that I got educated three times, from three different systems which made me a real product of international education.

Study.com: Did you set out to get a global education when you were a student, or did it just happen that way?

YS: It just happened that way. I had that background because the circumstances made it so. For instance, when I graduated from college in China, I became an assistant professor at the Teacher's University in Inner Mongolia. I also worked with the international program over there, and some projects were funded by the World Bank, like for helping some poor provinces in China develop infrastructure to improve their quality of education. That gave me good exposure to international education.

Study.com: When you came to the U.S., where did you study?

YS: I went to Washington State University for my Ph.D. in global education. Global Education was a relatively new field then, but now more and more people are recognizing it and are talking about it. I can see it expanding more and more. What we are trying is to prepare our students to face the new challenges, to understand the interconnectedness and the interdependence of the world. We want our graduates to be prepared so that when they leave campus and start their career in the workforce they're ready. They will know what to expect and also have cross-cultural awareness.

Study.com: I'd imagine the global education program must be very inter-disciplinary.

YS: Yes. We wanted to be inclusive, and the 'Ten Points' we're using from the Sun Model for our OCL project do just that. We want to make sure awareness, perspective and understanding are built into the courses, so that students can see how everything's connected. Take American history for example, to me American history is part of world history, and world history includes American history. I would have a hard time imagining anybody teaching American history without ever mentioning what's happening in the world during that same time. International, global factors and components should be all over it. It's the mentality, the way of thinking, in my opinion, that makes all the difference - that awareness, that understanding that we're trying to instill in people's minds.

Study.com: With a focus on global education inclusiveness, you must have been really excited to learn about OCW and the OCL.

YS: Absolutely. When I first learned about OCW and the OCL project I knew it was exactly what I wanted to be in. It was the first time ever that I could be part of an institutional movement rather than being a lone fighter outside. It felt really great to be able to be a part of it. And then learning right now through the OCWC what everybody else is doing, seeing how people are using and developing and creating things and then reflecting back to what I'm doing - it's just fascinating. It's revolutionary.

Study.com: Do you think OCW encourages global awareness?

YS: Definitely. I think that's exactly what has been done, and I think that's going to be continuing in the near future. It's happening. It's a movement and we're just getting started. We have some 15,000 courses now? I think that number will double and triple very fast. More and more people will come to this and more expertise will be shared. It's already changing the fundamentals of education textbooks, where we're using $30 textbooks, if not free ones. When there are free resources and the curriculum is just as good, which one do you choose? That's the significance of OCW and the OCL project. As our slogan goes, we're changing the world, one course at a time.

Study.com: Could you tell me more about the OCL project?

YS: The initiative was supported by the legislature in Washington State and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We're creating 81 gateway courses as we call them which are the fundamental courses. It's a start. We're trying to develop them and then share what we have across our system, and when we share them we post them on the World Wide Web so everybody in the world has access to it. We started it last year, and we're now about halfway through. It's an ongoing process and it's pretty fascinating. We pull in experts in the field to develop the key courses, and the textbooks being used are either free or less than $30 per course.

Study.com: What kind of materials are you creating for these courses?

YS: It depends on the discipline and the subjects. There are videos, on-line materials, and other things that people are using. Some people are using textbooks that are well known, some are using textbooks that aren't as known but just as good, and some are using their own materials. It's about cutting costs on the textbooks, and making education affordable. We want to make sure students get a lot of good education materials but that they don't pay as much. It's about accessibility and helping the students.

Study.com: Which courses are you working on for the OCL?

YS: I'm the so-called 'global education/multicultural education expert,' and I assist faculty course designers develop their courses that include global themes appropriate to their content areas, and weave critical perspectives throughout the curriculum. I help them with a framework, a guideline, called the Sun Model, to integrate global education and multicultural themes into our entire course curriculum. I give training at the beginning of the project; provide on-line professional development materials, and in-person professional development and counseling; and 'high touch' all the way throughout the course curriculum.

Study.com: How did you develop the Sun Model?

YS: It came over the years. I've been involved in global and multicultural education the past 25 years and gradually it just evolved from my years of learning and teaching at different levels, in different countries, and getting involved in the field and seeing what need to be done. I started to form it and introduce the model in my lectures, presentations, and publications, and it just evolved over time. The Sun Model is a way of thinking and communication. It is all about awareness, perspectives, and understanding.

It's something that I'm constantly revising and working on. It allows different disciplines to come together and follow it. For example, point seven of the Model involves thinking about creating techniques to help students become critical thinkers and problem solvers, and appreciate the differences among peoples on Mother Earth.

With differences in cultures, it's important not to say that one is better than another. To me, they're all the same. It's like when we talk about languages, all languages are the same. They have the same function for human beings. We all use them to communicate. There's no language that is better than the others. According to (noted linguist Noam) Chomsky, all humans have an innate ability to learn languages. And there is the universal grammar. For instance, we cannot just say that English was developed by the British. The Roman invasion affected the Anglo-Saxons, there was the French and German influence, and of course there is American English and Australian English, and so on.

Study.com: Once OCW becomes accessible, there's a second level of accessibility issues - for instance among people with disabilities or those in different cultures. It's easy to keep an American audience in mind, but those seem like the next steps.

YS: Right. We've got this good stuff available for the world, but we need to package it to make sure it's accessible, readable, likeable, global, and relatable to everybody in the world. And that is exactly what we are trying to do in our OCL project. We have got gateway keepers to ensure quality and accessibility of all the courses we are developing and we want them to be world class, and world friendly. We're getting there. I think what we are doing is exciting. It's a fascinating field to be in.

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