“I was able to see the whole forest and understand how different components in this forest relate to each other!”
- Interview with Professor Jing Lei from Syracuse University
Interviewee - Dr. Jing Lei:
Dr. Jing Lei is a Professor and Department Chair in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation in the School of Education at Syracuse University. Dr. Lei’s research interests include educational technology integration, meaningful technology use in schools, social-cultural and psychological impact of technology, teacher technology professional development, and international and comparative education. Her most recent research concerns how the use of technology both influences and is influenced by teachers, students, and school systems. Her research papers appear in such journals as Education Review, Teachers College Record, and Computer and Education. She teaches courses in instructional design, development and evaluation. She holds a masters degree in higher education and comparative education from Peking University and the Ph.D. in learning, technology and culture from Michigan State University. She served as a Chinese language instructor at Tsinghua University and has taught at Luoyang Teachers College, Weishi Junior Teachers College, and Henan University Affiliated elementary School.
Interviewer - Danqing Yin:
Danqing Yin is currently a doctoral student from the Education Policy program at School of Education, University of Kansas, under the mentorship of Foundation Distinguished professor Yong Zhao. Danqing is a global citizen as she has been to schools in Hefei, Beijing, Kagawa, Washington D.C, Philadelphia and Lawrence. In 2015, she held a TEDxPekingUniversity event with the theme “the Aha! Moment” in Beijing, China. She is a content editor of East China Normal University Review of Education overseas platform.
1. Introduction: Can you introduce about yourself, such as where you taught/teach, what you taught/teach, and what your research focuses were/are? Our readers might also want to hear something interesting or special about you academically and personally. Feel free to share as much as you want.
I’m a professor and department chair of Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation in the School of Education at Syracuse University. I teach graduate level courses in instructional design and educational technology, and also supervise doctoral students to teach undergraduate level courses on technology integration in teaching. Something special about myself professionally: I studied at Henan University for my bachelor’s degree, at Peking University for my master’s degree, and Michigan State University for my doctoral program. I also had taught at Luoyang Teachers’ College (now Luoyang Normal University) for two years and now I have been teaching at Syracuse University for more than 13 years. These higher educational institutions are very different in a number of ways: Chinese vs. American, public vs. private, comprehensive vs. teacher education focused, local vs. national or global, etc. Yet something similar in the years I spent in these institutions is that I have gained significant professional growth and made lifelong friends in each institution and I’m grateful to each of the institutions for the much-valued experiences I have had.
2. Hot Issues in Education: What are some recent hot topics in education that your department, your colleagues and you care the most? What make those topics hot today?
Colleagues in my department study a variety of research topics ranging from educational evaluation theories to instructional design theories and practices, and educational technology research. As for myself, I have always been interested in a perplexing challenge facing educational systems everywhere: how to help each individual student to reach their best potential, to help them develop their individual abilities and talents, so that they can live as a competent citizen and pursue a happy life. I believe information and communication technologies (ICT) have the potential to realize the age-old dream of individualized learning - learning that is customizable, catering to individual needs, adjusted to individual abilities, and supportive of individual development. It also holds the potential to extend high-quality educational opportunities to those who otherwise may not have access to or be able to take advantage of these opportunities for various reasons. The rapid development in ICT and the heavy investment in putting ICT in classrooms in the last three decades provide the possibility for students to reap the benefits of technology in their learning and development. However, is the potential of technology being realized? What challenges and complexities does it bring to educational practices? How can technology really help students to better learn and to develop their individual interests and talents? How to prepare students to work and live competently in the fast-changing world that is increasingly mediated by emerging technology?
These are the questions that drive my research, but my research can focus on various specific topics, such as effective design of online learning environments, theoretical foundations of MOOCs, teacher technology preparation, development of students’ digital citizenship, etc. These topics may or may not be “hot” at the time, but all greatly interest me and have important implications to theory and practice.
3. Comparative Education: Since you have had background doing research on both Chinese education and American education, can you share some unforgettable experience of finding similarities and differences between these two countries? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Are there any challenges doing comparative research that came from your experience or your students’ experience? Have you found anything truly worth comparing?
For most of us, when we first come to a new environment or a new culture, the differences often stand out more than the similarities. But the longer you stay in this new environment, the more similarities you probably will notice. I think education in China and in the U.S. has its own unique strengths, but the similarities probably lie more in the weaknesses. For example, I see students in China constrained by standardized testing and intense competition, their individuality diminished and their creativity withered. While in the U.S. I see a troubling trend toward pursuing standardization, conformity and thus mediocrity, leaving the at-risk unnoticed and the talented unchallenged. In both countries (and most countries in the world), there are huge disparities between regions, areas, and different social-economic backgrounds. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds not only lack the resources to learn, but don’t even have the opportunities to recognize their potentials and to realize what possibilities are available. Educational inequity is an increasingly serious and pressing issue in China, as the society has been going through dramatic transformation along with rapid economic growth. Some educators in China are studying this issue and advocating for more attention to students from rural areas and other disadvantaged backgrounds. But, to address and alleviate this urgent issue, specially focused policies accompanied by systematic support and sufficiently allocated resources are needed as soon as possible.
One of the major challenges of doing comparative research is that education is not a stand-alone system, but deeply situated in its social cultural context, so it might be easy to identify effective educational practices in one country, but it is difficult to copy these practices in another country. Still, it is very meaningful to conduct comparative research so that we are able to gain different perspectives and new approaches to resolve our educational issues.
4. Academic Aha! Moment: Aha! Moment, also known as Eureka Moment, is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension”. I wonder if you have had any Aha! Moment in your academic life when learning, teaching or doing research. Would you mind sharing with us some specific example? What did you learn from your Aha! Moment?
I’d be happy to share three examples of my Aha! moments during my doctoral studies, in the order of when it happened: One example was when one American classmate, who was an English teacher, helped me to revise and polish a conference proposal. During the process I suddenly realized that no matter in English or in Chinese, the core of academic writing was a good idea presented with a sound logic. Another example was when I was preparing for the comprehensive exam for my doctoral studies. After some very intensive reading, synthesizing, critiquing of various learning theories, I felt that I had developed a big picture of different theories and gained a comprehensive understanding of teaching and learning. Instead of focusing on individual trees, I was able to see the whole forest and understand how different components in this forest relate to each other. A third example was when I was working with a professor on an empirical research paper. We revised and rewrote the introduction section many times, trying to locate the most appropriate angle and to elaborate the arguments in the most scientific and meaningful way. That was one of the most illuminating learning experiences in my education. I became very conscious with my writing and try to implement what I learned from this process. I have greatly benefited from learning experiences like these. In my career as a professor and an advisor, I have been trying to create similar learning experiences and provide similar learning opportunities to my students. They’ll probably have their own Aha! moments that may or may not be similar to mine.
5. China Today: In an article about Chinese private higher education that you wrote in 2012, you mentioned that “China’s higher education is attracting ever-increasing attention from the world” and that “many US universities have established collaboration relationships and projects with Chinese higher education institutions” along with China’s emerging economy. Are these still true today? Are there anything about Chinese higher education today that you think our readers worldwide should know about?
I believe it is even more so now. China is one of the most influential countries. Chinese researchers are becoming increasingly visible worldwide and their research impactful. Supported by strong economic development and internationalization policies, Chinese universities are more open and willing to collaborate than ever. There are unprecedented opportunities to collaborate with Chinese universities at many levels and in every area. International collaboration is not only beneficial to the parties directly involved, but to the society and to the world as a whole. Many of the challenges that we face today as human kind are global issues, such as global warming, pollution, epidemics, and terrorism. Resolving these issues require countries to work together, and collaboration between universities is probably the best and most effective way to work together.
6. Current and Future Collaboration: Syracuse University is one of the exemplary leaders in academic collaboration with China. It has study abroad centers in Beijing and Hong Kong for students. It has just stablished International Center on Information Fusion with China’s Xidian University this summer. Your school also has built good collaboration with Chinese schools like East China Normal University, right? Can you tell us more about your experience of the collaboration? Will there be more opportunities for American schools and Chinese schools in the future?
Yes, we are very excited about our collaboration with East China Normal University. We have a long history of friendship with ECNU. Over the years, the two universities have co-sponsored global education conferences, hosted faculty visits at each institution, and engaged in various academic exchange and collaboration activities. Particularly, our dual-degree masters programs are an exciting and innovative new development. We already have students successfully finished the dual-degree program and greatly benefited from this opportunity, and we look forward to working with more students in the years to come.
Successful collaboration requires great ideas to start with, but more importantly, it requires determination, tenacious following-up, effective communication strategies, and strong will to resolve any issues that may arise during the process. We are fortunate that we have all these elements in our collaboration with ECNU and I’m confident that there will be more opportunities for future collaboration.
(Thank you very much for your time! It is my pleasure interviewing you!)