Shantou University Using Open Source and Apple Technologies to Team with West

China's proving more and more that it's ready to shed its isolationist skin and embrace technology and partnerships with Western education institutions. They are doing it with corporate team-ups with big players like Apple, and by inventing their own open source courseware to facilitate e-learning and global exchanges of ideas.

Nestled in Southern China is a unique school that is implementing new tech and course content to reach out to education partners world-wide, but particularly the Western education institutions that are known for tech innovation and high standards of education.

Shantou University and its Cheung Kong Journalism and Communications school in southern China have been working since 2008 to launch the Chinese version of the Apple Accredited Training Center for Education. It is now the largest of its kind developed by Apple, training 160 students a year in design software that they will use in media production jobs.

The project is in beta testing now, but the Center's CTO, Jeremiah Foo, tells me that with the new equipment, Shantou has become the largest training center in Southern China, and that it trains more students than on any other individual ACCTe platform run by the Cupertino company.

"The number of students for certification will grow," says Foo. "We will scale this university-wide first, then we will see how we can take the system elsewhere."

Foo is working with Cheung Kong director Ying Chan, her faculty, and technologists in Asia to build a completely open source online campus, called iCampus 2.0. In an interview, Foo told me that he is working with the founder of Sharp, Dr. Tadashi Sasaki, to build a mobile front-end component for the open source back-end, which students use now to post interviews, assignments, blogs, and to check up on course work and teachers.

Foo describes it as a competitor to Blackboard, a corporate coursewares solution that has been pitched to schools world-wide, but that his version is more open to Chinese.

That ease of entry with technology will help Shantou students' ambitions. Like some other schools in China, Shantou is aggressively looking to collaborate with schools in the West, to provide their students better training at a lower cost. Mobile does that, but some current solutions for content sometimes do not.

"Developers in the West don't think like Chinese," says Foo. "So, the UI is not optimized, including arcane lingo and habits."

"We simplify everything into 'human level' language," he says. "Human level" is language and computer usage that is easy to understand for a language-learner who learned his first language in character sets that are not Roman.

Don't expect the students to only speak in Chinese. They have already launched initiatives at the school that openly connect them to American issues in English. Check out Campaign Coverage 08, which sent seven students to cover Obama's presidential bid and win.

And they are well-versed in American views of politics and journalism. After all Peter Arnett, the former CNN reporter, teaches there now.

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