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Exploring digital institutes at the global stage

​A collaboration between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and NanjingTech CI is already making major strides in fostering relationships between South Africa and China.

This was among the points highlighted on Tuesday, 4 December 2018, when Professor Saurabh Sinha, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation at the UJ, joined fellow university presidents and CI directors and educational officers from across the world at the 13th Global CI Conference in Chengdu, China.

In his address during the President’s forum, a session that looked at the construction of a digital Confucius Institute, Prof Sinha contextualised UJ’s Global Excellence and Stature strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

“For research and effective collaboration, understanding of the cultural context is helpful, beyond communication to conversation. This is also important for an ecosystem that is solution-seeking, and is innovative and humanity-serving,” he said. He added that this understanding is the quest for developing collaboration and defining boundaries that enable a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

Uj China
Dr David Monyae (Co-Director of the Confucius Institute, UJ), and Prof Saurabh Sinha (Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation, UJ) together withcolleagues from partner institution, NanjingTech at the 13th Global Confucius Institute Conference in Chengdu, China.


Prof Sinha also explored the feasibility of a digital institute and its implications in the era of Industry 4.0.

“International collaboration has traditionally taken the approach of a number of interactions through in-person visits; technology, through e-mail, initially improved our ability for communication, later through Skype or Hangouts and now in an instantaneous way – through WeChat, WhatsApp, and other instant messengers. ”

Prof Sinha pointed out that the first aspect of Industry 4.0 is to communicate textually in one’s own language, understanding that technology is still improving, and using online human language translation. “WeChat provides for translation ‘at a click.’ Gmail and other mail browsers provide a language translation plug-in. The translation feature can be configured for seamless communication.”

He pointed out that in future, the voice-to-text translation or archival capability will improve, and that UJ is already exploring voice recognition tools for voice-to-text conversion.

“At present, the CI teaches Mandarin as an important component of understanding Chinese culture. However, it appears that traditional teaching can be blended with digital tools.”

The aspect of “voice print” means that if the CI is conducting an oral language examination, with a machine as an evaluator, the machine will be able to authenticate the user. Then the user would access the assessment, and afterwards receive opportunities to improve – or the grading/certificate will be provided.

He stressed that between the teaching and assessment, the learning platform used supports learners in their academic journey. “Learning and teaching management systems are able to use individual data to provide customised support; for instance, if the learner is scrolling too fast through online study material, the learner can be appropriately advised. Aggregate data are analysed and provided to the module facilitator, allowing for group support; there is provision for peer-to-peer discussion and for social media variety. The databases continue to build up for module improvements and for the next offering.”

To this end, UJ is also using “Blackboard Predict,” which is an early warning system that enables timeous support to the learner. The aspect of customised support for the individual or a group, thus improving module engagement, Prof Sinha explained.

In his talk, Prof Sinha also highlighted some advances UJ is making with regards to digital recognition. Since September 2018, UJ has been providing digital certificates. Graduates are able to access their digital certificates and the same will be applicable to students as they complete their CI assessment, with a machine or otherwise, and the certificate will be provided electronically. In future, a social media badge will also be provided.

Prof Sinha concluded: “Without doubt, in all of this, there is the collaborative benefit of the digital infrastructure as it brings us closer to one another.”


UJ-Nanjing Tech Confucius Institute (CI) – Reflecting on 2018

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