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[MOOCs Meet PKU] Yu Jingsong: Dancing with the Trend

In the world of computer, trend never ends, varying from email to BBS to SNS. Recent, the swirl hit education, setting the new trend of MOOC (massive open online courses), an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.


When trend sweeps, some people ignore, and some refuse.However there is always someone brave enough to dance with it. Among the dancers is Vice Professor Yu Jingsong, the Deputy Director of the Department of Language Information Engineering, School of Software and Microelectronics.This autumn, together with other 10 teachers in Beida, he had his lecture up online as the first batch of PKU MOOC courses, which marked PKU’s initiation in the MOOC game. As one of the participants of this remarkable commencement, Prof Yu received our interview in the campus on November 27.


Involved in Trend


Born in a family with a father leading the Institute of Computational Linguistics of Peking University, Yu was involved in the trend of computer and the Internet at birth. When he was a child, computer was his favorite toy while at that time the vast majority of Chinese people had no idea about it. At the age of 13, he embarked his journey of programming, which later became the endeavor he chose for life.The subsequent story followed the stereotype of a professor’s background.Yu went to college, and further his study in the U.S. after graduation. It was in America that he heard about MOOC for the first time. “My knowledge about MOOC started from MIT OpenCourseWare, or OCW. The launch of MIT OpenCourseWare in October 2002 should be the beginning of massive online courses. The content and form of MOOCs is attractive and thought-provoking to me.”


Later, Yu came back to China and became a professor in Peking University with his passion ignited in the U.S. The courses he taught were all advanced technology concerning natural language processing and computer-aided translation. As resources available were very limited in China at that time, he often downloaded courses of his counterparts from iTunes Uni for reference. “It gave me an inside look at how other professors are organizing and teaching their classes.”


Chasing the Trend


Yu developed special affection towards MOOC through interaction. He wondered whether he himself could online his courses too. “2 years ago, I consulted my friend worked in Apple Company about whether I can publish my course online. Due to some policy concerns, this project finally aborted. ”So the moment seeing university recruiting MOOCs courses, he applied immediately.


He told us that “The teaching platform MOOC offers is very appealing to me. On the other hand, we are doing this to promote our department as it is still very young, with a history of 10 years. What we do is interdisciplinary yet professional. Although we are very attractive in this field no matter in research or communication, but the visibility is low. We are doing this to promote and enhance social recognition and hopefully to establish a standard for the industry.”


After several selections, Yu’s course finally had the chance to face the public. Yet the pressure of cost and time presented difficultiesin course building. “We all know that more vivid animation, higher resolution would contribute to course presentation. However, due to the limited time, some ideas cannot be achieved. Another problem was about subtitles. We adopted a new technology to produce subtitles so that the video production time was greatly saved. But it was at the sacrifice of clarity. Also my pet phrase and English accent also haunted me. Although I studied in the U.S. for a couple of years, I am not that confident about my authenticity.”


The hard-won fruit was presented after a-month-long hard work day in and day out.


About the course, he mentioned that it is not for everyone. “I recommend junior or senior students of language majors, MTI students and translators take this course as it can useful for their work concerning the language service industry.” The course named “Computer-aided Translation Techniques” introduces the usage of computer-aided translation tools such as Trados and corpus, in the first one-thirds of the whole course.For the rest, more sophisticated concepts and theories will be explained in detail.


Critical on Trend


The development of video recording and post production gave rose to the heat of “flipped classroom”, which would become an essential skill for teachers. It not only improves teachers’ teaching skills, but also provides students and teachers more time for communication in the classroom. As for its future, Professor Yu said that he was not sure, “MOOC for me is a carnival of learning in the Internet tidal wave. But as the Internet hotspots change so swiftly, really we do not know how long it may last. The MOOC world is colorful but should not be monopolized by coursera and edX. MOOC still makes sense, but in regard of breadth, depth and level of detail, we are looking forward to perfection. It will develop in scale, but not applicable for all schools, all courses and all teachers. I think the SPOC (small private online course), the intra-campus version of MOOC, may set trend. ”


However, he did not deny the value of this fresh form of teaching and encourage college students joining in to compete with their students overseas. He also mentioned that MOOC posed challenges for teachers too as courses were more available now. Yet teachers should grasp the chance to learn from and even communicate with their counterpart overseas. “Chances are that spark ignited between cultures by sharing educational resources accelerate the academic development overall.”


Though the trend of MOOC is so overwhelming, Yu thought it would never replace the traditional classroom.“Take my class for example. Only 50 % of my course is done online while in the classroom, activities like such as software contests, etc. form the rest part. It involves students in real competition and interaction. In this point, learning online and offline are still not exactly the same.”


As the pioneering passion goes, Prof Yu would never just be the follower. As shared his dream with us, we can also sense his ambition of braving a trend.He said for years he had been learning English and then doing research on NLP(Natural Language Processing), a language-based technique. He has a dream that one day Chinese English learner may have easy access to English-language immersion environment in China with the help of science technology. “As is known, 1 on 1 is the best mode of English teaching. We are trying to combine knowledge on NLP, cloud computing, language acquisition, etc.to build tailored corpus for everyone to realize the machine 1 on 1 coaching. Of course, to achieve this also requires some imagination and innovation. But without dream there is no way to achieve it. Maybe that is where the future trend would be.”


Those interested in this course may search "computer-aided translation technology" in Tsinghua Xuetang platform (
www.xuetangX.com) to find details.


Reported by: He Lingqi

Edited by: Zhang Jiang