Jetlag meant I went to bed early and so work up early. Not a major problem as the hotel was very comfortable and had excellent facilities. I was one of the first people ready for breakfast though. Chinese breakfast appears to consist of food that could be eaten at any time of the day. However, I wasn't ready to delve into that just yet. It was going to be a big day meeting the AEC (Academic Enhancement Centre) team at XJTLU, so I erred on the side of caution and had a fairly traditional hot breakfast. I say fairly as one of the sausages was made of chicken. Wasn't too bad. The food was sound tracked by instrumental piped music covers of pop hits: Boyzone's Only Words and La Roux's Bulletproof being particular highlights.
Roland Sherwood picked me up from my hotel and drove me into XJLTU, as he lives across the road from where I'm staying. I'd spoken to Roland via Skype and email in the run up to my visit, so it was nice to finally meet him in person. The short journey through along the wide, clean tree lined boulevards was pleasant and the sun was still shining. We arrived at XJTLU and drove into the underground car park. Emerging in the middle of a modern, gleaming tower block where the AEC is based. The AEC team is lead by James Wilson and is made up of the TEL team (Roland, Nathan, Na, Yazi that look after ICE ( Moodle VLE), Lecture capture, as well as other learning technologies. The rest of the team (Dawn, Henk & Jianmei) are academic developers that teach on the CPS programme, PGCert and organise the Learning & Teaching colloquium. They are ably supported by the excellent administrators Yao and Karen.
Once on the wifi and enrolled onto ICE (Moodle) I then downloaded the app to have a look at what open source options there are in mobile. I've only been in the country a two days but I've already observed the mobile technologies are an integral part of the culture. QR codes are everywhere and do appear to get used. Many financial transactions are conducted using apps on phones. It seems that Liverpool has a great opportunity to learn more from our Chinese students about how they use their phones. There is potentially a great opportunity to engage with them using phones as part of inductions, group working or teaching.
Before lunch, I met with Roland to hear more about the projects he and his team were involved in currently which include Lecture Capture, electronic submission, attendance monitoring, and digital content development. There was also the small matter of supporting the Educational Technology showcase at the colloquium and the first Moodle Moot in China. We then chatted more generally about the state learning technology in the UK and how it has developed in China. We agreed on some tools and approaches but there were differences as well. We discussed senior management approaches and expectations, as well as levels of academic engagement. There were similarities here as well. However, he indicated that some vendor support has been slow and non-responsive to the needs of the institution, so he is keen to keep a tighter control on the main toolset offered at the university. Roland is a very hands on manager who likes to get his hands dirty in the coding, patching and upgrading of his Moodle system.
The food was lovely ( recurring theme of the visit) but the squid was very a little on the rubbery side. Jianmei then took me and my Liverpool colleague Anna Chen on a tour of campus. Modern building with lots of open space surrounded by cherry blossom tress bursting into life under the warm sun. A sight to behold and one that the camera doesn't capture very well.
We then walked to the Southern campus which is still being built but will be fully open in September 2017, and will be home to media courses and art spaces. Jo Johnston recently visited for the ceremonial opening. I was impressed by the space and vision for these buildings as twenty of the rooms will be fitted out with state of the art lecture capture technology. Crucially they are looking to record students and staff in these theaters.
Nathan and his wife, who spoke excellent English and studied at the University of Coventry, give us both lift back to the hotel. However, I was keen to try and find a supermarket and do some exploring. I encouraged them to drop me off at a local shopping mall called the Hanlin Neighborhood centre. Assuring them I could find my way back to the hotel. I was happy to walk back and see some of the city. However they felt very nervous about leaving me alone with the potential of getting lost, so they ended up waiting for me and dropped me off at the door of my hotel. Very sweet but unnecessary. The shopping mall was a 10 minute walk from the hotel in a straight line. A journey I undertook a few times.
Back at the hotel, Anna and I got a meal together and planned our trip to the old city. We haven't had much time to work together in Liverpool, so it was great to spend time talking with Anna and learning about her experiences at the university, her family and her early life in China. We ate in the local restaurant that adjoins the hotel and was much cheaper! We ordered some local green leaves in a ginger sauce, pork in a heavy sauce which was lovely the bit fatty for my liking. As we were in Suzhou, we had to try the local delicacy known as Squirrel Fish. The ingredients of which are mandarin fish fleet, flaked then deep fried, served with a sweet and sour sauce. It was nice but not totally amazing.