34th Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU 2021)

The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) hosted the 34th annual conference of the Asian Association of the Open Universities from 1 to 3 June 2021. Initially, this conference was scheduled for 2020, when the OUSL celebrated its 40 years of excellence in offering higher education to the nation through ODL methodologies in Sri Lanka. However, due to the prevailing pandemic situation, the AAOU conference was rescheduled for 2021 and renamed as AAOU2021. Furthermore, considering the present health concerns, the first day of the conference was conducted as both an online and onsite event, whereas the second and third days were held entirely online. It is significant to note that this is the first time in its history, the AAOU has organised an international conference in hybrid mode.

The Prof G. L. Peiris, Hon. Minister of Education and Vidya Jyothi Emeritus Prof. Eng. Dr. Dayantha S Wijeyesekera were the Chief Guest and Guest of Honour, respectively, for the inaugural session of this conference. The Vice-Chancellor of the OUSL, Prof. S. A. Ariadurai, made the introductory remarks. The President of the AAOU, Prof. Ojat Darojat, delivered his opening remarks and officially declared open the AAOU2021 conference. The inaugural function included pre-recorded welcome dance and cultural show performed by dancing troops of Sri Lanka.

Altogether 213 registered participants attended this conference, of which 68 were from Sri Lanka, and 145 from overseas belonging to 23 different countries:

Indonesia 20
New Zealand1
Philippines 41
Republic of Korea5
Sri Lanka68

The conference was planned and conducted successfully under the theme “Opening minds for a sustainable future: Re-orienting ODL to surmount challenges”. This theme relates to the concept of holistic and transformational education as defined by UNESCO and address the Education 2030 Agenda of UNESCO, targeting Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aiming to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The sub-themes of this conference were selected to focus and reflect the conference theme and address the Education 2030 Agenda of UNESCO targeting Goal 4 of the SDG.

• Promoting sustainable development through lifelong learning
Increasing access and flexibility, improving quality, enhancing equity, reorienting curricula, facilitating economic growth, social development and environmental protection
• Innovations in ODL through smart technologies
e-learning, m-learning, u-learning, digital library, remote access to e-resources, learner-teacher interaction, integration of social media and online evaluation
• Open knowledge movement – Implications for ODL
Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Educational Practices (OEP), MOOCs, Open Data, Social Media and Learning Communities
• Learner engagement and motivation in ODL- Challenges and possibilities
Enhanced retention, increased completion rates, facilitating collaborative learning, redefining role of face-to-face components, harnessing influence of significant others, reorienting learner support
• Best practices in ODL for Education for Sustainable Development
Quality assurance, learner support services, ICT integration, policies and procedures, capacity and capability development, innovative learning design and creative teaching practices
• Learning analytics in ODL: Potential and challenges
As a tool for quality assurance, quality improvement, improving learner support and increasing retention rates, innovative technologies and ethical issues in the use of learning analytics

AAOU 2021 conference featured panel discussions, invited keynote speeches, workshops and parallel sessions. The invited keynote speakers were carefully selected to ensure diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds as we explored the sub-themes underpinning the conference. The following are the details of the invited speakers and the topics on which they addressed the delegates.

The panel discussion and one of the workshops were sponsored and prearranged by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). The following are the details:

The other workshop on “Designing Renewable Assignments: Integrating Learner-Created Content into ODL Courses” was conducted by Dr. Rajiv Jihangani, Associate Vice President Teaching and Learning at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada.

Out of 233 abstract submissions, 188 abstracts were accepted for presentation. However, only 83 technical papers were presented during the conference through five parallel sessions. Among which six technical papers were shortlisted for the “Best Practice Award”, another six technical papers were shortlisted for the “Best Paper Award”, and one was shortlisted for the “Young Innovator Award”. At the closing ceremony, the AAOU Secretary-General Dr. Rahmat Budiman, announced the following list of winners for the awards.

Dr. Rahmat Budiman – AAOU Secretary-General

Young Innovator Award
Silver Award – Kamran Mir from Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan

Best Practice Award
Gold medal – Nantha Kumar Subramaniam from the Open University of Malaysia
Silver medal – Lahiru Wijenayaka and Sithy Iqbal, from the Open University of Sri Lanka
Silver medal – Chuanjin Ju, Dandan Shao, Songyan Hou, Zhi-jun Zhang, Zhangli Yu, from Open University of China

Best Paper Award
Gold medal – Tan Saw Fen, Arathai Din Eak, Ooi Li Hsien and Anna Christina Bt Abdullah from Wawasan Open University, Malaysia
Silver medal – Wen Tang and Dai Zhang, from Jiangsu Open University, China
Silver Medal – R.H.A.T. Perera and N. Abeysekara from the Open University of Sri Lanka

The AAOU Meritorious Service Award 2021 was presented to Prof. Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria, Chancellor, University of the Philippines Open University.

Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria – AAOU Meritorious Service Award 2021 Winner

In honouring the hosting of the AAOU21 conference, and to create a symbolic tribute to AAOU, a special issue of the Open Quarterly magazine of the OUSL was released at the inaugural session.

The President of the AAOU, Prof. Ojat Darojat, delivered his concluding remarks at the closing ceremony and declared the closing of the AAOU2021 conference officially, with the announcement of the 35th Annual Conference of the Asian Association of the Open Universities (AAOU2022) hosted by the Korea National Open University, in Republic of Korea (KNOU) in October 2022. The conference theme is “Opening a New Path to Open University: Responding to Global Issues“. Dr. Su Noh Ryu, president of KNOU, delivered his speech on behalf of the hoisting institute for the AAOU2022. Following his speech, a promotional and welcoming video was played with the beautiful highlight of the Republic of Korea.

Dr. Ryu Su Noh – President of Korea National Open University

Finally, Prof. J. C. N. Rajendra, the co-chairperson of the AAOU2021 conference, delivered the vote of thanks.

The main sponsors for the conference are Coursera for Campus (Silver Sponsor) and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau (SLCB). The other sponsors are Commonwealth of Learning (COL), International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), SLASSCOM, Dialog, Bank of Ceylon (BOC), AKBAR (Premium Quality Tea) and Mandarina Colombo. The Event Management for this conference was done by the Aitken Spence PLC, led by Ms. Nadeeka Leeniyagoda and Mr. Ziyan Ameen.