China Via the Great Circle Route

After the obligatory delay, I was rerouted on a flight to Chicago (then on to Tokyo and finally Beijing 8 hours after I was to have arrived originally.  Unfortunately, the second flight was forced to make an emergency landing in Buffalo, NY due to a cracked windshield!  Sufficiently daunted by the escorting flotilla of emergency vehicles once we touched down in Buffalo, I decided to return to Boston and give it a try the next day.

The third time proved to be the proverbial charm and the two legs of the journey (Boston – Washington; Washington –
Beijing) went off without a hitch.  As our flight from Washington crossed over the North Pole, I found my mind unable to crowd out the thought of what would happen if the windshield on that plane would crack atop the world.  Fortunately, however, my travel stars were in alignment today and no such misfortune arose.

On this my first visit to China, I was struck by the enormity of everything on which I first laid eyes.  I am sure that this syndrome afflicts most other first-time visitors to China.  With a population somewhere north of 15 million according to China Daily, from the air Beijing sprawls almost as far as the eye can see.  It is partly the allure of scale that has attracted UMassOnline to China.  I am attending the second CCEA – UCEA China Forum (see picture: UCEA President Kay Kohl and Dean Hu Dongcheng of Tsinghua University Exchange Gifts) in large part to seek out potential partner institutions that UMassOnline could work with to offer our online portfolio to Chinese students.

But, these events are always about more than business.  They present a golden opportunity to forge personal and institutional connections and to bridge divides of culture and language that for too long have presented seemingly impenetrable barriers.  If the United States became the great power of the 20th Century, can there be much doubt that China is the great ascendant power of the 21st Century?  How our two countries and their social, cultural, and educational institutions transcend great barriers of distance, history, and culture will be one of the intriguing and important questions of our time and that of generations yet to come.  Exchange meetings such as the China Forum for continuing educators play a small, but unquestioned role in fostering the understanding that is essential to the exchange of goods, ideas, and, yes, educational programs.

Traveling the nearly 14 hours to China via the Great Circle route reminded me of the vast distances that online learning seeks to conquer.  For as much benefit as is derived from international travel–and it is substantial–it simply doesn’t scale as a mechanism for educating large numbers of people.  eLearning, when the spice of the occasional personal visit is added, holds great promise of shrinking those great circles to dimensions that humans can surmount.  Surely, anything that helps to bridge cultures, educate the masses, and make this fragile planet more livable is worthy of our very best efforts.