Illinois Confucius Institute to focus on evaluation and assessment research

by The College of Education  /   Mar 25, 2013

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The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has announced that it will be home to a new Confucius Institute starting this spring, which will be physically located in the Education Building, although its implementation and day-to-day functions will be a coordinated effort from across campus.

The UI Confucius Institute will emphasize research in addition to increasing awareness about Chinese culture, facilitating Chinese language education in local schools, and strengthening the web-based version of the Chinese (language) Proficiency Test. The Institute was approved by the Urbana-Champaign Senate February 4, 2013.

Pending approval by the UI Board of Trustees and the Illinois State Board of Higher Education, the UI Confucius Institute will function under the main umbrella of International Program and Studies, in close collaboration with the College of Education and the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (CEAPS), as well as the Chinese language program in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC).

"Illinois is a global university," said Chancellor Phyllis Wise. "As we consider society’s grand challenges of the next 20 to 50 years, it is important to learn from and appreciate all cultures. This agreement will expand opportunities for cultural events and language instruction in Champaign-Urbana primary and secondary schools."

Like a well-choreographed dance, the Institute is "fully aligned" with direction from all participating units, which synchronously—but with respective areas of expertise—support its three overarching objectives: research (College of Education's Department of Educational Psychology), community outreach (CEAPS), and non-credit Chinese language teaching (the College of Education in collaboration with EALC), according to Professor Hua-Hua Chang, who will serve as part-time director of the Institute. In addition, the Institute will include a Language Testing and Research Facility, housed in the College of Education. The outreach component will be coordinated with efforts already in place by CEAPS.

The Institute will be governed by a Board of Directors, consisting of representatives from the University of Illinois; a partner university, Jiangxi Normal University; and from Confucius Institute headquarters.

Chang is a professor of Educational Psychology as well as Psychology, and president of the Psychometric Society. He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Statistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a diploma in Mathematics from East China Normal University in Shanghai.

Other affiliated faculty include Jeffrey Douglas, professor in the Department of Statistics, whose research interests include, among others, item response theory in educational and psychological testing and multivariate latent variable methodology for complex statistical surveys and instruments; Jerome Packard, professor of Chinese, Linguistics, and Educational Psychology, who specializes in Chinese linguistics, word structure, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition and pedagogy; and Jinming Zhang, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, who received his Ph.D. in Statistics from Illinois and is also a honorary guest professor of Beijing Language and Culture University in Beijing, China.

In addition, the Institute hopes to hire a full-time program coordinator and a few graduate assistants. According to Chang, there are about 400 institutes worldwide and the application process is both rigorous and competitive. Embracing the opportunity to network with other institute directors and staff members and to hear keynotes by officials from the Confucius Institute Headquarters, Chang attended the 7th Confucius Institute Conference in Beijing last December, with more than 2,000 delegates from 108 nations.

Here at Illinois, the initial budget for the Institute will include $150,000 start-up funds from the Chinese Ministry of Education, matched by funds from campus, the College of Education, and International Programs and Studies.

Confucius Institutes around the world are sponsored by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. The Institutes originated as a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education "committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide that … goes all out in meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism and the building of a harmonious world," according to office's website.

As a true statistician, Chang says the research component of the UI Confucius Institute will be "evaluated by its ability to attract external funding as well as the quality of the research output." The outreach component will be measured as well by tracking the number of events and activities offered, the number of community members reached, and the quality of partnerships with schools and other community organizations. In addition, the Institute will also facilitate student delegations to China.