The Past Meets the Future: How to Bring Confucian Virtues into Higher Ed with Educational Technology

Student holds light bulb with futuristic elements inside the bulb

On August 6, 1991, the World Wide Web became public to the world and forever changed the way that ideas move. Although in-person dialogues and interactions are historically significant ways for the movement of information, communication technologies have become a central way to learn in higher education and beyond. With increasing technology in our lives, professors should be selective about the usage, aiming to balance technology and personal approaches. 

Indeed, digital tools and instructional technologies such as Smartboards are implemented in many programs and shown to improve attitudes and learning (Sad, 2012). Let’s examine the multi-layered relationship between how to use educational technology with ethical considerations—in particular, how learners perceive knowledge in the Information Age through these devices and how effectively using them as educators may also consider virtues that are forming, or not forming, through these communication technologies. 

Why Use Confucian Education in Higher Education?

As a framework, Confucian education has high expectations by engaging learners to understand classic canons with historical roots while practicing classical virtues for future social progress.  In higher education classrooms, this would look like bringing in traditional ideas with modern approaches, such as online TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talks that provide short, powerful speeches to promote the spreading of ideas.  Allow students to create their own TED talks as part of the process for students to learn and to collaborate with their higher education communities.  Indeed, a notable goal of Confucian education—which is still significant today—is to generate educated people who can respect cultures and ethics instead of only having content expertise in fields, such as business and social sciences.  To illustrate, while running his own school, Confucius instructed his students under four categories: respecting culture, behaving in proper conduct, doing one’s utmost, and making good on one’s word. To a large extent, the combination of these disciplines resonates with the spirit of educating a modern whole person.

Instructing with Confucian Tradition and Modern Technology

The widespread use of technology well fits in with the idea of “to instruct students regardless of social classes” in Confucianism.  We can take MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) as an example. During recent years, MOOC appears to be a significant force within higher education in order to democratize education with these free online classes.  This is a way for many professors and professionals to gain high-quality professional development credits.  Surpassing 500 courses with over 5 million students, MOOC has extreme worldwide popularity and initial interest, even with the average retention as reported at approximately 4% for these classes (Koller, 2013).  As a flourishing advanced technology, MOOC generates the opportunity for sharing ideas and knowledge across all social statuses, improving lifelong learning skills by providing convenient access to global learning resources, as well as many classes, theoretically, are offered with the only requirement being the internet (Yuan & Powell, 2013).  Through open online learning resources, many are able to achieve further education and, thus, improve employment opportunities.  All in all, MOOC and other online tools have been characterized by the features of openness and popularity.  

Second, the application of educational technology to achieve academic excellence for our students—not to mention the public good—is aligned with what Confucius greatly advocates: creating harmony amidst diversity.  Finding ways to include students may look like collaborative activities in the classroom, and the encouragement to attend conferences and other events as a class activity.  Another thought is that with the removal of the limitation of social stratification, educational technology, such as MOOC, Quizlet, edWeb, Google Suite, and other free educational apps promote networking/sharing beyond national borders and connects a variety of learners from all over the world. For example, Flipgrid is one tool that many classrooms use to exchange dialogue about learning objectives.  Another example of connecting and sharing information could be the usage of Kahoot, an interactive assessment tool that is free and user-friendly. When professors bring in these learner-centered or person-centered technology tools, students are able to actively engage with the ideas—as well as each other.  In doing so, such instructional technology tools play an important role in promoting learner diversity and an inclusive education.

Evidence-Based Learning Retention through Collaboration

In higher education, another evidence-based piece for successful learning features Confucius’s teaching pedagogy that strives for a collaborative teaching-learning relationship.  He asserted, “Only learning can make us know our weakness; only teaching can make us know our confusion. When knowing our weakness, we can reflect ourselves; when knowing our confusion, we can improve ourselves. Therefore, teaching and learning should support each other (Confucius, 2012b, para.3).”  This idea from Confucius, in fact, has been echoed by TED Talks, MOOC, and other online sharing systems in which professors can utilize the resources as guest lectures sine these tools focus on improving cross-cultural relationships—leading to collaboration and evidence-based learning retention for both professors and students.

To conclude, this examination into technology and Confucian virtues has implications for learners and lasting effects for higher education in the Information Age.  In particular, educational technology with critical consciousness can become a bridge to providing information in equitable ways, especially due to the openness and popularity of internet/smartphone usage.  The bridge between past ideologies of our ancestors, such as Confucian philosophy right here and now, becomes linked to future innovations so that we can guide students to consider the moral consequences before blindly jumping off a bridge into new technologies and culture. 

Higher education with modern technology is an exciting world where a global community can honor the central ideals of Confucian virtues: building less isolation and bringing more global harmony. Because many people want to be connected to others, including through phones, social media, and communication devices, higher education can be the starting point in the ripple effect of promoting justice and prudence. Caring human connections—in the Information Age and beyond—are the infrastructure for social and educational success.


Confucius. (1999). The Analects of Confucius. Translated by Roger T.Ames, Henry Rose mont, Jr. New York: Ballantine Books, 91.

Confucius. (2012). The Book of Rites. Available:

Sad, S. N. (2012). An attitude scale for smart board use in education: Validity and reliability studies. Computers & Education, 58(3), 900-907.

Koller D. (2013) Daphne Koller: “MOOCs can be a Significant Factor in Opening Doors to Opportunity.” In: EdSurge News [cited 5 Dec 2015]. Available: 31-daphne-koller-moocs-can-be-a-significant-factor-in-opening-doors-to-opportunity

Yuan L. & Powell S. (2013). MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education. Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability Standards.


Dr. Melissa Anne Brevetti earned her PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, USA.  Her research interests include global equity issues, educational technology, and historical virtue-ethics.  She is a recipient of Ten Outstanding Young Americans and International Roundtable Scholar Awards.

Dr. James Zhixiang Yang earned his PhD in Educational Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is an assistant professor of Chinese Language and Culture Center, Beijing Normal University-HongKong Baptist University United International College.  His research interests include the comparative study between Confucianism and John Dewey’s philosophies, Chinese intellectual history, and liberal arts education between East and West.