MA thesis on Open Educational Resources in China released, watch it fly

September 13, 2010, [MD]

The research I have detailed my trajectory into the Open Educational Resources movement many times on this blog, starting with the iCommons summit in Dubrovnik in 2007, and the Intro to Open Education course facilitated by David Wiley that fall. In addition to bringing me into contact with the people and ideas that would eventually create Peer2Peer University (which in these days is launching it's third cycle, with more than 30 courses, and lot's of excited course participants and organizers), it was also the beginning of something else. During David Wiley's course, I read an MIT evaluation report that talked about how MIT OpenCourseWare had been translated into Chinese, and was used actively in Chinese classrooms.

This raised all kinds of questions for me, about appropriateness, cultural difference or change, pedagogical approaches, etc, and I decided to make this the focus of my application to the program in comparative higher education (actually the program is in higher education, but I also entered the collaborative program in comparative education) at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. I got accepted, and was extremely lucky to be able to work with Dr. Ruth Hayhoe, a leading expert on higher education in China, and an incredibly inspiring academic.

I began my studies in September 2008, but already in April 2008, I had the opportunity to attend an international meeting on Open Educational Resources in China, where I made many important initial contacts, both in the international OER movement, and in the Chinese research environment. I then began trying to unravel what was actually happening with these MIT courses, who were using them and how, etc. However, it was very difficult to find concrete examples of courses taught with MIT materials, and I had to abandon this line of inquiry. However, in the process I learnt about something called "China Quality OpenCourseWare" – indigenously produced open courses from Chinese universities. I changed the focus of my thesis to look at this project, how had MIT inspired the Chinese, how had the Chinese changed the North-American idea to better fit their own context, and what could this tell us about the large-scale changes that Chinese higher education was undergoing at the moment?

This is what I have been working on for the past two years. It's been an incredibly interesting, and at times very frustrating journey. Almost nothing of what I believed at the outset, turned out to be the case, and I had to update my research questions many times. I was lucky enough to get Dr. Jim Slotta on my committee as a second reader, and he helped me think through the way we conceptualize Open Educational Resources. I spent about 7 months in total in China, and developed wonderful contacts and friendships with Chinese professors and graduate students, who were incredibly generous with their time and insights. I also met the frustrations of doing formal interviews according to a North American research ethics approach, in a culture where that is poorly understood.

Sharing the thesisAnyway, the thesis is completed, and has been formally approved. Since November 2009, all University of Toronto students are required to submit their theses to the University of Toronto institutional repository T-Space, where they will be available to the world. This is a wonderful improvement on the old system, and I whole-heartedly support it. However, my thesis will not appear until after my convocation (in a few months), and will be limited to one officially formatted PDF (I hate reading double-spaced PDFs on my screen, and they don't play nice with Stanza). I get no statistics from who downloads it, nor any opportunity to interact with the readers.

So I am going to experiment with other ways of distributing my thesis, because I would very much like for it to be read. There are two aspects to that. The first is the availability of the actual file, where from, and in which formats. When I had finished my undergraduate thesis about community libraries in Indonesia, I made sure to distribute it widely, and others have also helped me distribute it, so that it is currently available from for example T-Space, Eprints in Library and Information Science, Google Books, Scribd, and somehow there is evena physical copy on the shelves of the National Library of Australia (no idea how it ended up there!).

The other aspect of distribution is making the contents accessible to people. My first thesis was translated into Indonesian, this is something I early committed to doing, and still is very important. Many of the people who assisted me in China do not speak English fluently, and even those who do, might not be comfortable reading a 100 page academic thesis in English (I speak Chinese fluently, but if you give me a book to read, it's a month's project). I very much want to get the current thesis translated as well, but it might take a few months before I am able to arrange it.

What I didn't do with the first thesis, was to offer it in any other file formats (especially editable file formats). I also didn't do much to popularize the contents, other than writing a short note for a newsletter, and breaking it into two journal articles. With the current thesis, I plan to experiment with going further. Firstly, I am making both the original thesis, and an edited version which contains most of the same information in half the number of pages available, in a number of file formats.

Download links:

Complete canonical version (101 pages) PDF DOC ODT RTF 2-column edition (44 pages) PDF DOC ODT RTF

I am also planning to publish a range of extra material. Some of this will be background material from the research, for example almost my entire collection of notes and raw research data (I still need to go through to make sure it does not contain any confidential material), as well as the full text of all the interviews I conducted. I will write a number of blog posts, highlighting various aspects of the thesis, possibly accompanied with audiovisual material, such as interviews conducted with experts in different fields, screencasts, etc. And just as last time, I will experiment with distributing the thesis widely, especially as an ebook (ePub version is coming very soon).

I hope you will take the time to read the thesis, and I would love to have your comments! All information that will be published about the thesis, will be accessible from the central page, and all blog posts will be in the category MA thesis, which also has its own RSS feed.

I welcome all ideas, feedback, criticism, comments and questions. You can leave a comment on this post, or contact me directly at


Stian Håklev September 13, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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