Case studies of applying for the Top Level Courses designation

October 27, 2010, [MD]

In my previous post, I introduced the course case studies. In this post, I will describe their experiences with applying for the Top Level Courses designation.

Both Professor B1 and Professor A2 were relatively early in applying for the Top Level Course designation. In both cases, they realized that their existing material was a very good fit for this new program. Professor A2’s school began applying for courses in 2004, and when they asked who had courses that could fit, he volunteered, because he knew that the existing resources they had developed would be very appropriate for the Top Level Course requirements. He also believed that it would be an honor to receive the designation.

Professor B1’s story is similar, she applied for the university-level designation in 2005, and in 2008 her team applied for the national level designation. She says that they never applied for the designation excellent course because they wanted the recognition, but because they thought that through the process of applying they could provide a better course for the students. When the Top Level Courses guidelines came out, they realized that they were even more detailed and stringent than the university’s own excellent courses, so they decided to use the application to improve their course further. They also benefitted from help from the school of online education in creating the website. Although she said that getting the designation was not very important for her herself, she does mention that universities now take Top Level Courses into consideration when assessing professors for promotion.

Professor B2 also applied for the designation in 2005, but Professor A1 did not apply until 2008, five years after the Top Level Courses project had been launched. She said she knew about it the whole time, but thought that as long as others knew she had a good course, that would be sufficient, and did not consider applying for this designation. In 2008, her department began to put more focus on developing Top Level Courses, as part of a process of becoming an international first class university, and expand its influence. At that point, she decided to submit her own course for consideration. An added factor was that a new textbook, which she had developed, had won a national Top Level Courses price for teaching materials the year before, as well as the innovative adding of an internship to the course design.

Both Professor A1 and Professor B1 also mentioned planning for their legacy as factors in the decision to apply for the Top Level Courses project. Professor A1 retired in 2008, and had anyway been planning to make recordings and leave behind a memory of his teaching at the university. Professor B1 explains that she will retire in a few years, and needs to find some young professors that she can train to continue the courses. Building up the course teaching team through the Top Level Courses Project can be one way to further this goal.

When applying, many of the professors visited existing Top Level courses for inspiration, as well as getting support from their colleagues. Professor A1 visited other courses by people in his department, to see how they had done it, and the academic affairs office at Professor B1’s university organized for new applicants to learn from people with very good Top Level Courses, both from their own school and from the outside. Both Professors B1 and B2 also visited other courses online, and in fact Professor B2 is involved in the evaluation process for her discipline, and had the chance to visit many campuses and learning from other professors.

The quotes in this text is from the MA Thesis "The Chinese National Top Level Courses Project: Using Open Educational Resources to Promote Quality in Undergraduate Teaching" by Stian Håklev, University of Toronto 2010.

Stian Håklev October 27, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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