How and by whom are the Chinese Top Level Courses used?

October 30, 2010, [MD]

This thesis does not intend to evaluate the success of the Top Level Courses Project, which would require a much more rigorous study design. There are some Chinese studies that have looked at evaluating the project, however they often don't separate clearly between which of the four possible purposes of OER they are attempting to address. Below is a discussion about usage of the resources, based both on some of the literature, as well as interviews with professors and administrators.

Although schools are encouraged to make university-level courses open, or at least share them with other universities, there is no requirement for them to be openly published. However all provincial or national Top Level Courses Project have to be published openly for five years, and be regularly updated during this time (Liu Zenghui 2009; MoE 2004). As an example, Professor A2’s course had already been published online, but with a password protection. After being selected as a Top Level Courses, they removed the password, and also greatly improved the content, by putting up recordings for every single lecture (required for the national level designation), and also posting student evaluation reports. In the process of creating the site, they often visited sites from other disciplines to see how they did it, and received inspiration from those examples. Professor A2 also recounted how they removed the password to all their material, when they were selected as a Top Level Course.

Most professors believe that the resources are primarily for colleagues at other universities, although students can also use them. Professor A1 says that a lot of universities are using the material from their course, and that it has helped make the course quite influential in the whole country. She has personally been contacted by other professors who tell her about their use of the resources, and some of these have visited the university to learn more about the course. These are often from lower ranked universities, whereas she believes that universities at the same rank as her own might be more interested at looking abroad for course inspiration, something she has also done in her own work.

Professor B2’s course has also been very influential. It is one of only three or four similar courses available as Top Level Courses, yet this topic is taught in more than a hundred universities. He believes his course has had a large impact in raising the standard, and influencing the design of similar courses at many universities in China.

The academic affairs office at Professor B1’s university has said that the use rates of her course are very high. Her course is offered at all universities, so many professors consult her resources, and contact her for more information when they want to develop their own courses. Professor B2’s course is also used by many teachers, and lately he has noticed that new courses that apply for the Top Level Courses designation use some of their thinking, even going so far as to copy certain expressions whole-sale from their course. Some of the teachers contacted him, and told him that they were basing part of their course on his materials, but others did not. In addition to this, the course is also popular among students who are going for the graduate school exam in his field, and want to understand the situation in the field better.

Qin (2008) discusses how courses are “marketed”, and divides the channels into three. First, the Ministry of Education maintains websites (such as, see below), and distributes information to universities and other organizations. Secondly, the universities and individual professors themselves often publish their courses in newspapers, magazines, at meetings and in reports to other universities and colleges. Some universities have also published books listing all the Top Level Courses they have produced, with details from the application process. Finally, some voluntary associations, such as China Open Resources for Education, have organized information about Top Level Courses and created link and resource pages.

There is not much in the literature about how students and teachers are using the Top Level Courses. Beijing City used external evaluators to conduct an in-depth study of the city-wide Top Level Courses Project in 2005, but most of the feedback was focused on how the materials were used in the class for which it was created – in other words, the course website functioned more as a generic learning management system.

However, data also shows that while most students accessed material relevant to their current school work, a number of high school students used the material to check out interesting college courses, and some students accessed material purely related to their interests. Teachers also used the material to prepare for classes (Ding et al. 2005).

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 30, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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