Critiques of the Chinese Top Level Courses Project in the Chinese literature

November 27, 2010, [MD]

Although most of the articles are written in a laudatory tradition that does not doubt the good intentions or the success of the program, there are some interesting dissenting voices. Many pick up on the ambitious name “Top Level Courses”. Lu (2008) states that from his experience, many top professors are not willing to share the materials that they have been teaching for decades, and that he also had this fact confirmed by the Ministry of Education. He therefore does not believe that the courses deserve to be called “Top Level”. This concern is echoed by Professor A1, who says that she did not want to release all of her material on the web, because she had struggled for many years to create it, and does not want others to simply take it. However, she still put up most of her materials, whereas she knows other teachers who put up as little as they can get away with.

Wang Xiuhua (2008) is sceptical about the commitment of producers of Top Level Courses, and believes that many simply “go through the motions” and do not take the opportunity to rethink their own pedagogical practices. Despite the rigorous evaluation criteria, he believes that many universities choose famous professors to “put their name” on courses. Many courses are not developed as part of an overall plan, but rather quickly put together in two months, to obtain "fame". Professor B3 is also worried about professors that enrol only to get recognition, and are not interested in continual improvement. These do not follow up constructive criticism of their courses, and after 3-4 years, their courses might not have changed at all.

Even for professors that are committed to improving their own courses, there is a sense that the Top Level Courses process does not always support their work. Professor B1 is mainly positive, and believes that most of the things required are things that should be present in any good course. However, she is sceptical about the very detailed requirements on the constitution of the teaching teams. For some courses that are very small, this is not realistic. When she sees course applications listing a large number of people, she often wonders if they are really all involved in the course, or just lent their names to the application. She believes the requirement should be to have a course team that is appropriate for the kind of course, instead of a fixed requirement.

There is also some concern about the increased formalization and bureaucratization of teaching. Professor B2 was very enthusiastic about teaching a few years ago, but now her enthusiasm is slowly disappearing. In addition to larger class sizes, she feels that she spends a lot of time on creating formalized lesson plans, and dealing with people who come to listen in on her class.

There is also a problem with course websites not being maintained properly. Lu (2008) found that according to this tests, of the 1,100 national level Top Level Courses, over half were unavailable for one reason or another. Another survey by Qin (2008) shows that only 10% of all the material published in the “early years” of 2003-2005 is still available, and that most webpages have errors.

Finally, there is the danger of focusing too much on the aesthetic aspects of the website, where some universities spend as much as 20-30% of the award money on hiring external web design companies, rather than focusing on the quality of the content (Wang Xiuhua 2008).

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 November 27, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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