Case studies of OpenCourseWare in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea

December 2, 2010, [MD]

In this post, I will introduce the development of OpenCourseWare projects in three Asian countries that are close to China both geographically and culturally. I will later use these examples to show why it was easy for foreigners to misunderstand the developments within China.


Already in 2002, researchers from the National Institute of Multimedia Education (NIME) and Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) went to study the MIT OpenCourseWare project, and this led to an OpenCourseWare pilot plan with 50 courses at Tokyo Institute of Technology in September (Kobayashi and Kawafuchi 2006). Later, in 2004, people from MIT gave an invited lecture about MIT OpenCourseWare at Tokyo Tech in July 2004, and after that, the first meeting of the Japan OpenCourseWare Alliance was held with four Japanese universities. These had mainly been recruited through the efforts of MIT professor Miyagawa, and his personal contacts. In one case, the connection was the former president of Tokyo University being an acquaintance of Charles Vest, the former president of MIT (Makoshi 2006).

Subsequently, in 2006 the OpenCourseWare International Conference was held at Kyoto University, and at that conference, the Japan OpenCourseWare Association was reorganized into the Japan OpenCourseWare Consortium (Kobayashi and Kawafuchi 2006). By 2010, they had 1285 courses in Japanese and 212 courses in English, with 23 university members, including the United Nations University (JOCW 2010).

The motivation for joining the OCW movement seems to have been to create positive change among Japanese universities, including modernizing presentation styles among lecturers, as well as sharing learning material (Makoshi 2006).


In Taiwan, it all began with the translation of MIT OpenCourseWare courses, which was organized by Lucifer Chu. He is well known in Taiwan for being the translator of the Lord of the Rings, and he used the royalties from this work to fund what would later be called the Opensource OpenCourseWare Prototype System (OOPS). In February 2004, the entire MIT OCW site was copied to a local server hosted in Taiwan, and a network of volunteer Chinese-speakers from Taiwan, China and other countries collaborated on translating the courses to Chinese. In late 2006, the project secured a grant from the Hewlett foundation, and in June 2007, OOPS hosted its first international conference on OCW and e-learning in Taiwan (Lee, Lin and Bonk 2007).

At the same time, universities in Taiwan were also beginning to develop their own open material. The National Chiaotung University in Taiwan joined the OpenCourseWare Consortium in April 2007, and launched their own OpenCourseWare collection in June of the same year. Currently, they provide 71 courses, 54 of which are recorded in real classes during the semester (Lee Haishuo, personal communication). They also provide discussion boards to facilitate interaction between self-learners and online teaching assistants, to nurture a self-learning environment. This self-learning can then lead to official certification from the university, even for outside students, after sitting a certification exam. Sitting the exam is free, and only requires completing an application procedure (NCTU 2010, Lee 2010).

In 2007, a number of other universities followed the National Chiaotung University, and joined the international OpenCourseWare Consortium. The National Chiaotung University began outreach in early 2008, to invite other universities to form a national association, and on the 24th of December, Taiwan OpenCourseWare Consortium was officially formed, with 18 founding university members (TOCW 2010). However, several of these members left because they were hoping that they would get subsidies from the government to produce OpenCourseWare, and when they found out that this would not happen, many left (Lee Haishuo, personal communications).

The different universities have their own specialties. For example, the National Chiaotung University has continued developing their basic science courses and offering them to other universities and self-learners, Taiwan University and National Chengchi University focus on basic education, National Taiwan Normal University offers courses on the classics, and National Taiwan Ocean University, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology and National Sun Yat-Sen University have all offered courses related to their specialties (TOCW 2010).

South Korea

In South Korea, the OpenCourseWare movement started with professor Gyutae Kim, who was a professor of electrical engineering at Korea University. He had learnt about the MIT initiative, and was eager to start something similar in Korea. He initially proposed this to the School of Engineering, but received little support. Later, as the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning in the same university, he received the dean’s permission to pilot an OpenCourseWare project, but without any funding (Meena Hwang, personal communication).

Gyutae Kim and his staff got strong support from MIT and the OpenCourseWare Consortium. They participated in the OpenCourseWare Consortium meeting in Santander, Spain, in May 2007, and learnt about an open source platform for publishing OpenCourseWare called EduCommons. John Dehlin, then director of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, later gave an online presentation about the OpenCourseWare concept, which lent important credibility to the pilot project at Korea University.

In April 2008, the Korean OpenCourseWare Consortium was formed, consisting of five universities: Handong Global University, Inha University, Kyung Hee University, Busan National University of Education and Seoul National University of Technology. However, there is not strong buy-in from presidents and staff at these universities, and aversion by staff members to add to professors’ work burden, which has slowed down the development of the project.

The national evaluation of universities is very important to Korean universities, and traditionally has only looked at research, thus making things that do not result in publications less of a priority. Recently, there has been an increased focus on teaching and learning from the Ministry of Education, which for example mandated centers for teaching and learning at each university in 2006.

A large project to improve the quality of teaching that was recently launched, called the ACE project, will disburse USD \$800,000 each year for four years. This project, which is spearheaded by the president of Korea OpenCourseWare Consortium, Dr. Kim Young Sup, included the production of OpenCourseWare in the evaluation criteria for applicants, and all ten universities that won have planned OpenCourseWare projects in the future.

KERIS, a government subsidized organization that coordinates the production of electronic resources for Korean Universities, has also become involved in the opening of resources. Since 2007, it has paid universities to create thousands of e-learning modules. Recently, it has contacted the universities that produced these modules under contract, and asked them to open up at least part of them to the public (Meena Hwang, personal communications).

A common East-Asian model

Thus in all these cases, there is an initial contact between MIT and leading universities in the host country. Sometimes this happens through outreach by MIT faculty or administrators, and sometimes it is individuals who come in touch with the OpenCourseWare movement, and decide to try to spread the idea at their university, and nationally. Universities decide to join the OpenCourseWare Consortium individually, and to form a national non-governmental association or federation to coordinate the work of producing OpenCourseWare.

These organizations and efforts might receive support from the Ministries of Education, but are not funded or organized by the national governments. Given the way these federations began life, as international collaborations, they remain very internationally accessible. Websites are often available in English as well as in national languages, researchers frequently visit international conferences or publish in international journals, and often use the open-source platforms for hosting OpenCourseWare that have been developed by US universities.

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 December 2, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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