Organization of the thesis

I will begin by a literature review in chapter two, which will focus on two main topics. First, I will review some of the literature on Open Educational Resources, including the definition and a brief history of the term. I will also introduce some different types of Open Educational Resources from around the world, and a typology of Open Educational Resources projects, based on the purposes they aim to achieve. Then an introduction to the literature surrounding international borrowing and lending, including the theories of world institutionalism and global convergence by Meyer and Ramirez, and the focus on local meanings and practices with Steiner-Khamsi and Schriewer. 

In chapter three, I will discuss my methodology, which was a qualitative iterative process. I conducted 8 interviews with university professors who had produced Top Level Courses, people from the academic affairs offices, and one official related to the Ministry of Education. In addition, I had many informal conversations with Chinese colleagues, consulted the Chinese literature widely, as well as the English literature regarding the history of Chinese higher education. 

In chapter four, I will give an overview of Chinese higher education since 1949, focusing especially on the evolution of how courses were developed, and mechanisms for evaluating courses. The overview will also describe the large-scale investment in higher education through projects 985 and 211, as well as the explosion in enrolment from 1998 to 2008. I will show how internal course evaluations, and the focus on promoting excellence through peer-review and additional funding, as well as the strong focus on IT in education were all factors that led to the creation of the Top Level Courses Project in 2003. This chapter is mainly based on Chinese and English secondary sources.

In chapter five, I will describe the Top Level Courses Project in detail. I will begin with the details around the creation and announcement of this project in 2003, and how it was defined by the Ministry of Education. I will describe how the project is implemented as a competition for the best courses, with three levels (campus-, provincial and national) and several types (undergraduate, online and vocational). I will also describe how the project developed from 2003-2010, with the biggest change coming with the renewal of the program in 2007, when it became a part of the Quality Project, and the national portal homepage was launched. I will then discuss the findings from my interviews with Chinese professors and administrators in detail. This section will draw on government reports, Chinese academic papers, formal interviews conducted with professors and staff at two universities, and one Ministry of Education official, as well as informal communications with a large number of Chinese academics who research open education.

In chapter six, I will analyze some of the salient differences between the MIT OpenCourseWare and the Chinese project, using the typology I developed in chapter two. The Top Level Courses Project has been described in Western academic publications as a form of OpenCourseWare run by an organization called China Open Resources for Education (CORE). I will explain the background for CORE, and how this image of the Top Level Courses Project was spread outside of China. I will then introduce two metaphors for how the role of an academic and the development of a course can be conceptualized, drawn from top-ranking traditional North American universities on one hand, and the world of distance education and mega-universities on the other. I will use this to discuss why something like the Top Level Courses Project would be difficult to achieve in North America. Finally, I will revisit the discussion on borrowing and lending that was introduced in chapter two, and argue that a deep understanding of a foreign culture, as proposed by Gita Steiner-Khamsi, will often reveal that similar terms have very different meanings.

I will conclude by proposing that there is a fundamental difference in how professors and teaching is conceptualized in China and North America, drawing both from the historical French and German models of the university, as well as China’s own educational history. I will then discuss what the West could learn from the Chinese project, and suggest some venues for future research.