Informal interactions

During my total of seven months in China, I had a number of opportunities to learn more about the Top-Level Courses Project through informal interactions with colleagues. A year prior to beginning my research, I attended a large Open Educational Resources conference in Dalian, co-hosted by China Open Resources for Education and the international OpenCourseWare Consortium. The contacts I made there were very useful to me in my later work. I later visited with professors and graduate students of education at South China Normal University, Central Minzu University, Tsinghua University, Beijing Public Security University, Peking University, Beijing Normal University and Shanghai Jiaotong University. 

I was also invited to give a number of public presentations, where I presented my preliminary findings, and was able to test theories and ideas on an informed audience. I gave public talks at South China Normal University, Beijing Normal University (the Social Learning Lab), Minzu University of China, the Open University of China, the Educational Technology Research Summer School at South China Normal University 2009, the Educational Technology Research Summer School at Peking University 2010, Shanghai Jiaotong University and the Top-Level Courses Project Resource Centre. All of these presentations, with the exception of the presentation at Shanghai Jiaotong University, were made in Chinese[1].

These interactions were crucial for developing my understanding of the Top-Level Courses Project, guiding me to relevant literature I might have missed, and connecting me further to persons of interest that I could learn from. This experience also enabled me to prepare much better for the formal interviews which I would conduct later. During the research phase, I helped professor Han Xibin from Tsinghua University edit a short research note about the Top-Level Courses Project for the British Journal of Educational Technology, and worked with professor Wang Long from the Beijing Public Security University to translate and edit a longer article about the development process of Top-Level Courses. This intense interaction and collaboration with Chinese academics was very helpful in gaining a better understanding of my research topic, and in understanding Chinese higher education as a whole. The approach is also similar to that of O’Brien (2006) in his field work in China, where he would test his developing arguments directly on his interviewees during the course of the research.

At the conference in Dalian, I also met many of the key players in North-American and international Open Educational Resources projects, and later attended a number of international conferences on this topic in the United States and Canada[2]. This helped me understand better both the organization and motivations behind North-American Open Educational Resources projects, and also how the Chinese project was viewed by non-Chinese. 


[1] slides and recordings available at

[2] Open Education 2008, Logan, Utah;Connexions Conference 2009, Houston, Texas;Hewlett Grantee’s Meeting 2009, Monterey, California; Open Education 2009, Vancouver, British Columbia;Hewlett Grantee’s Meeting 2010, New Haven, Connecticut.