Given that very little was known about the Top-Level Courses Project outside of China when I began my research, my research has been mainly exploratory. Rather than defining my research questions early on, and testing very rigorous hypotheses, I have had to pursue the topic through a number of channels until I reached a better understanding of what I was researching. Indeed, I began with very different ideas about how the Top-Level Courses Project functioned, and how it had come into being. It was therefore very important that my research be flexible enough to be able to change direction when new information came up and new insights emerged.
I used a number of different sources to triangulate information. My formal interviews took disproportionately long time to set up, but were important in giving me access to professors who had produced Top-Level Courses, but had no background in education or university administration. I then gained a deeper understanding through many informal meetings with colleagues in departments of education, and through testing my ideas through presentations given. I consulted a large amount of Chinese academic sources, as well as government reports and news releases. And finally, the courses are all openly available, so I also spent time visiting courses online, and using the course portal.
I employed the following four categories of sources of qualitative data for this study:
1) literature review of the Chinese academic literature, about the global open education movement in general and about the Chinese OpenCourseWare project specifically
2) analysis of government reports and policy documents, also policy documents and evaluation reports from individual institutions of higher education
3) open-ended key informant interviews conducted with three categories of people: a Ministry of Education official, people in leadership positions at institutions involved in the Chinese OpenCourseWare project and professors who produce content for the Chinese OpenCourseWare project
4) informal interaction with professors and graduate students, participation in conferences, and feedback from presentations about this topic by the author.