Description of the Top Level Courses Project
This chapter will give an in-depth description of the Top-Level Courses Project. I will first give a birds-eye view of how the project is organized. I will then use a number of case studies to discuss how the application and evaluation process works, seen from the eyes of individual professors, academic affairs staff, and leaders in the program.
In 2001, the Ministry of Education released a document called “Some ideas about strengthening undergraduate teaching and improving pedagogy in higher education” (MoE 2001). This document laid out the case for an improved focus on teaching, including and increase in financial resources, and encouraging more full professors to teach undergraduate courses. Teaching quality was to be made an important criterion for promotions, young academics were to receive special training in teaching and pedagogy, and more courses were to be taught in English, or a mix of English and Chinese. The final two recommendations are particularly relevant to the Top-Level Courses Project: more educational technology was to be applied in education, and the document also called for the establishment and improvement of teaching quality monitoring and assurance systems.
In April 2003, the National Top-Level Courses Project was formally launched by the Ministry of Education (MoE 2003). It set forth a plan to use the development, selection and publication of Top-Level Courses to carry out the goals of the 2001 policy mentioned above, to which it made explicit reference in its justification. The creation and evaluation of these model courses would act as a catalyst and promote the improvement of all courses, raising the general importance of pedagogy and teaching within universities. The policy called for all universities to design a comprehensive plan for how the project would be implemented, to make sure that it raised the quality of the teaching at the entire university.