Case studies of individual experiences with Top-Level Course selection
During my research, I interviewed five professors that had had their courses designated Top-Level Courses. Below, I will introduce their individual cases, beginning with the history of how their courses had developed before applying, and then discussing the process of applying, including the motivation for doing so.
An interesting finding from the interviews was that most courses had been developed for a long time before they applied to, and were selected as Top Level Courses. The macro-history of course evaluations in China that was discussed in the previous chapter is here illustrated through the personal histories of these individual courses, which often had been selected as excellent university courses. Professor B1 began teaching her course in 1991, when it was a voluntary course. Later it became designated as an obligatory course. The teaching team constantly strived to improve the course, applying to have the course approved as an approved course, and later as an excellent course. Finally, it was even designated as a class directly sponsored by the Ministry of Education (教育部主办课 - jiaoyubu zhuban ke).
Professor B2’s course was started by the same person who set up the department where he teaches, a professor who was very well-known within China. He proudly notes that the textbook he published has been published continually for 50 years, and had a huge national impact. Since he was such a leader in the field, the course is still today marked by his specific approach to the discipline, especially his emphasis on connecting theory to practice. Professor B2 is one of the students trained by him, one of many teachers in this department who are his students, and is proud to continue his heritage through continually developing teaching teams, teaching materials and courses. This course also received the excellent course designation from the university, before they applied to be a Top Level course.
Both Professor A2, who began teaching in 1997, and Professor A1 have also taught their courses for many years. Professor A1’s course is an important obligatory course in the major, and one of the key courses at the university. During the years of teaching, a lot of emphasis has been put on developing teaching materials and course contents. Until 2007, the course was entirely lecture-based, but since 2007, they changed to include an internship where students can put their knowledge into practice.
Many of the courses had also developed web resources before the Top Level Courses Project. Professor A1’s course did not have an external website, but had put many course resources on a campus learning management system (open only to registered students). Professor A2’s example is interesting – his course is also open to students from the Western province of Xinjiang, who come to the university as visiting scholars. In 2004-2005, their demand for more online resources after they had returned home provided the initial impetus to create a website, where he slowly began putting up recordings and other material, together with a discussion forum.
Professor B2 began developing a website for her course in 2001, which contained courseware, questions, descriptions of experiments and other teaching materials. Under a provincial program called the 151 Project (151工程 - 151 gongcheng), she and her colleagues also developed a resource database, where they deposited a number of resources from the course. They also received requests from other universities for access to the materials, because the textbook mentioned above has been so popular and widely known.