Criteria for the selection of courses
The initial policy (MoE 2003) defined a quality course as being a model course with “first-class teaching teams, first-class teaching content, first-class teaching methods, first-class course materials, first class teaching and first-class teaching management”. These “six first-classes” are mentioned in almost all literature on the project, and were also repeated by most of my interview participants.
The specific aspects listed in the first policy paper specified that the courses should be taught by top teachers, who have long experience and influence in their fields. This was partially to address the desire, also expressed in the 2001 policy paper, to attract full professors at top universities into spending time teaching core undergraduate courses. The content of the course should be up-to-date and reflect the cutting edge of the academic field. The course should be taught with advanced and innovative teaching methods.
Teaching materials should either be award-winning nationally approved materials, materials developed by the teachers themselves, or material from abroad. More experiential and practical learning was encouraged, for example experiments and internships. Finally, the university was to set up effective incentive and evaluation mechanisms for rewarding participation in the project, and effectively selecting and improving appropriate courses.
In 2004, a more detailed policy note appeared, which provided further information about the requirements for courses. Both regular undergraduate courses, and courses from vocational schools, that had already been taught for at least three years, were accepted. The head of the teaching team should be a full professor, and to evaluate that person’s teaching capability, a 50 minute video recording had to be made available on the website, but universities were encouraged to put up recordings of all lectures. In addition, the syllabus, lesson plans, exercises, laboratory guides, and reference material also had to be made available online (MoE 2004).
In the previous chapter, a number of course evaluation systems that preceded the Top-Level Courses project were discussed. One of these, at Tsinghua University, actually gave its name to the Top-Level Courses project (Han Xibin and Ju Feng, personal communication). According to Mr. B0, most of the categories listed, such as teaching teams, teaching contents, teaching methods, teaching principles, and the academic level of teachers, were similar to earlier evaluation methods. The most important innovation was the focus on educational technology, ie. developing internet resources and then sharing them openly.