The perception of the Top-Level Courses Project outside of China

In September 2003, a number of the pioneers behind the MIT OpenCourseWare project, and a representative from the Hewlett Foundation which had funded the MIT OpenCourseWare Project, attended a meeting with Chinese universities at the Beijing Jiaotong University. The meeting had been organized by Dr. Fun-Den Wang, a retired mining professor from Colorado, who is also the head of the International Engineering Technology Foundation (IET), an educational charity. Dr. Fun-Den Wang was impressed by the vision behind MIT’s OpenCourseWare Project, and wanted to make these resources available to Chinese universities. The result of the meeting was the founding of an organization called China Open Resources for Education (CORE), which would promote closer interaction and open sharing of educational resources between China and the world (CORE 2010a).

CORE began facilitating the use of MIT OpenCourseWare by universities in China. They hosted a mirror of all the courses, so that they could be accessed more rapidly from computers within China, and funded the translation of some of the courses to Chinese (CORE 2010b). To date, their website lists 602 foreign courses that have been translated to Chinese (CORE 2010c). They held several conferences about Open Educational Resources in China (2006 in Xi’an and 2007 in Beijing), and in 2008 they co-hosted with the OpenCourseWare Consortium the international “Open Education Conference 2008” at Dalian University of Technology. This conference attracted researchers and administrators from around China, and around the world (CORE 2010b).

After a while, internationally CORE became synonymous with the Top-Level Courses Project, which they called China Quality OpenCourseWare. Very little has been written about it in English, but what little there is tends to portray the project as a derivation of the MIT OpenCourseWare and CORE as the founder and organizer. For example, Stephen Carson (2009), external relations director for MIT OpenCourseWare writes in an article in Open Learning:

In 2004 collaboration between the Chinese Ministry of Education and MIT's translation partner CORE would lead to the launch of the China Quality OpenCourseWare project, an effort to openly publish the best courses from across the Chinese higher education system. By mid-2005, materials from more than 500 Chinese courses were available through the CORE site. This collection of courseware has now grown to over 1600 total courses, some of which are now being translated into English by the CORE team.

David Wiley (2007, 4) writes in a report to the Organization for Economic Collaboration and Development that “[i]n China 451 courses have been made available by 176 university members of the China Open Resources for Education (CORE) consortium”. Finally, Elpida Makriyannis (2010), a researcher with the Open University Open Learning Network, set up to coordinate research on worldwide Open Educational Resources efforts, describes the development of China Quality OpenCourseWare as springing out of the fateful meeting to establish CORE in September, 2003. 

In fact, the Top-Level Courses Project was launched in March 2003, half a year before the CORE meeting, and was not even mentioned at the CORE meeting half a year later, where the discussion centred around the translation of MIT OpenCourseWare courses into Chinese (Duan Chenggui and Liu Meifeng, personal communications). So how could this misunderstanding have spread?