In this thesis, I set out to understand how the Top-Level Courses Project was organized, and how it came to be. I wanted to compare it with MIT OpenCourseWare, and understand whether MIT’s project had influenced the development of the Top-Level Courses Project in any way. I also discussed whether the spread of the OpenCourseWare concept could be seen as a sign of growing isomorphism in values among institutions of higher education in the world, and I proposed the counter-theory that what was happening was borrowing the name of ideas, but implementing them in quite different ways.
In chapter three, I showed how concepts of course teams, and improvable courses developed by groups over many years arose, and how the tradition of course evaluations followed immediately after the centralized curriculum began to be opened up. This came together with the unprecedented expansion of Chinese higher education in the last 15 years, and the strong focus on investing in excellent examples - first universities, then departments, and finally courses - chosen through peer-review. Taken together with the focus on IT in education, this made the creation of the Top-Level Courses Project project a natural next step, but it is possible that some of the impetus came from knowledge of the MIT project.
I have described in detail how the project is organized, and how it is experienced by university administrators and participating professors. I used this in chapter six to show that the project was fundamentally different from MIT’s OpenCourseWare, although there were a few areas that overlapped. I discussed the differences between the two projects using the framework of the four purposes, suggested in chapter two, as well as by conceptualizing MIT OpenCourseWare as a norm, and as a policy innovation.
I then showed how the Top-Level Courses Project has been fundamentally misunderstood in the West as a direct continuation of the MIT model, and used theories from policy borrowing, and case studies from other Asian countries, to show how this could have happened. Finally, in the conclusion I propose that the history of Chinese higher education discussed in chapter two has led to a model of course development that is fundamentally different from the North American model, as a reason why this project could probably not be transferred to a North American university, but also suggest that this might be changing.