Figure1Pipeline development of the Elaborate Course

Campus level courses are organized and implemented by individual universities, based on their course development plans and the courses that are traditionally highly ranked internally. From courses that have already developed good materials, have distinguishing features, and can play an inspirational role for other teachers, the university administration will choose a certain number of courses, and invest in their further development. 

{中国远程教育2009-2} recounts how the MoE is asking all universities to increase their financial and policy support for the Top-Level Courses project. They will all have to submit a report about the construction and sharing of Top-Level courses, including “updating and keeping the resources available. students use and feedback. support from the school. the open sharing situation of the resource. amount of resources spent on developing the course, how much the university is spending on supporting development economically and organizationally.” 


3 phases: construct, apply and use. We first make sure the courses are high quality before we promote them to the application, usually it’s courses with a long history of development. We also think about whether it’s strong enough to win in the provincial or national competition. Then we gradually improve the course. This is useful whether we apply or not. Then we let the courses be selected as university-level TLCP.

One strength of our school’s approach is that we have a “pre-application” process. All 20 departments in the university can propose courses, and these courses all get a small amount of money for development. We work on developing these courses for 1-2 months, and after that, we create an expert committee composed of internal and external experts that begin evaluating the courses, mainly based on the internet material. Experts from other good universities in the region. 

The internal campus commitee discusses the strenghts and weaknesses of each course, especially where there is a difference in opinion with the external experts. The best courses are proposed as provincial and national courses. The teachers who have already had a course accepted as provincial or national TLCP also contribute to share their experiences of the process. 

The courses that are selected for this internal process are courses that are already impressive, many have gone through a period of ten years of development. But their online material has to be developed to reflect the class well, etc.

We also listen in on classes. Students evaluate teaching materials. We evaluate teaching effectiveness, made up of several components: students evaluating the teaching materials, then we have a supervisory committee made up of very experienced and retired teachers, go listen to classes, then peer-review by teachers at the school, who listen on classes. The academic affairs office very seldom get directly involved in evaluation, we trust the results from experts. We just coordinate. We take all this into account when deciding which courses to be made university TLCP. 


Here the teachers and courses are already very good, so we don’t have to do too much work to improve them. The professors have strong moral values, and would work hard on improving their courses, even without this competition. However, it can work well to create some internal competition between colleagues. 

Most courses were already excellent courses, and were not developed especially for the Top-Level Courses Project. 

There is a limited quota of courses that can be applied for, and each professor can only apply for one course. It’s usually courses that are beloved by students, if the colleagues have high opinions of the course, and the department head gives the go ahead, the course can be put forward. 

Lanzhou case study

After the province puts out the call for TLCP applications, the university begins by calling a meeting with all the heads of departments, to ask them to identify top courses that had potential to become a TLCP. They then put down a teaching committee to identify basic and specialized courses that were relevant, and brought the teachers of those courses together with personell from the computer department to discuss how online teaching materials could be constructed. The school decided to provide some funding to construct the initial courses (when applying for TLCP status, you already have to have a basic site available for review).

The main guiding philosophy was that the construction of TLCP would support the improvement of quality of all the courses at the school. Ideally, the courses that could have the most impact on the entire department would be selected. The university administration also underlined that the idea was not to simply recycle existing courses online, but rather to think through the design, and update the teaching methodology and content. There is a desire to unite research and teaching, in order to have the courses embody the most cutting-edge research in the relevant area.

The responsible teacher for the course will determine the teaching team (usually including a number of lecturers, course designers and educational technologists), and lead the development of the course, based on the campus course development process (which usually borrows from the national level and provincial level TLCP procedures). Development, evaluation and sharing of the course happens through an online platform, which must be developed for each course. Depending on the level of technical support available, this may be in form of a Content Management System (CMS), or a simpler individual course homepage. Digitization and organization of course materials will lead to a course platform containing rich course modules, such as course introduction, introduction to teaching team, course outline and calendar, lecture material (like PowerPoint presentations), lecture recordings, experiments, reference material and course evaluation. 

When the course development is complete, the university usually organizes an online blind peer-review of the course, and based on this, determines whether to award the campus level TLCP designation. 


When evaluating, there is a standard. Because the number is so high, we mostly evaluate using the website, but we’re not evaluating their web resources, but their teaching. Look at the documents, the teaching plan, etc. Questions. Then recordings. Student grades and evaluations, experts evaluations. 

4: documents, educational philosophy, educational content (PPT etc - not important how it’s designed, but gives us an idea about how up-to-date the contents of the course is)

Want basic courses, frequently offered, with high enrollment.


Based on the submissions, a small committee of course construction leaders was established. In the end, the courses completed were submitted to an external committee of 20 experts, who began by examining all the online materials, and concluded by visiting the campus and listening in on classes. This resulted in 9 courses being selected as provincial-level TLCP. The stated goal of the university is for at least 2-3 of these courses to eventually reach national-level TLCP status.

This announcement is made public, and anyone can both visit the course website, as well as provide feedback. If there are no strong objections to the course during this period, the decision will be made to suggest the course for a higher level TLCP designation (provincial level, and then national level). 

The next step is the provincial level. The provincial educational government is responsible for planning the distribution of provincial level TLCP based on the provincial plan for educational development and course development. Based on this, the provincial government will ensure the completion of the provincial level TLCP project, as well as the suggestion of courses for the national level TLCP selection. The courses that enter the provincial level TLCP selection process must already have been designated as campus-level TLCP courses. The province then organizes an online blind peer-review by subject specialists, based on provincial evaluation criteria which may differ by province. The courses selected are made public, and awarded the provincial level designation, as well as a sum of money to support the further development of the courses.

The final step is the national level TLCP, organized by the national Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education is the highest level organization responsible for the organization and management of the TLCP project, organizing the selection of different types of TLCP (undergraduate courses, vocational courses and online courses), providing guidance around the entire process of developing and evaluating courses, specifying the three levels of TLCP, and supervising the annual evaluation and selection of courses at all levels. The selection of national level courses is similar to the campus-level and provincial level process, however the requirements for each indicator (course quality, course evaluation management, financial support, quality control, etc) are much stricter.

From the description above, we can see that the TLCP courses are awarded different levels of designations (which to a certain extent reflect their level of maturity). The financial support arrives after the course has already been developed, which means that the university first has to use its own money to invest in course development, before the course can receive additional support when selected to higher levels. This is congruent with the original intent of the TLCP program, which was to stimulate universities to invest more in course development.

The three levels of TLCP selection follow similar processes, and in practice, to improve the linkages between the three levels, most campus-level and provincial level selections employ the same standards as the national TLCP selection. This also serves to raise the quality of courses at all levels. In addition, since the entire process of development, sharing, and peer-review of TLCP happens through the Internet, the educational technology demands are quite high. The focus on digitization of resources, teaching and learning in online settings, communication between students and teachers, generative assessments, etc., all help promoting the integration of information technology and teaching and learning in higher education.


We kept running these competitions until 2005, then we wanted to focus more on TLCP, so we stopped. We made a plan for how many TLCP we want to achieve. We want at least 30%. Currently we have 3000 courses, so 7-800 should be TLCP, this is a big focus for us. It already encompasses the requirements for excellent courses, and the requirements for TLCP are higher. 

Right now we are spending a lot of energy to try to put up a recording of every lecture from each course, not just a representative one, that takes a lot of time. Right now 124 TLCP.

Our goal is to get 500 courses between 2012 and 2015. To get to 30% of our courses, we have to get to 700. We are focusing on campus-based courses. A new goal: all obligatory major courses should be uni-level TLCP .


We control TLCP courses each year, to see if they have updated the material. All heads of departments participate, we want to see if the courses reflect the most up-to-date teaching situation, and the most updated findings in the field. All heads of depts sit around a table, open one course after another, check how much has been updated, if it hasn’t been updated enough, they have to explain why.