Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chinese Univerity e-Learning

Stian Håklev's "The Chinese Top Level Courses Project" (University of Toronto, 2010) provides an interesting overview of the differences between US and Chinese approaches to university education and the use of e-learning. Håklev's thesis is that while Chinese universities are using the same on-line tools (particularly MIT's OpenCourseWare) and terminology, there are differences in approach and goals. Håklev argues that the Chinese university system is still influenced by a centralist model imported from the Soviet Union in the 1950s. One point I found of interest was that merit-based entrance exams were abolished during the Cultural Revolution, which has some echoes in MOOCs of today.

While the Chinese Top Level Course Project was a national one, it appears that the process was still university based. That is while team teaching was emphasised, it was assumed that the courses were at individual institutions. The process, as described, does not seem to be so much about sharing educational materials, but recognising quality (much as publication does for research).

The website "TopLevel Course in Chinese" lists educational materials from and for Chinese universities. There is a page with a few non-Chinese sources of open courses listed. Interestingly the only Australian instution listed is University of Southern Queensland.

Håklev mentions the "Open University of China", which like the UK Open University has its origins in postal and TV based distance education. It is a member of the Asian Association of Open Universities and the International Council of Distance Education.

Håklev compares  MIT's OpenCourseWare with the Chinese TopLevel Courses under two categories:

  1. Transformation:: OpenCourseWare used a model where the teaching staff handed their exiting educational materials to specialists who made minimal checks and changes to put it on-line. In comparison, Håklev argues that the Chinese TopLevel courses emphasise the teaching staff specially preparing material for the on-line format. This has also been used at ANU as a reason for the production of edX MOOCs: to introduce staff to better course production techniques.
  2.  Sharing:  As noted previously the  and Chinese TopLevel are providing materials for use by teachers in preparing courses, usually in traditional ace-to-face format. These are not e-learning courses for direct student use. Håklev points oth that MIT OpenCourseWare mostly uses a open content Creative Commons licence, making re-use simpler. 

Håklev traces the idea of open course content back to Richard Stallman's free software movement, although there will have been open educational projects previously. Stallman told me on more than one occasion how he did not like the use of the term "open" and his use of the term "free" did not imply that use was without a cost. MIT's OpenCourseWare was not intended to create on-line courses, but rather be a source of materials for educators to use in their courses. The materials were therefore not complete packaged courses, but rather the syllabus, lecture notes, assignments and some exams. Håklev uses the term "direct use" for materials which the student can use directly, in contrast to materials which a teacher uses to prepare a course.

Håklev provdes a valuable overview of world initiatives in open education. This goes beyond US and UK examples usually cited and includes India and Indonesian initiatives.

Håklev concludes with two metaphors for the education process:
  1. Professor as an artist: The professor produces a course as their individual work of art. This is the practice in the USA, UK and Germany.
  2. Professor as an artisan: The professor produces a course as part of process which others in their discicip0line could do. This is the practice in China, France and in distance education universities.

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