China's elite universities are joining their Western counterparts in putting their best classes online, raising expectations of a new way of learning.
Under a program sponsored by the Ministry of Education, 20 online courses from 19 institutions, including Peking University and Tsinghua University, went live in early November. According to latest figures, the courses, available for free, have welcomed thousands of students in their first month.
The program's launch follows Shanghai's Fudan University joining forces with web portal Netease to publish its "open courses" online in April. With the Ministry of Education planning to put 1,000 more new courses online in the next five years, educators will be looking closely at the results of the body's initiative one month in. Speaking to students, teachers and experts, there are clearly arguments for and against this brave new digital age for China's universities.
Many expect these courses will open up more opportunities for education for people in and outside of campuses, though some argue that their quality lags behind that of their lecture-hall counterparts.
Qiu Yuxin, a student majoring in economics at Beijing's Communication University of China, has just finished a course in macro-economics from Fudan University, online.
"The professor from Fudan looked into the issues from a different perspective to my tutor. The course has broadened my academic vision and improved the understanding of what I have learned in the real classroom," she says.
Qiu also viewed open courses on history and art topics. She explains, "Through the Internet, learning is not limited to my own campus and about my major. I have access to the teaching of many outstanding professors from various good universities and among them I figure out what I am interested most."