Yu Xinjie, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, Tsinghua University
With the deepening of new higher education reform in China, Ministry of Education (MOE) proposed recently the first-rate Double 10,000 Courses Plan, i.e. building 10,000 state- and provincial-level first-rate courses respectively. What are the first-rate courses? Different definitions may be given for that. I would like to talk about the two bounds in first-rate courses based on my experience on construction of the circuit principle in Tsinghua University, that is, the two bounds: upper bound and lower bound of teaching quality and learning effectiveness.
The circuit principle, the first core course required for undergraduate students in the electrical majors, has a vast and wide range of important contents. The THU’s circuit principle is the national top-quality course, the national top-quality resource sharing course and the national top-quality open online course. Since 2006, the teaching reform achievements of this course won the first and second prizes of Beijing municipal teaching achievements, and a special prize, two first prizes and a second prize of THU teaching achievements, as well as a first prize of THU best teaching materials, and two first prizes of THU outstanding teaching software. The course teaching group was honored with the THU excellent collective four times. Two of main instructors were awarded the Beijing top teachers award, three were granted the Baosteel Excellent Teacher Award, one won the THU Centennium Teaching Achievement Award, and three were hailed the title of My Favorite Teachers of “Classical Candlelight”.
In my opinion, the first-rate course must have the lower bound of teaching quality and learning effectiveness by crucial measures, as well as the upper bounds by crucial breakthroughs.
I. Sticking to bottom lines to make THU’s circuit principle a significant course that students revere.
In the minds of THU students, the circuit principle is always a challenging course that students are required to take a long time and energy to learn, and they can harvest most from the course. We could make it because the teaching group always stuck to the bottom lines for many years in such links as teachers’ selection, use, teaching and papers making. As a result, our course quality and students’ learning effectiveness are guaranteed.
In the aspect of selecting and training young teachers, we adhered to the three principles of diversified discipline background, pure teaching willingness, and standardized teaching and training. The follow-up courses for the circuit principle involve many other electrical majors including electrical engineering, electronics, automation and computer. Therefore, the teaching group actively invited young teachers with high scientific research level to join the group from multiple research directions. When communicating with interested teachers, the teaching group emphasized that teachers were not to "earn work points" in teaching the course of circuit principle, but should make their own contribution to the content construction and teaching reform of this course by combining their own discipline and scientific research characteristics. In terms of teachers' teaching skills training, new teachers were required to complete the training process from listening the whole course, correcting homework, teaching exercise classes and part of large classes, carrying out whole course teaching under the guidance of expert teachers, to teaching independent whole courses (it takes 1-2 years to complete), so as to ensure that the teaching quality of multiple parallel classes of circuit principle is always at a high level. Under the guidance of the above three principles, the young teachers in the teaching group have high scientific research level and strong teaching ability. One teacher was supported by the NSFC Excellent Youth Project, two won the first prize of Beijing young teachers teaching competition, and three got the excellent teaching award of Tsinghua University.
In the aspect of course teaching, and examination paper setting and marking, the following three principles were adhered to: every teacher had the whole-process teaching experience, remade papers in mid-term and final examinations each semester, and marked papers by a streamlined way. The course of circuit principle was mainly opened to freshmen in the spring semester. Students were generally easy to learn and had high expectations for the effects of classroom teaching. Therefore, the teaching group required each teacher to teach 64 class hours in the whole process without changing the course, so as to guarantee the continuous and smooth teaching process. The midterm and final examination papers were an important link to test students' learning effectiveness. Each semester, the teaching group re-made papers for all the midterm and final examinations. Before each examination, the person in charge of the course assigned the paper-making assignment to the teachers of this semester. After receiving the teacher's newly prepared papers, the person in charge made overall consideration, and modified and adjusted to form the first drafts of papers. After that, two teachers conducted a complete trial for the papers and recorded the paper-completing time to measure the quantity and difficulty of the test paper. After 1-2 teaching group meetings, the final draft of the test paper was formed. This kind of paper-setting mode eliminated the influence of some students obtaining the previous exam questions through different channels on the fairness of the examination, and the test paper scores could truly reflect the students' mastery of knowledge. In addition, the teaching group always required all teachers to mark the mid and final examination papers by a flow process in a semester, ensuring the consistency of the marking standards. These measures effectively guaranteed the fairness of the examination and the credibility of the results, as well as the quality of the circuit principle.
I believe that value shaping is the most important for talent cultivation in a trinity of value building, ability training and knowledge imparting. In the teaching of basic courses, the value building not only needs to be reflected in the selection of teaching contents and the implementation of teaching method, but also requires teachers to put in a lot of time and energy to carry out solid teaching groundwork through their own attitude of reverence for teaching and academic researches, with the practical words and deeds of moral cultivation. By this way, students can form correct values and learning views in the process of listening and learning, so as to achieve the reverence for courses and learning.
II. Challenging a new height bravely to make THU's circuit principle a Golden Course recognized by students and teachers at home and abroad.
In order to build a world-class university, Tsinghua University is bound to provide world-class higher education. How to embody the world-class school in the teaching process of basic courses? This is not an easy question to answer because most of basic concepts and analysis methods in basic science and engineering courses such as circuit principle were created and invented by foreign scientists and engineers. In recent years, our teaching group had frequent communications with peers at home and abroad, and had the courage to innovate in updating teaching content, making and operating MOOCS, implementing flipped classroom teaching method, and applying rain classroom tools. All this effectively improved our teaching quality and influence of the circuit principle at home and abroad.
In terms of teaching contents, we not only kept pace with international progress, but also highlighted China's contribution. The circuit principle teaching group maintained communication with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Purdue University of the United States, and used the modern circuit components such as MOSFET and operational amplifier as the basic teaching contents in the teaching process. In addition, the group emphasized the Tsinghua teaching style and highlights China's contribution in the second-order dynamic circuit analysis method, power system and other teaching contents, so that students could not only resonate with the world's first-class universities, but also experienced and appreciated China's contribution to the world's electrical engineering.
In terms of teaching means, we made use of such cutting-edge educational resources and teaching tools as MOOCS and rain classrooms to impart knowledge with higher quality in the era of mobile Internet. The teaching group had realized for a long time that the college students born after 1995 and 2000 are aborigines of the mobile Internet, and they are more inclined to acquire knowledge and information in the form of fragmentation in comparison to in-depth study of paper textbooks. Based on this, the teaching group designed, produced and operated Tsinghua's first (and China's first) circuit principle MOOCS in 2013. So far, it has attracted more than 200,000 students from 158 countries and regions around the world. On this basis, the teaching group was the first to carry out the flipped classroom teaching reform by fully applying the "rain classroom" tool in large-scale classes, and applied high-quality online education resources in university practical classrooms, which was highly praised by students and peers at home and abroad. This case had been repeatedly cited in teacher training of Oxford University, Imperial College London and University of Melbourne. In addition to applying cutting-edge tools to enhance classroom attractiveness, the teaching group also applied for and was approved to carry out an NSFC project (Code: F0701): Improve Teaching Quality by Learning Analysis: Formative Evaluation and Dynamic Student Portraits based on Big Data", which integrated education and information technology and was newly established in 2018. In this project, educational big data of students' learning behavior and learning effectiveness were employed to analyze teaching effects, and help teachers change their classroom teaching processes gradually from “transferring scientific knowledge in the form of art" to "enhancing classroom insights by data analysis to better transfer scientific knowledge in the form of art".
In terms of teaching methods, the flipped classroom teaching method was applied in the precondition of high class quality according to the different needs of students, to improve the course challenge, strengthen the interaction between teachers and students, and provide learning flexibility for students. I realized very early that different students have different expectations for the course of circuit principle. First-rate class courses should satisfy the different needs of students on the premise of ensuring course quality and learning effectiveness. Therefore, on the premise that all students in teaching classes were required to take part in the mid and final examinations with the same paper, the teaching group had set up the different modes of flipped classrooms by using the latest teaching methods and means. Students could choose the modes according to their expectations and possible involvement in learning effectiveness. Mode A, an enhanced version, was intended to realize the complete flipped classroom in small capacity class through students' extra-curricular investment of more time, and carry out full discussion between teachers and students and among students in the classroom, so as to significantly improve learning effectiveness and innovation ability. Mode B, an interactive version, hoped that through a small amount of extra-curricular time investment of students, teachers could obtain students' feedback in real time and adjust the teaching progress in time, so as to realize knowledge transfer with high quality. Mode C, a mini version, expected that students could complete their learning mainly in a MOOC platform, and teachers could organize face-to-face discussion 6-8 times each semester; its purpose was to provide students with flexible learning. These three models well integrated MOOC resources, flipped classroom teaching method and rain classroom tools to different degrees. On the premise of ensuring the quality of the course, they gave students a variety of choices to meet their different learning needs, so as to realize individualized teaching.
After the reform of teaching contents, methods and means mentioned above, the following standards of first-class courses could be reached: (1) Good integration of the cultivations of students' knowledge and ability was realized at the advanced education level; (2) In the aspect of innovation, the frontier progress of the disciplines was reflected in the teaching content, and the innovative consciousness and ability of the students were cultivated at the same time; (3) Higher requirements were proposed for the students in the aspect of challenge, so as to help the students obtain greater learning effectiveness.
I believe that both course quality and learning effectiveness are the most key elements of the first-class courses. Making the basic course a first-rate course, we must hold on to the bottom line in teacher training and teaching discipline, firmly hold out the lower bounds of course quality and learning effectiveness, and at the same time, we should be brave in innovation of teaching content, and teaching methods and means, and constantly break through the upper bound of course quality and learning effectiveness.
Only by enhancing the basic teaching can we achieve stable and long-term development, and only by advancing with the times can we take the lead in teaching.
Reprinted from the journal of China University Teaching (WeChat Official Account)