Teaching China Humanities Online: A Harvard Graduate Student’s Experience

Ted Hui, Ph.D. candidate in Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, describes his experience creating an online course with HarvardX. ChinaX’s latest online course, “China Humanities: The Individual in Chinese Culture” is open for enrollment from October 31, 2017 to March 1, 2018.

Watch the course trailer for “China Humanities: The Individual in Chinese Culture” | HarvardX on edX

“Welcome to China Humanities, a ChinaX course.”

“Sorry to cut you off. When you start, pause, look into the camera, and then start.”

“Sure… Welcome to China Humanities, a ChinaX course.”

That’s how it began… Before joining the HarvardX team, I never imagined witnessing the whole production process of an online course, not to mention producing one. After I first viewed one of the ChinaX course trailers, I could never have guessed how much time and effort had been put into the production of this video. A one-minute clip may look very simple on the surface, but the pre-production involved is inextricable. Numerous takes are filmed in order to get the best shot. Copyrightable materials are gathered to be edited into the film. Illustrations, animations and assessments are embedded to ensure effective instructional delivery.

The HarvardX film crew sets up a filming studio in the Harvard Yenching Library with professors Xiaofei Tian, Peter Bol, Michael Puett, Wai-yee Li, and Stephen Owen. Photo: ChinaX

I joined the HarvardX team in October 2016 to help with the development of the China Humanities: The Individual in Chinese Culture course. This course follows Professors Peter Bol and William Kirby’s original 10-part online series called ChinaX, a course on China’s cultural, economic, and political transformation that engaged over 50,000 learners worldwide, and lasted over 18 months in its first iteration. Professor David Wang also joined the ChinaX team to create the ChinaX Book Club, a private 8-week online course which explored the dynamics of contemporary China featuring five world-renowned Chinese authors.

A one-minute clip may look very simple on the surface, but the pre-production involved is inextricable.

As a graduate student, I had been an on campus Teaching Fellow, and I was more familiar with how to give instructions in a traditional face-to-face classroom. To create an online course was a new challenge for me. On the one hand, I had more flexibility to design different activities and bring in diverse materials than a traditional classroom. On the other hand, I had to figure out the most effective way of conveying a learning objective to an audience with varied backgrounds. I am very lucky to have a team of experts guiding me through this process. Every week, our ChinaX team would meet and brainstorm new ideas, processes and learning elements for the course. Video editors, copyright lawyers and instructional designers helped and coached me in the content creation process.

From left to right: Xiaofei Tian, Eugene Wang, Peter Bol, Michael Puett, Waiyee Li, and Stephen Owen gather to film for the online “China Humanities” course with HarvardX. Photo: ChinaX

Participating in the production of this online course allowed me to work closely with many faculty members. While each professor provided us with copious thought-provoking materials, ideas and learning objectives, we tailored the content to optimize the learning experience to anyone who has access to the Internet. The way the paintings and artifacts comes to life in the HarvardX interface strikes me with a sense of wonder. For people visiting Harvard, they may have a chance to look at the objects and paintings in person. Now, thanks to the help of Harvard Art Museums and their digital imaging, we can allow anyone around the world to do just that. Moreover, learners can use an image viewer called Mirador, which HarvardX helped develop, to see details that might otherwise be hidden behind the glass case.

Now, thanks to the help of Harvard Art Museums and their digital imaging, we can allow anyone around the world to do just that.

When I look back at this year, the most memorable part of this course creation is the roundtable section in which all six faculty members, namely Peter Bol, Wai-yee Li, Stephen Owen, Michael Puett, Eugene Wang, and Xiaofei Tian, joined together to share their views on the Chinese Humanities. There is rarely any platform for our faculty members to have such a deep and interdisciplinary conversation. With the help of Harvard Yenching Library, along with many HarvardX staff, an intriguing discussion was made possible. Each of the professors attempted to conceptualize the Chinese humanities with a different set of materials and perspectives, all around a common theme. It is thought provoking to see how they challenged one another while sharing certain common observations in Chinese culture.

After months of discussions, writing, filming and editing, this course is ready to launch on October 31, 2017. I hope you enjoy the course, and I am looking forward to learning with all of you around the world.

The HarvardX film crew readies the lighting to start filming. Photo: ChinaX

Ted Hui is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, where his research focuses on late imperial Chinese literature, with a broad interest in the expression of grief and trauma.

China Humanities: The Individual in Chinese Culture is open for enrollment from October 31, 2017 to March 1, 2018.