6 minute read  written by  . Published on October 16, 2016

According to the NYTimes, China, not Silicon Valley, is at the cutting edge in mobile tech. Companies like Facebook are looking at China’s WeChat for features to build into their Messenger app, not the other way around.

Could this be true for MOOCs, too? Can western MOOC providers learn something from their Chinese counterparts?

With over five million registered students, XuetangX is one of the world’s top five MOOC providers. If you take a quick look at its homepage, you will realize that it doesn’t look like any other MOOC platform out there.

XuetangX

XuetangX boasts a number of features for both students and universities that are not found in other MOOC platforms. To learn more about these unique Xuetangx features, Class Central interviewed Fenghua Nie, who is XuetangX’s chairman of the Board of Directors. He’s also Deputy Secretary-General of Tsinghua University.

XuetangX is not that well known outside of China. Could you tell us a bit about the history of XuetangX?

XuetangX was launched on October 10, 2013, and it is the first Chinese MOOC platform. It was initiated by Tsinghua University and the platform of MOE Research Center for Online Education (www.rcoe.edu.cn), and it’s for communication and the application of research in the field of online education.

XuetangX is run by MOOC-CN Information Technology (Beijing) Co, Ltd., which is invested in by Tsinghua Holdings Co, Ltd.

Where does the name “Xuetang” come from?

Tsinghua Xuetang
Tsinghua Xuetang. By Jucember (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tsinghua Xuetang is one of the landmarks of Tsinghua University. Xuetang means school, or a place for teaching. The construction of Tsinghua Xuetang was completed in 1916. It was one of the main buildings of this school in its early life. The name of “Xuetang” represents Tsinghua, implying that the same quality level of courses and educational resources are provided at XuetangX as they are at Tsinghua University.

How many courses are being offered on XuetangX and by whom? How many students have registered for them?

About 400 courses are offered on the XuetangX platform. One hundred and thirty-three Tsinghua courses are unique courses at XuetangX; another 63 Tsinghua courses are currently in production and are expected to be launched in 2017.  About 30 courses are licensed from edX and hosted on XuetangX.

There are over five million registered users, and 6.2 million enrollments.

XuetangX courses
Most popular XuetangX MOOCs.

How big is the XuetangX team? 

The XuetangX team now has about 130 employees. The technical team represents half of those, and they focus on platform development and operation. The team will grow to 200 people by the end of 2016.

xuetangx team

I understand that XuetangX is built upon Open edX. What modifications have you made to Open edX?

We have done a lot of modification on the Open edX base. It could be summarized in three perspectives.

Platform modification

  • We restructured the mechanism of course grouping and presence, such that courses could be grouped and presented by major;
  • we developed a self-paced mode, which was just launched from the start of September this year;
  • we developed a “visualization and editing course” mode, which makes it easier for professors to edit the course; and
  • we developed a website content management system, which offers more formats for information publishing and promotion.

Terminal app development

There is an app for Android, iSO, iPad, and smart TV.

Data Analysis

The course search engine and course recommendation system are both highly developed. The users’ learning data is presented in different perspectives for the professor to monitor the course operation and make adjustments as necessary.

edX CEO Anant Agarwal congratulates Xuetangx Third Anniversary

Why did you decide to build a community section at XuetangX?

The community is to provide a space for users to exchange their learning experiences and notes, and to express their feelings and suggestions. Information can be published to the community, and also it’s a good access point to get users’ feedback and suggestions. Our expectation is that by providing such a space for interaction we will enhance the user’s learning experience.

The most popular post got 813,050 replies.

What is Xuetangxsay? ( i.e. http://www.xuetangx.com/event/xuetangxsay )

Xuetangxsay is a XuetangX channel providing self-produced content. The content is typically short videos focusing on a specific knowledge or topic, presented with an interview and content editing. The aim is to inspire the user’s interest in learning and exploring, and to enhance the activity levels we see on XuetangX.

Xuetangxsay video: Money or Happiness, How to choose your caree?

Can students earn credits by taking courses on XuetangX?

Yes, XuetangX partner universities recognize courses hosted at XuetangX as credential courses. There are 42 courses hosted as credential courses at XuetangX in the 2016 autumn semester, and our partner universities are flexible in that they recommend these courses as elective courses to their students. The total accumulated enrollments into the credentialed courses numbers 24,000.

I noticed that students can login into XuetangXX with a school id. What benefits do students get?

If our partner universities recognize Xuetang courses as credential courses, they get data reports, which are very helpful for supervising students’ online learning performance.

Universities provide the student IDs, and then XuetangX processes the registration and course assignment for the students, who each use their individual student ID to land at XuetangX and learn the course. The data report recording students’ learning data and grade would be provided to universities as requested.

Are professors able to re-use content hosted on XuentagX?

XuetangX provides a SPOC platform service to our partner universities. Building a locally hosted SPOC platform or VPC (virtual private cloud) platform is optional. The courses could be loaded into the SPOC platform, so university professors have the flexibility to re-use content. Our Rain Classroom also provides the function to re-use course content, such as inserting a specific course video into the pre-learning content and promoting it to students.

What is XuetangX cloud ( http://www.xuetangx.com/cloud )?

XuetangX Cloud is one of our key products and services to universities. XuetangX offers to build the VPC platform for universities who have requested a SPOC platform. The core function of a VPC platform is the same as that of the XuetangX main site. That is, to offer the course building function for teachers, offer the course management function for administrators, and offer course learning for students. Also the courses at xuetangx.com could be loaded to the VPC platform. Comparing a SPOC platform with universities’ own technology resources, it’s more time — and cost — effective to use our XuetangX cloud service. XuetangX course resources are the added value for universities.

Do you have any future plans for China / XuetangX to integrate offline / online education?

XuetangX plans to launch a MicroDegree program, which will integrate university courses, industry-oriented courses developed by industry leading companies, and on-hand projects. The learners are expected to master a subject by joining the MicroDegree program, learning the specifically designed series courses and earning a professional certificate of achievement. The learners who successfully complete the program will get a job recommendation for renowned companies. This project is in design and we will have more concrete information to share in two months.

What is Rain Classroom ( http://ykt.io/ )?

It is essential to instantaneously, objectively, and comprehensively reflect on the teaching situation before us for teachers. This is the central motivation behind Rain Classroom.

We want to take the advantages of online teaching and in-person teaching, and merge them. We want to connect, make an impact, and serve, and do it before class, in class, and after class — in every aspect.

You can get a detailed introduction of Rain Classroom by watching the video found here.

Rain Classroom (雨课堂) from Tsinghua University

  • http://therhetoricofthejavaman.blogspot.ca/ Claude Coulombe

    Congratulations to our Chinese friends and the people behind the XuetangX initiative! Thank you for your invaluable contributions to the open source platform Open edX. Looking forward to contribute on our side too.

  • Marina Santos

    The website of MOOC is in Chinese Language.Is it possible to use it in English too?

    • https://www.facebook.com/david.lloydjones.391 David Lloyd-Jones

      They have cleverly translated the whole thing into English. The English for “XuetangX,” for instance, is “MIT.”

      北大 is “Harvard,” and you will find all sorts of other clever translations as well.

      🙂

  • Lesley Lai

    The low quality of the courses there renders this site useless. However, people only understand mandarin do not have many choices.