In 2019 Zhang Wei, a Chinese big data engineer, received an email newsletter from a Chinese tech influencer, which included a reference to an online course that sounded interesting. The course in question was Full Stack Open, an online course offered by the University of Helsinki and its partners.
The information came at an opportune time. Having realised in his work that he needed to further his expertise in programming, Zhang Wei was looking for related continuing education opportunities. He took the course and was happy with the experience.
“As the year 2020 was approaching, I noticed that an updated version of the course had been released. The update occurred in conjunction with the Chinese New Year celebrations, and I got the idea of translating the course into Chinese, kind of like in honour of the new year,” Zhang Wei says.
No fee and a university as the provider attracted interest
Full stack denotes modern web application development encompassing all parts of programmes and their entire development process. Businesses in the field are keen to hire experts proficient in this area.
According to Zhang, there are plenty of courses for software developers in China, with several companies offering them for a fee. However, the number of comprehensive full stack courses is smaller.
“Full Stack Open also drew my attention because it originated in a university instead of a company, and the alma mater of Linus Torvalds to boot. The content of the course seemed fresh, and its implementation encouraged participants to further develop their personal skills. Lively discussion with other students via Telegram was another element of the course. In China, this kind of dialogue-based learning is not yet that common,” Zhang Wei says.
Zhang Wei, who works as a big data engineer in China, translated the Full Stack Open course into Chinese.
“I’ve recommended the course to both my friends and colleagues. Discussion related to the course has also been ongoing via the WeChat social media platform. Feedback on both the course content and scope has been positive.”
Chinese students now the fourth biggest group completing the course
University Lecturer Matti Luukkainen, course coordinator for Full Stack Open, was made aware of the Chinese translation when Zhang Wei contacted him via the course’s Telegram channel.
“We checked the translated course together with Chinese researchers working at the University of Helsinki, and the contents matched. Translating it was a considerable effort, since the English-language translation alone took some 250 hours to complete. Zhang Wei has done everything entirely on his own and without any compensation, and he is also rapidly translating the new elements added to the course,” Luukkainen says.
The Chinese-language translation was adopted as an official part of the course in May 2020. According to page views, of the roughly 120,000 visitors who have logged in to the course page, approximately 10,000 are Chinese. Now, Chinese students are the fourth biggest group among people who have completed the course.
“I see certain similarities in this current opening up of education with the transition of software to open source platforms in the 1980s. Openness became the dominant model for software development, with the code no longer being in the exclusive possession of a specific party. Now the same is taking place in content production,” Luukkainen says.
New translations in the pipeline
The course is likely to be introduced in other large linguistic areas, as Luukkainen says that volunteers from Brazil, Argentina and Russia who are interested in translating the course have also been in contact.
“In South America in particular, English-language content can be an obstacle. We are looking forward to possible new translations in other languages,” Luukkainen says.
Zhang Wei is also keeping close tabs on the English-language course and updating the Chinese translation.
“Starting something is easy, but letting go is hard! Taking and translating this course has been a wonderful experience,” he says.