Local unis in step with teaching in changing times

The National University of Singapore campus.
The National University of Singapore campus.PHOTO: ST FILE

They are providing new degree options, making more use of technology in classrooms

Universities that offer established degree courses - such as law, medicine and engineering - review them constantly to keep them relevant and attractive.

In Singapore's changing higher education landscape, a greater variety of degree options has been offered in the past few years. This is to cater to a wider range of interests among students looking to further their education.

Universities contacted said adjustments made to their established degree offerings include strengthening alumni networks, boosting opportunities for global exposure, attracting professors from top institutions and tapping on technology and progressive teaching methods.

The two existing law schools - at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) - for instance, already offer sought-after law degrees. Law courses typically take in top A-level students, or polytechnic graduates with perfect or near-perfect grade point averages.

CONSTANTLY INNOVATING

In an age dominated by technology and social media, we have to think beyond the traditional instructional methods to cater to the new generation of learners.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR TAN SWEE LIANG, director at Singapore Management University's Centre for Teaching Excellence.

But next year, another tertiary institution, SIM University (UniSIM), will start a law school here.

The NUS law faculty, widely regarded as Asia's leader, has close to 60 years of history.

Its dean, Professor Simon Chesterman, said the network students build at his school will hold them in good stead throughout their legal careers. "For them, the friends and mentors they work with at law school will go on to be their colleagues," he said.

The SMU School of Law, which took in its first batch of students in 2007, may not have as much history as NUS. To attract students and adapt to their learning styles today, it uses creative tools, such as animation and games, in the classrooms.

For a course on criminal law, for instance, an animation tool was developed to re-enact a real murder case in Singapore. At certain points during the animation, questions pertaining to the case are displayed and students are prompted to visit a forum to discuss relevant concepts.

The animation, which tracks students' learning progress via the completed scenes, requires them to review their course materials during and outside class.

SPANNING ACADEMIC BOUNDARIES

In the new global workplace, many problems require interdisciplinary solutions. Today's work challenges go beyond any single field.

PROFESSOR KAM CHAN HIN, deputy provost for education at Nanyang Technological University.

Associate Professor Tan Swee Liang, director at SMU's Centre for Teaching Excellence, said: "In an age dominated by technology and social media, we have to think beyond the traditional instructional methods to cater to the new generation of learners.

"For the law discipline, these tools can help to demystify complex contexts and make it easy for students to comprehend them, and make learning engaging and interactive."

UniSIM said its School of Law will also tap on technology, by using a blended learning approach, which includes e-learning as well as classes conducted in the evenings and weekends.

In medicine, another field of study leading to a degree, students can now turn to Singapore's latest medical institution, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

This school, which opened its doors in 2013, was set up by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Imperial College London, which is ranked highly for its medical degree.

Professor Kam Chan Hin, deputy provost for education at NTU, said students are getting a "rigorous curriculum".

"The learning pedagogy is innovative, with no lectures, and team- based learning," he said.

"Online learning materials, early exposure to patients from year one, and simulation training using actors are all part of the learning."

For decades, the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, started in 1905, was the only medical school for undergraduates here.

Another medical school here, the Duke-NUS Medical School, was established by Duke University in the United States and NUS about 10 years ago to train graduate students.

The Yong Loo Lin school's dean, Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, said it refines the curriculum to keep pace with new healthcare challenges, such as meeting the needs of an ageing population.

The school recently expanded its geriatric medicine module to prepare students to better care for the rising number of older people here.

It has also introduced simulation training that tests and trains medical students to work on realistic clinical situations as a team.

NUS is also revamping its engineering curriculum to get undergraduates excited about the profession and the diverse career paths they can pursue - from research and development to entrepreneurship.

For instance, students will get to take new hands-on modules early in their studies.

Besides training students for chosen fields in engineering, from mechanical to environmental, NUS will open up specialisation tracks for students in research and development, and in the design and innovation aspects of engineering.

At NTU, which counts engineering among its strengths, programmes are also updated to meet the future needs of the workforce.

Increasingly, its courses allow students to pursue areas beyond their core discipline of study. For instance, a popular programme is renaissance engineering, where students study disciplines such as engineering, business and liberal arts.

Prof Kam said: "In the new global workplace, many problems require interdisciplinary solutions. Today's work challenges go beyond any single field."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Local unis in step with teaching in changing times'. Print Edition | Subscribe