Yale-NUS reviewing curriculum

Yale-NUS students also said the workload for some courses was too heavy, with more than 100 pages of weekly reading and assignments that did not amount to much of the overall grade.
Yale-NUS students also said the workload for some courses was too heavy, with more than 100 pages of weekly reading and assignments that did not amount to much of the overall grade.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Marking standards erratic, confusing lectures in some science topics, say students

Yale-NUS College is reviewing its curriculum, amid feedback from students about erratic grades and confusing lectures in some science topics.

It is looking at how to better coordinate the content across different modules taken by undergraduates, three years after its first intake. Such reviews typically take place every five years.

Its president, Professor Pericles Lewis, who announced the review - meant for students in the first two years - last week, explained that the college, a tie-up between Yale and the National University of Singapore (NUS), "wanted to make sure that we're delivering the best possible education, and because this is a relatively new kind of education... we wanted to make sure that it's working".

Eight students The Straits Times spoke to said that, as a whole, they were happy with the curriculum, although some singled out the science component for improvement. This echoed a report submitted this year by the college's student government, which represents the student body's concerns.

Students also said, for instance, that the workload for some courses was too heavy, with more than 100 pages of weekly reading and assignments that did not amount to much of the overall grade.

MAKING IT WORK

We wanted to make sure that we're delivering the best possible education, and because this is a relatively new kind of education... we wanted to make sure that it's working.

YALE-NUS PRESIDENT PERICLES LEWIS, on the curriculum review

The review committee, comprising four faculty members from Yale University in the United States, three from NUS and two from Yale-NUS College, will address such issues in its recommendations in January.

The liberal arts college, the first of its kind here, offers a broad-based education. It has more than 500 students across three batches.

The college's curriculum differs from that in Yale, where there is no prescribed course of study.

Here, for the first two years, students have a common curriculum that straddles the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences.

In the third year, they major in a subject of their interest, such as urban studies or economics.

Said Prof Lewis: "At the end of each year, we look at each module... now we're looking at the relationships between different modules, and how we can develop that."

For instance, students would learn a topic like logic in various subjects such as mathematics, quantitative reasoning and philosophy.

Prof Lewis explained that it would help - if "you know what the student has learnt in an earlier class, you can build on it". To this end, faculty started updating an online portal in August with weekly lesson plans, to keep students and staff in the loop.

Students said that the cross-disciplinary curriculum has been largely satisfactory.

Mr Chris Tee, 23, a third-year literature student, said: "Many of us may not be science majors, but we're still keen on learning about science."

But they also said the science component could be improved. One problem was varying knowledge levels of science. Mr Tee said that there were no pre-requisites for the courses so "some students found it hard, others found it easy".

Some common assignments in a course called Foundations of Science were problematic, said other students. Third-year student Walter Yeo, 23, said: "There was no cross-marking, so some professors gave really high scores and others really low, for what most of us considered the same standard of work."

In one course, Integrated Science, students are intended to learn about physics, chemistry and biology while studying the topic of water.

Ms Maria Ivanenko, 20, a third-year student, said: "There were five professors from different disciplines in the class at one time.

"The idea was to bounce ideas off each other, but it didn't work as there were too many opinions, and it was quite confusing."

In response, Professor Tan Tai Yong, the college's executive vice-president (academic affairs), said it has made "adjustments... to improve the delivery and sequence of various courses".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'Yale-NUS reviewing curriculum'. Print Edition | Subscribe