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NUS online courses to boost NS men’s academic journey

11 Sep 2013

A video clip on introductory biology will be incorporated in the online module course

Lecturers involved in the online modules: (from left) Dr Kanokorn Photinon (Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), Assoc Prof John Holbo (Department of Philosophy), Assoc Prof Chung and Ms Tan
Having to serve National Service for two years means that Singapore males lag behind their female peers in education and career. NUS has launched a programme to help address this issue – an online pilot that gives returning National Servicemen (NS men) who have gained admission to the University a head  start to earn academic credits before they matriculate as undergraduates.

Adopting a technology-enhanced teaching format that combines classroom education with a massive open online course (MOOC), eight modules from four faculties covering computing, science, engineering and social sciences will be offered exclusively for the NS men. The online components comprise lecture video snippets, discussions, homework, quizzes and exercises.

NUS Provost and Deputy President (Academic Affairs) Professor Tan Eng Chye said that some 2,600 NS men matriculating next August at the University are eligible for the scheme. The programme will help ease them into studies at a more comfortable pace, with half a year to complete the course in contrast to the 15 weeks in a normal school semester.

To kick off in January 2014, the first three months of the course will be online, hosted on the Coursera platform. NUS is the first Singapore university partner for the popular MOOC provider. The next three months will require the candidates to attend classes to interact with lecturers and other students. The weekly or fortnightly on-campus lessons will last up to two hours, allowing them to have discussions, tutorials, laboratory work and guided activities.

The students will be tested at the end of the course and the results can be counted towards their academic credits when they enrol as undergraduates.

Besides the eight modules, three general modules are extended to all existing NUS students. A writing course will be available this month, while the other two in engineering and philosophy will commence next January.

Lecturers participating in the programme admitted that they faced a different set of challenges preparing for their modules online. One was the lack of feedback from a live audience so they had to anticipate the responses and plan accordingly, said Associate Professor Chung Keng Yeow from the Department of Physics.

Ms Susan Tan, Deputy Director at the NUS Centre for English Language and Communication, agreed that planning played a very major role as the short video clips had to be succinct and focused in their objectives. She also highlighted that voice is an important part of delivery as the instructor no longer has a physical presence to capture the students’ attention.

However, all the lecturers involved fully embraced the tremendous potential of using MOOC to reach out to a wide audience as well as enhancing the learning experience.

Prof Tan noted that while the MOOC platform cannot replicate the campus experience or replace the face-to-face interactions with instructors or classmates, he expected the introduction of MOOC modules to provide “more engaging face-to-face sessions that focus on higher order skills and deeper engagement.” He said that if the response is positive, the programme will be finetuned for other students and more faculties will be included.