University classrooms in Korea lack discussion

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University classrooms in Korea lack discussion

Oh Soo-young, who attended the University of California, Berkeley, in 2013 as an exchange student, was posed a question by the professor in the first class she attended.

The teacher - who had memorized all the students’ names - then continued to ask questions during the lecture. Whenever the students disagreed with one another, the presentation would shift into a debate.

“At first, I hesitated because I was worried about giving the wrong answer,” the 24-year-old said. “But I got used to the debates after a while.”

After finishing a semester abroad, her classes back in Korea were a marked turnaround from those in the United States. The professors simply read their written lectures, from beginning to end, off an overhead projector screen. And seldom did they pose questions to the class. When they did, they were mostly rhetorical.

This one-sided teaching style is common among Korea’s universities, according to the results of one-on-one interviews conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo and Research & Research.

In the analysis, aimed at 6,800 second-, third- and fourth-year university students from 37 Korean universities, only 12.7 percent said that they received one or more questions per class from the professor.

Opportunities for discussion during class were also scant, and three out of 10 students (28.8 percent) responded that they had never taken part in any type of discussion during the semester.

That figure is in stark contrast with the results of a similar survey this year by the National Survey of Student Engagement, which targets university and college students in the United States, wherein only 2 percent of respondents had never had a discussion in their courses.

The situation outside Korean lecture rooms wasn’t that different either. About one-third, or 34.5 percent, of the students in the survey said they had never received career counseling from their professors. And despite the fact that every university designates students an academic adviser, 32.9 percent had never spoken with them.

More than half (53.8 percent) of the students at Korea University, Seoul National University and Yonsei University - widely considered the country’s most prestigious institutions - said they had never had an advising session with their counselors.

The interview investigation consisted of 137 questions inquiring about students’ experiences and satisfaction with their academic life. In scoring the answers, the JoongAng Ilbo evaluated the university educations offered by 37 universities nationwide.

By the numbers, Chonnam National University; Pohang University of Science and Technology (Postech); and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) ranked highest.

They were closely trailed by Konyang University; Sogang University; Sungkyunkwan University; Sookmyung Women’s University; Ewha Womans University; and Korea University of Technology and Education, which came in second.

Among them, Kaist has pursued innovations to lecture-based classes to promote discussion, while Chonnam National University actively supports interaction between its professors and students.

“Korean universities should reform professor evaluations that are based on number of dissertations and research funds,” said Kim Woo-seung, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Hanyang University. “They should encourage their professors to improve the quality of their lectures and to focus more on educating students.”

Suk Hyeon-jeong, a professor of the department of industrial design at Kaist, films 90-minute video lectures every week. It sometimes takes more than 10 hours if she adds library shots, pictures, subtitles and background music to the recordings, which are filmed in a studio at the university.

Students who watch her video lectures have team-based discussions or report on a prepared subject in the classroom. Professor Suk then visits the classrooms with her teaching assistants and provides answers to the questions raised by her pupils.

A class presented like this at Kaist is categorized as Education 3.0, which requires professors not to give lectures during their classes. There are currently 100 ongoing Education 3.0 classes.

“I feel tired because I feel like I have become both an actor and a director,” Suk said. “But at the same time, students aren’t falling asleep during classes anymore.”

The amount of study time has also increased. The amount of time Kaist students spent studying ranked highest among the 37 universities, at 30.5 hours per week. It also ranked highest for class discussion and participation, taking 99 percent.

Chonnam National University, Postech and Kaist all received top scores based on the excellence in quality of education and the satisfaction assessed by current students. These universities are also attempting to reform one-way lectures and expand communication between professors and students.

“The more professors consult with students and innovate their classes, the more the students will be satisfied with their universities,” said Jung Jong-won, a team leader at Research & Research.

Chonnam National University ranked No. 2 when it came to communication between professors and students as well as on assignment

Moreover, 87 percent of the students in the survey - the highest percentage - said they wished to join the alumni association and donate to it.

One of the university’s strengths is its diverse community activities. Since 2005, the school has led the Aha! Learning Community, a program that supports small group exchanges among professors, between professors and students and between juniors and seniors.

The Yi-Mwot-Go (What Is This?) ? Learning by Teaching program also arranges counseling sessions between freshman and professors every two weeks.

“Because I meet the professor often, I don’t hesitate to ask questions in class,” said Lee Hae-in, 20, a liberal arts student. “The program is really helpful to my study and university life overall.”

Students at Postech rated the services provided by the university highly. The school ranked No. 1 in terms of student satisfaction with health care services, academic administration, counselling services, facilities and scholarships.

The university also leads a Student Mentoring Program in which third- and fourth-year students with excellent academic records serve as tutors for four or five freshmen.

“When I was a freshman, my tutor helped me solve problems not covered in class,” said one student, surnamed Nam, 21, in the department of electricity and electronic engineering. “My tutor taught us in a way that was much more interesting and easy to understand than my high school teachers.”

In addition, one professor is assigned as a resident adviser for students living on a single floor in campus accommodations.

Sogang University, Sungkyunkwan University and Ewha Womans University, which ranked second-highest in the survey, have also been active in promoting the quality of their classes. Sogang University, which ranked fourth among Korean schools for humanities and social sciences, was praised by its students for having an interesting liberal arts curriculum. To maintain this record, the school has held an event each semester since 2013 in which suggestions or ideas for new courses or content can be submitted.

In that time, the university has opened 11 new classes, including one covering 3-D printing design and another titled “Understanding the Modern Middle East.”

Last year’s course, “Free Trade and Social Enterprise,” was proposed by fourth-year business student Park Sung-soo, 24.

“I was so glad to have a course that I needed and also pleased to realize that the university actually wants to communicate with students,” he said.

Sungkyunkwan University ranked fourth when it came to modifying its curriculum to adapt to new trends in education.

The university last year amended the standards by which professors’ achievements are evaluated in order to give preference to teachers who open and lead combined subjects or discussion classes.

The university also puts financial support toward student-teacher meetings.

“After having conversations with my students, I became more familiar with them [and their interests]. The students that I had met in the meetings were also more active in class,” said Cho Won-bin, a professor in the
department of political science and diplomacy at Sungkyunkwan University.


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