Recently, I went on the hardwarezone forum where I used to search for tips and feedbacks to compare the various universities in SIM GE. Back then, I chanced upon university at Buffalo, but googling ‘University at Buffalo, Singapore’ didn’t provide much information; it only returned links to hardwarezone, SIM websites and many websites that only briefly described the school. The forum provided outdated information, and my questions took ages to get answered. I was lucky enough to have the time to attend the open house and make my decision based on solid information. So back to the present, as I looked at past posts, I realized that nothing much has changed; prospective students were still asking the same questions I had three years ago. I tried to help some by answering their questions, but then I thought, why not attempt to write articles that provide those information? This is especially for those who might have missed the open house, or just want to gather information at the comfort of their bed.
Before I begin, the first thing that you should ask when comparing universities is, what’s the difference between UB and the rest? UB is all about the American classroom culture, and that could bring upon a different experience as compared to Polytechnic or JC. Here are some pointers that make it different from what you might be accustomed to.
Active participation is one of the key aspects of the American culture. The professors value those who speak out and would gladly answer questions during class. More often than not, a discussion among professor and students will take place. Once someone starts the ball rolling, it gets easier for the rest to join in (especially true for the shy ones right?). I’ve seen the quieter ones joining the conversation as the class gets informal but maybe it is also due to another fact – participation counts towards your grades. In fact, it is such a big deal that some professors allocate almost a quarter of your grades to participation! You might think if that’s the case, all you have to do is ask some random questions and act like you’re actually participating. Well, some professors also take into account how much thought has been put in to that question or statement thus, giving more points based on quality.
Composition of final marks
Each module typically has a combination of quizzes, exams, participation, projects and class work that count towards your final grade. This ensures that your learning is progressive and you will find yourself remembering better. For some who might be good in projects rather than studying, you won’t find yourself gravely penalized for something you’re weak at. The most important thing is that you get to ‘lock-in’ some marks so you don’t have to worry too much about the final exams. This definitely beats purely memorizing a textbook of contents right?
Informal relationship between professors and students
This informal relationship I’m talking about is more than just calling your professors by their first name. The professors try to be as informal after class so that students can approach them easily. Sometimes, the reason for talking to them doesn’t have to be related to school work. Most of us take this opportunity to build rapport with the professors, learn more about their experiences or ask industry related questions. I think that my Communications/Psychology friends build the strongest bonds with their professors, because they even communicate on Facebook! Over at my (slightly more serious) business classes, we do it differently. I’ll usually read the business news in the morning and take this opportunity to get a professional point of view from my professors. From my experience, most of them would gladly let you pick their brains. By doing so, you’re getting more bang for your buck!
Most of the classes are smaller in size which allows better interaction between the professor and students. Some professors prefer to pass the time over to the students for group discussions and give them the opportunity to “take over” the class. Immediately some of you will think out loud, “But we paid them to teach!” Not to worry, the professors will first set the topic before allowing students to start their group discussions. After which, representatives from each group will get to present their ideas while the rest can voice their opinions and sometimes disagree with each other. Over time, this helps to encourage creative thinking and also gives you the confidence to share your opinions to strangers. Now, there will be some who might think “wow, this is a good time to slack off!” Beware, THEY will be watching you. Who knows if they might deduct your participation marks if they see you doing nothing!
Another thing to take note is that initially projects might feel like a chore but you’ll soon realize that here in UB it is not the usual “research and present” type of projects. The professors take project-based learning seriously and try to make them as relevant to the working world as possible. The easiest way to explain this is to share what I did for one of my modules. The professor wanted the class to act as a business consultant and provide strategic management to a real company, Carousell. He then invited an ex-UB student who’s working in Carousell to share all about the company and act as a point of contact. We implemented theories on a real company, brainstorm practical ideas and most importantly received feedback from the employees and founders. I can vouch that it was such an experience that this will be the first thing we’ll share when an interviewer asks about our school life.
Do you feel that an American classroom culture is able to bring out the best in you? Or do you feel that it can change you to be a more outspoken/creative person? Ultimately, remember that there’s no one culture that triumphs the other and it is all about finding the right fit for your personality.