March 02, 2011

Hard to believe, but I’m half way through the 6th of my 14 weeks in Singapore.  Seems like it’s going by really fast.

Since the last time I posted I think I have been to Little India, explored downtown a little more (I have even been to the top of the Sands Hotel, a modern Singapore icon), and, believe it or not, studied here and there.

On that note, classes have been going well.  Discrete Mathematics is interesting because it is just logic plus a lot of wordy jargon.

As I mentioned in previous posts, NTU has tutorial sessions for each class.  Having been to a few of these I can say that these are pretty great.  I work out the discrete problems before I go, and there are always one or two that I end up having a specific question about, or if I complete it, I wonder if the manner in which I solved it is applicable to all problems.  The professor goes over the problems and answers these questions in tutorial.

The reason this particular tutorial is so great is because with any math course there is going to be specific rules that at first are not intuitive to the student.  This professor comes up with examples to highlight these potential problem areas in addition to the assigned tutorial problems.

I had been under the impression that tutorials were led by TA’s and grad. students.  Much to my surprise these are actually given by the professors themselves (a point of contention among some of the faculty).  While they may sometimes disagree about whether or not tutorials are a good use of their time, I for one can say that the whole process is very beneficial, assuming the student attempts the tutorial before going to his assigned session.

Not only do these help the students, it also helps the professor(s) know how the students are doing in the class and whether or not there is a consistent problem among the students.  This is the kind of feed back that can help students come to a better understanding of the topics at hand.

Another interesting aspect of the education system at NTU is the emphasis on technology usage.  I’ll have to dedicate a post to some of the various intricacies this university uses to streamline everything a student does.  The other day I missed a discrete lecture, but found out they are put on edveNTUre, NTU’s variant of Blackboard, the popular online learning package for universities.

The neat part was that this was not only a recorded lecture, but a full fledged learning session.  The lecturer uses a tablet computer to write on his slides and show examples, thus making attending lecture a far more beneficial experience than merely just reading over the slides.  Or so I thought.

This online session had a small box where you could see the lecturer’s hand motions and body movements, below this there were selection points identified by key slides so that you could just to a particular point in the lecture.  The majority of the screen though was dedicated to the output of the professor’s computer with his notes being added and erased just as if you were attending lecture.  This could then be easily paused as you tried to work out a particular example before the professor.

I thought that was pretty clever, and realizing I couldn’t work a tutorial problem similar to a problem done in class a few lectures back, quickly pulled up that lecture, skipped down to the part I needed, saw the professor work a problem and then was able to complete my problem with no trouble at all.

To further push faculty to become familiar with the available technologies (of which there are many), NTU hosts an e-learning week every semester.  This is to foster technology usage while also doing a stress test on the university in order to make sure students can learn in the case of a major disaster.  During this week all lectures will be online, and I believe there will be online chat groups for discussions.  That will be next week, so I’ll have to see how it goes.

Chinese class has been going well.  I am getting somewhat better at being able to identify phrases.  The teaching style is very interactive.  Monday after learning new vocabulary about buying and selling goods, students were given pats to role play.  I ended up being a clerk in a high end clothing store who would not bargain on anything.  It was pretty amusing.

So that’s what I’ve been up to over the last little while.

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