Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Some Differences

As promised the other day, I thought I'd write up what I observed in terms of noteworthy differences between RMU and UL's way of educating the Sully. I will stress the point that I'm comparing one University with another, and these are not expected to reflect on either country as a whole!

So I suppose I'll start with the most important bit; the classes themselves. At RMU, the students are responsible for selecting and registering for their own classes, many of which are dictated by their major; their other selections are what they're most interested in. New Media and English in UL (my course of study) is quite rigid, and one is lucky to choose between two electives (opting for the lesser of two evils in many cases). This semester, the courses I picked were Study of Rhetoric, General Psychology, Audio & Radio Production, and Writing for the Media. Picking the courses myself helped a great deal in keeping me interested in what I was doing, and it also reflects my strong interest in writing and general media production – in a sense, what I was studying here is what I hoped New Media and English would be.

The timetables are organised in such a way that you have 50 minute classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Tuesday and Thursday classes weigh in at 75 minutes each. There are also 150 minute night classes once a week, of which I took one. This timetable system is nice – instead of having to commit a five day timetable to memory, you need only worry about two days. Not a deal-maker, sure, but it's appreciated! Furthermore, there were no tutorials, but rather the University offered a free Tutoring service to any students that needed it.

The classes I had were much smaller affair than what I'm used to at UL. I'm pretty sure that there wasn't a class that had more than 25 students in a traditional class-room style setting, which made for a more intimate learning environment than UL's large lecture halls. Every teacher knew my name. In fact, most teachers knew everybody's name, which again, is nice. I got on better with all four of my lecturer's than I have any lecturer at UL. This can be partly attributed to the fact that I'm the novelty foreign exchange student who has a wildly different take on certain matters, but is moreso because of the interest the lecturers seem to take in their students. In Rhetoric class in particular, there was a class discussion almost every day, and while many weren't quite as incendiary as I'd have liked, from the perspective of a foreigner, it was a great way to see some of the crazy things that people think and say here. The lecturers are generally more accessible, which is good and bad – good because approaching them outside of class times is a casual affair, and speaking up in class is never an issue, it's also bad because of the amount of arse that some people waste the lecturer's time with during class.

One thing I didn't like at first was that there was a lot of homework given. I don't mind homework, but when it's as inconsequential as some of what I was asked to do this semester, I begin to consider it busywork. Granted, there were no crippling amounts of work asked by any one lecturer, but my sloppy time management saw everything piling up at once, so once every week I'd stay up late working on clearing the backlog. This 'a-little-and-often' approach is actually a nice idea, as having to write one to three short essays a week is much nicer than what often happens back home, with (at times) unrealistic amounts of readings being prescribed as homework, with one major essay/project due in a semester; all of which seem to collide.

The assessment here is fair. Like I said; 'a-little-and-often' is the name of the game. The hefty essays I've had to write in UL often amount to 40-50% of my grade, with the rest sitting on a single exam. Two opportunities to show what you're capable of is a piss-poor system, in my opinion. Continual assessment involves less stress for all involved, and also assists the learning process, in my opinion.
I've never received the kind of positive appraisal I get here. My Writing for Media lecturer told me I should be a writer, my Radio-Production lecturer wanted me to submit an editorial piece to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and my Rhetoric lecturer praised every essay on the occasions we spoke after class, with simple statements like “I really like how you...” really compelling keep doing better.

I think I'll talk about the 'social' aspects of college life and other matters such as housing arrangements for another day, because I don't like these posts to get too hefty, but it'll be here soon, and roughly 15% less mind-numbingly boring!

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