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Mar 2004  Vol. 8   No. 1  
........   FROM THE FACULTIES  ........
TEACHING & LEARNING Highlights

Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
SC1101E

At what point do we consider a class ‘large’? Years ago, we held our breath when class size topped 400. Nowadays, we maintain our composure when we routinely encounter more than a thousand students trying to get into SC1101E. This comes about through several years of the Department’s experience in handling such huge numbers, without ‘dumbing down’ and compromising quality.

We have learned that preparation, communication and a willingness to ‘play by ear’ are key ingredients for managing a large class. Long before the students troop in, the people driving the module have to develop a ‘user-friendly’ (not the same thing as ‘easy’) road map with clear objectives, eye-catching topics and moderately challenging readings. This road map is mounted in the module IVLE by the eve of the registration exercise. At the same time, various steps are taken to ensure that the course text and course pack of authorised photocopied readings are ready by Lecture 1. All these pre-registration tasks would come to nothing if we did not assemble a ‘winning team’ of lecturers, teaching assistants and research scholars. We pick lecturers who can introduce difficult theories and concepts in simple language and discuss their relevance with humorous observations of everyday life. We also handpick tutors who are not only competent, but can also get discussion group members animated about what they have learned in lectures, the readings and their personal experience.

As teaching and learning gather momentum during the semester, the lecturers keep their ears and eyes open for problems, but more importantly for ways to improve teaching and learning. This is done through regular email exchanges, short coordination meetings, sharing best practices, and gathering ‘intelligence’ from IVLE chat-rooms, forums and putting our ears to the ground. The teaching team members also communicate regularly with students through the IVLE and in class, trying always to pre-empt problems, rather than solve them.

 

Faculty of Engineering
Automating the Final Year project allocation using Computational Intelligence

The Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering has implemented a hybrid computational-intelligence-based method for allocating final year projects to students. Every year, the Department offers around 700 projects in six areas. Each of the Department’s 600 students (approximately) submits a list of eight projects which he/she would like to be assigned, in order of preference. The Department’s challenge then is to assign a suitable project to each student with the maximum combination of the following criteria including: student preferences, project pre-requisites, and balancing ‘self-proposed’ and ‘industrial collaboration’ projects. In addition, there are multiple objectives that stem from the students’ perspective, project requirements as specified by the staff, and load balancing of staff commitments. Therefore, the problem in allocating the projects is a complex multi-objective problem with multiple constraints. The aim is to balance all these with the number of students who vie for a particular project. Due to the complexity of this problem, the heuristic method used previously took a long time to find a good match between students and projects.

A computational intelligence-based project allocation system has recently been developed and implemented to automate the process and to improve the matching of students to their desired projects. The core of the project allocation system is a database containing details on all projects offered. This database is both maintained and viewed using the World Wide Web. The allocation method employs evolutionary computation and knowledge based techniques for simultaneously exploring multiple solutions in the problem space. The solution which meets the highest number of objectives is then used for final project allocation. This new automated system is not only able to obtain very satisfactory solutions, but is also very time efficient.

Faculty of Medicine
Emerging Trends in Medical Education


Front row, L to R:
Prof Ken Cox, (University of New South Wales, Australia);
Prof Geoff Norman (McMaster University);
Prof John Wong (Dean, Faculty of Medicine, NUS),
Prof M Gwee (Chairman, Organising Committee),
A/Prof Koh Dow Rhoon (Vice-Dean, Faculty of Medicine, NUS) &
Prof Grace Tang (University of Hong Kong).

The Medical Education Unit organised the first Asia Pacific Medical Education Conference in December 2003. Four plenary speakers highlighted the following emerging trends in medical education:

  • In his speech, ‘Professionalism in Teaching and Best Evidence Medical Education’, Professor Ronald Harden talked about the move from amateurism to professionalism in teaching, where decisions about teaching and learning are informed by evidence.

  • Professor Suzanne Stensaas elaborated on a ‘more balanced’ selection of the Old (experience and expertise of the clinical teacher), the New (all types of new computer technology), and the Borrowed (what is already available and reliable) to ensure a successful marriage of medical education and technology.

  • Professor Geoff Norman touched on the significant role of ‘non-analytic’ (exemplar-based) in addition to analytic reasoning in the development of clinical expertise and thus, “Deliberate practice with case examples…[is]...a critical component of learning but...largely neglected in conventional teaching”.

  • Professor Thomas Aretz stressed that a content expert is not necessarily a good educator, educational manager or leader and that explicit goals of professionalism in medical education are only just emerging and hence, faculty development is not only a moral obligation, but makes good business sense.

 

School of Computing
Tips for First-time Lecturers

After my first semester (Semester 1, AY 2003/2004) of teaching in NUS, I would like to share some teaching ‘tips’ that may be helpful for first-time lecturers:

  • Be well-prepared. This includes preparing yourself well before the lecture, making sure that you know clearly what you are going to teach.

  • Stay with the familiar. If you are teaching in NUS for the first time, it may be better to use the teaching methods that you are familiar with to boost your confidence. If you have a choice, teach a subject that you are familiar with.

  • Consult your colleagues. It is important to consult colleagues who are more experienced in teaching in NUS. Find out how things are normally done here, the students’ expectations and any common practices that may be specific to your faculty.

  • Listen to feedback. Always consider your students’ feedback and be willing to change.

 

Faculty of Science
Putting Knowledge and Skills to work!

Learning should be fun and it certainly is for first year students taking FST 1011 “Science and Technology of Foods”. As well as learning what foods are composed of and how food processing affects the composition and nutritional value of foods, the students are required to create a new food product!


The winning team for 2003 with their new product ‘Eramisu’
a special type of tiramisu cheese cake. The winning team comprises
Tan Yanfang Mabelyn (missing), Ng Wan-Ting, Vivi Handaya,
Lee Lu Yi, Ang Jia Xi, Ho Hoang Oanh and Hoe Pei Yeng.
Also shown is Prof P J Barlow the Module co-ordinator.

Working as part of a small team, the students were required to conceive a new snack with market and export potential for Singapore. Examples of such products developed by past students included soy-based ice-cream, lotus roots chips, avocado biscuits, savoury konnyako jelly, chocolate and cheese spread and tofu cheesecake. Making a new food product is definitely not easy. Students need to know how the ingredients will behave during processing in order to invent a safe and nutritious project. In addition, the product’s package design and labelling must meet legislative requirements. Most importantly, the product must taste good!

The assessment for the best product was a joint effort involving assessments by peers, the Food Science and Technology (FST) staff and an invited Food Scientist from Industry. This year (2003), the external assessor from International Flavours and Fragrances (Asia Pacific) Pte Ltd gave a prize of S$700 to the winning team.

 

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