Education in Your Hands
By Jaymee Palma Assistant Editor
The drone of the professor’s voice in a lecture that shall remain unnamed lulls students to sleep. 9 a.m., drooping eyelids, and slumped figures: this is the scene in many of the courses I’ve taken thus far. Traditional lecture-style classes challenge even the most dedicated students’ willpower to stay awake — not just in KAIST, but globally. In the US, it has been found that more than 55% of lectures are still taught in the conventional teacher-centric education style. In this age of technological advancement and shortened attention spans, is passive listening really the most effective way of learning?
For a lot of people, the answer is no. After all, we learn better through experience. In recent years, modern classrooms have used this philosophy and encouraged “active learning”. Simply put, this learning model provides more opportunities for discussion and student participation — flipping the traditional classroom roles of lecturer and listener. KAIST has recently adopted similar teaching strategies, referred to as Edu 4.0.
The concept of Edu 4.0 is a modern solution to an age-old problem. It still has elements of lecture-style teaching, but it goes beyond by training students to be more active in learning and discussing their thoughts. Becoming used to sharing one’s own ideas and hearing other perspectives is a valuable resource. After all, life beyond school is not going to be just listening to lectures. Furthermore, in classes that utilize video lectures and meet once a week for discussions, students are able to study at their own pace. Being able to pause the lecture at confusing points and have time to think about them is a very useful tool, especially since most classes are held in English and most students are not native English speakers. In addition, project-based learning, which is often encouraged in Edu 4.0 classes, can also reinforce the book-based knowledge that we get from lectures.
The active learning opportunity presented by Edu 4.0 is one that is long overdue. It puts learning and education in the students’ hands, which will lead to better long-term knowledge retention rather than studying solely for exams. However, we cannot deny that for all the theoretical advantages of Edu 4.0, it still depends on actual implementation. Not all the Edu 4.0 classes in KAIST have been equally effective. It is an open secret that students play the lectures two times faster than the actual speed to save time. Discussion classes also tend to be dull because of language barriers. These problems are not insignificant, but they are not signs that Edu 4.0 is not effective; speed bumps are to be expected, considering that it has only been a few years since its implementation. With more experience and by integrating student feedback into Edu 4.0 policies, students would be able to gain the most out of this learning model. In time, perhaps even a majority of basic required and major science and math classes would be taught in the Edu 4.0 format.
Edu 4.0 is far from perfect. But for all its flaws, perhaps the most important point is that it gives students an option. It acknowledges what has gone unseen in the past few centuries of education: not everyone has the same learning style. The goal is not to replace all classes with Edu 4.0, but to present an alternative to what some students find boring and incomprehensible. The world is changing, and it’s time for our education system to evolve as well.
A Solution. But Not the One We are Looking For
By Jae Hwan Jeong Senior Staff Reporter
Two years back, as a second-year KAIST student who was in desperate need of credits for humanities courses, I enrolled in the Gender and Society course taught by Professor Sung Ju Kim. There was very little awareness as to what Edu 4.0 courses had in store or what it even meant, as it was the first time that the school started to offer them across various departments. Many of the students were welcoming of the idea, mostly because Edu 4.0 courses meant that the lectures would take place only once a week.
The Gender and Society course covered contemporary topics on sexual minorities, and the discussion-based lectures were great in spurring exchanges between students who already had a lot of opinions on the matter. The discussions were based on materials that were meant to be read on the off-days and online video lectures that — due to the guilty worry that I might be the only bystander in the group — I actively listened to. In retrospect, it was a great class. However, when it comes to it being an Edu 4.0 course, I couldn’t help but wonder whether keeping it a traditional style lecture would make the discussions any less effective or qualitatively lacking.
Advocates of the Edu 4.0 system believe that moving away from the physical lecture room and transferring the materials online provide students with more autonomy in learning; from studying at their own pace to being able to take time in formulating questions, students are less stressed about time pressure and others’ reactions. However, many of what the Edu 4.0 model hopes to achieve can already be accomplished in the traditional setting.
First off, many of the students prefer the Edu 4.0 model because it gives them more time to prepare for the lecture materials. Although some of the courses do provide lecture slides beforehand, many of the courses post their materials during the lecture. Students are well aware of this and simply have to make time to prepare for the classes. The predilection for online learning evidently comes from elsewhere — not the lack of preparation time, but the monotonous lectures that can’t level with the engagement that videos provide. In other words, the institution should seek ways to improve the quality of lectures instead of outsourcing the learning process itself.
Of course, if the nature of the study demands constant exchange of learning materials, then using an online platform outside of class can aid the learning process. However, the problem is that the Edu 4.0 model is being applied to all departments. We must acknowledge that the model does not work with fields like the natural sciences. In fact, if courses like Calculus were to be made into an Edu 4.0 class, there really is no need for a lecture to exist at all. Why attend a class when you can learn and practice all on your own?
There is a valid reason as to why many of the prestigious universities worldwide are insistent on maintaining traditional classroom settings — and why they work. To keep the students engaged during lectures, there needs to be constant interaction between the faculty and the students. KAIST needs to facilitate group study sessions that serve as a channel for students to question and receive sought-after answers. It is uncertain whether Edu 4.0 classes provide such a channel, and hence it is doubtful whether they are the solution we are looking for.