University education should broaden perspectives, encourage critical and original thinking, and nurture the ability to tackle real-world complex issues. – Mr Lawrence Wong

The BBC recently reported that the race to establish online course platforms (or open courseware) has just heated up, with UC Berkeley being the latest to jump onto the bandwagon.

These are transformational developments in the global university landscape. With such online platforms, institutions can broaden access to their programmes. More importantly, individuals now have the opportunity to constantly learn and upgrade themselves, whenever, and wherever they are. 

Anyone with an internet connection may take courses from top universities such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford – and now Berkeley.

There is clearly a lot of potential to make use of IT and the internet to enhance our student’s learning experience.

But a university experience is more than just knowledge acquisition. It is a fuller, richer experience where students interact with professors and peers and find their own voice through academic discussions and social interactions. It is an experience that grows your mind, heart and character. This is tough to replicate online, and remains crucial to a rigorous and robust education.

The New York Times op-ed sums it up well: “A truly memorable college class, even a large one, is a collaboration between teacher and students. It’s a one-time-only event. Learning at its best is a collective enterprise”.

This may be why many universities are still not offering their degree qualifications via online courses alone. These universities recognise there is no substitute for the face-to-face conversations and dialogues that take place on campus.

Over the past few months, I’ve been chairing a committee to look into the expansion of our university sector. We are now finalising the recommendations for a new applied degree pathway in Singapore.

Our recommendations will also highlight the need to maintain the quality of university education – it is not simply about the paper qualification but also the experience. University education should broaden perspectives, encourage critical and original thinking, and nurture the ability to tackle real-world complex issues.

We must always ensure value for our students and good graduate outcomes, as we expand degree opportunities for Singaporeans.
_________

“Top US Universities put their Reputations Online”, BBC, 20 June http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18191589

“Berkeley Signs up Online with Harvard and MIT”, BBC, 24 July http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-18972376

“The Trouble with Online Education”, New York Times, 19 July
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/opinion/the-trouble-with-online-education.html?_r=1&ref=education

  Lawrence Wong

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