Yale-NUS to offer experiential learning

During the seventh week of school for Yale-NUS’s inaugural class, students will leave campus to participate in a weeklong project designed to provide them with hands-on research experiences.

Instead of attending their regular classes, Yale-NUS students will take part in one of several projects that will bring students outside the traditional academic setting to promote “interdisciplinary and active learning,” said Bryan Garsten, a Yale political science professor and member of the social sciences faculty search committee for Yale-NUS. The initiative, entitled Learning Across Boundaries, comes as part of the Yale-NUS faculty’s broader effort to blend experiential and traditional learning in the Singaporean college’s curriculum.

“Some of our faculty see this project as a chance to build experiential learning into the fabric of the college, but other faculty think of a liberal arts education as taking some time away from the practical world,” Garsten said. “How to balance between the two perspectives remains one of the issues that is being discussed.”

Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said Learning Across Boundaries projects — such as one in which students might travel to Indonesia to research the effects of the 2004 tsunami — will emphasize experiential learning because they are examples of integrating hands-on education into the common curriculum.

The initiative aims to expose students to in-depth research and to collaborations with faculty members early on in their college experience, said Brian McAdoo, a Yale-NUS professor who helped propose the initiative. The faculty will design projects that will engage students with “current, real-world issues,” he added. All projects within Learning Across Boundaries will be interdisciplinary, enabling students to synthesize knowledge from all their classes, McAdoo said.

“Addressing real-world problems necessitates work in the real world,” he said. “The boundaries we are trying to cross are not just those between the academic divisions within the curriculum, but also those between the college ivory tower environment and the real world.”

While Yale students boast active extracurricular and classroom lives, Garsten said, intersections between the two are often scarce. Initiatives such as Learning Across Boundaries will create an opportunity for Yale-NUS students to reflect on their extracurricular activities and classes simultaneously, he said.

Yale-NUS professors interviewed said faculty involved in the design of the Singaporean college’s curriculum are trying to find the right balance between experiential and traditional instruction.

McAdoo said that while he does not think the new college should make experiential learning its focus, it should harbor “a diversity of learning strategies.”

Yale-NUS Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn said Yale-NUS demonstrates a commitment to both experiential and traditional learning, adding that the Learning Across Boundaries initiative will not come at the expense of traditional classroom experiences.

The Learning Across Boundaries initiative will end in a symposium, during which each group will share its experiences from the week.

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