|▲ Some required liberal arts are helpful to students, and some are not. What would decide these two opposite sides?|
If you are a freshman at Dankook University (DKU), there are some subjects that you have to take no matter what your major is. Those are not your major classes, nor are they elective classes. You may recognize these classes: Korea in a Wider World. Introduction to Korean Writing, Introduction to Korean Speaking, and English classes spanned over four semesters. These mandatory courses are frequently considered by students as annoying, especially when students who are not able to get good grades in the courses sometimes end up retaking them.
Mandatory elective classes aim to encourage a historical indentity as a Dankookian, helping students to learn the basic elements of writing and speaking and studying practical English along with global trends. The purpose of establishing these courses doing justice to their ideal intention? DKH examined the current position of these classes.
In Jukjeon Campus, eleven sections of Korea in a Wider World are offered, and six of them, more than half, are either online classes or oversized classes. In these classes, more than 200 students are taking the course in one classroom. The other five classes are relatively better, although they also have more than 50 students in a single class. This is absolutely too many students crowded together to actualize guiding students to have a "wider view of Korean and world history and moreover to have one's own critique of history" as mentioned in the course description for Korea in a Wider World. No matter how amazing the teaching skills of a professor may be, no one can tutor hundreds of students in one class section to have upright historical judgement and their own, sound ideology with just two periods of class in a week. This reality serves as the starting point for students to deem mandatory elective classes as "I will not ever take this class unless it is mandatory." rather than as recognized basic lessons for scholars.
"Since I am majoring in History, I have a lot of interest in history, yet I felt uncomfortable while i was taking Korea in a Wider World." said Ji-Eun Park (freshman, Dept. of History, College of Humanities). "Many students just do not concentrate on the or play with their mobile phones because they strongly believe that it is a boring class and that the professor will not call on them even if they do something else. When you see the contents of the textbook, you can see various viewpoints, and our textbook leads us to understand current issues in history. It does not just force us to memorize facts as we did in our high school years. However, the curriculum has 14 chapters and we only have 15 weeks of class, so it is not easy to make the class interesting along with teaching the concepts".
Park added, "If the number of students who are supposed to take the class at one time was less, I believe that discussing various thoughts with the professor and other students and having an interesting class would be possible."
The cases of Introduction to Korean Speaking and Introduction to Korean Writing are not much different from the former case. "Many other schools only have classes for writing, but we have writing and speaking classes seperately. This is very important since those two subjects should be distinguished for better achievements." said Professor Yu-Mi Kim, who teaches both subjects. "Recently, a strong tendency to integrate different sections but actually subdividing the course is required."
She continued by explaining "Currently, the number of students in one class is 50 or so, but the recommended maximum number is about 30. The overwhelming number of students causes the shortening of presentation time, forces students to work in groups, and makes it difficult to guide the class.
Especially in the case of the online sections of Introduction to Korean Writing, it is obvious that the instructor cannot check students' understanding and achievement and that these section have less communication. However, more and more classes are being offered as online classes, and more students are losing their interest in these subjects, which leads to the trend where mandatory elective classes become simply fillers for credit.
In contrast, the rate of satisfaction for the English courses is comparatively high. That is because students can take appropriate classes according to their tested English level, even though the university previously made all student take a basic course last semester.
"I was not very confident with my English, but my professor is very fun, and the atmosphere of the class is very energetic, trying to use English and learn from one another rather than being afraid of being wrong." said Hyun-Doh Yoon (freshman, Dept of Applied Computer Engineering). "The good point of the level based classes is that there is no student who is 'super-good' or 'super bad.' so the professor can adjust the level of each class effectively. I took the basic class last semester because that was my only possible choice, but i think it would have been better if the level classes had started last semester."
He also suggested that incoming freshman take the level test before registration or decide on their level depending on some other recognized English test score.
"Most of the higher level students have experience studying abroad and speak English fluently, so there is not much difficulty to have a liberal English class," said Young-gyeun Jung (Dept. of Chinese Language and Literature), who is taking the advanced course. "I feel that I am actually using English and I believe that this is only possible because of the level based class. There are many English major students who are all very good, and if the class did not have an absolute curve, it would not have been possible for all students to participate in class willingly. However the absolute curve helps us to participate in class more."
If you have ever read the textbooks of mandatory elective classes, you will see the contents of the textbooks are much more useful than expected. They exist to help the freshman who are accustomed to the learning method of memorizing. School does not just put the freshman into the pool of reports, theses, interviews and speech, but helps them adjust through those classes. Therefore, the mandatory elective classes play an important role in teaching students the knowledge and skills they need for their university life and can even create a synergy effect. However, the mandatory elective classes are losing their function because of the overwhelming number of students, unreasonable volume of content for limited class time and the attitude of students who have lost their interest in the classes. Introduction to Korean Writing should be smaller to allow for the regular editing of student writing, and Introduction to Korean Speaking should be supported by our school system to allow students to actually give speeches and engage in discussions. Also, Korea in a Wider World needs editing of its contents and adjustments of class sizes for students to understand and study history effectively.
Mandatory elective classes are mandatory for graduation credits. They cannot become truly mandatory classes without solving the points mentioned above, including constant concern for the courses and each individual class. If students are considered as the top priority in university, adjustments will be made so that the mandatory elective classes will get their true meaning back and work as the academic basis which students can refer back to throughout their university years.
Ji-Hyun Kwon firstname.lastname@example.org