National servicemen starting school at the National University of Singapore (NUS) next year will get a headstart - without having to turn up in class.
For the first time, they can choose to take some modules online soon after they complete national service. They can do so from next January, instead of waiting for school to start next August.
Eight such courses - ranging from computing to philosophy - will be offered exclusively to them, as part of NUS' push to combine online learning with classroom teaching.
The pilot programme is also aimed at helping NSmen who may need a longer time to adapt to university life after being away from school for two years or more.
Universities moving into online learning
THE National University of Singapore (NUS) is planning to go online in a big way.
Apart from the eight modules offered exclusively to national servicemen, the university will also put up three other courses for current students.
A module on writing skills will be rolled out later this month, while the other two - in philosophy and engineering - will be offered next January.
These 11 modules will be exclusive to NUS students.
In the first two months of next year, it will also offer three courses which will be free for all users of Coursera, a provider of open online courses.
NUS is the first Singapore university to partner Coursera, a California-based company. Others schools on the platform include Brown University and Northwestern University.
Other local universities are also looking at online learning.
At Nanyang Technological University, "flipped" classroom teaching - where students attend lectures online and use class time to assimilate the knowledge - is already being used in a small way.
The Singapore University of Technology and Design is in talks with its partner university, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to incorporate the latter's online courses in its teaching.
NUS' provost Tan Eng Chye said it plans to offer at least 10 modules online every year.
Rather than replacing university education, the trend of online learning has made classroom teaching more effective by getting professors to think more deeply about how they present information, said NUS lecturers involved in putting their modules online.
"There is no 'real' audience who can give immediate feedback. So you have to anticipate the response of the students," said Associate Professor Chung Keng Yeow of the department of physics.
Filming lecture video snippets that are only 10 to 12 minutes long also means that lecturers have to be very clear and focused in their delivery.
That requires a lot more planning, such as including examples of common errors made by students, said Ms Susan Tan, deputy director of the Centre for English Language Communication.
And lecturers have to pay much more attention to details. Said Ms Tan: "There is no eye contact with students... so you have to make sure there is always a smile in your voice."