Thursday, 27 December 2018

Module reviews for AY18/19 Semester 1

I stepped up the level of my modules this semester with just one at level-1000 and including a level-3000 one. It wasn't too bad. It was manageable.

As usual, here are the modules I took and my review of each one.

EL2102: Sound Patterns in Language

MCs: 4 - essential major module for English Language majors and Unrestricted Elective for others, provided you have passed EL1101E

Delivery:

Weekly 3-hour seminar, during which the lecturer will pose a series of diabolically difficult questions to the class and students must discuss among themselves and vote for their preferred answers, before the lecturer goes on to reveal the answer and deliver a mini-lecture on the key concepts needed to understand the solution

Assessment:

Weekly reading quiz, serving as a clever way of attendance-taking using the clickers, which takes place at the start of each seminar and will ask straightforward questions whose answers are plainly visible in the textbook = 10%
Class participation, measured by how many times you press your clicker = 10%
Midterm, a closed-book test covering articulatory phonetics such as the mechanisms involved in producing the voiced bilabial implosive [ɓ] = 40%
Final, covering phonology, but it is open-book so referring to charts, books, and notes is permitted = 40%

Lecturer: Dr Leslie Lee - 9/10

He encourages his students to call him Leslie. He also giggles a lot, after which he will dissolve into a furious coughing fit. He uses clickers, which are remote controls that you can use to answer MCQs, in his classes. And he's a multiple award-winning educator. These are all part of Leslie's potent reputation among FASS students, among whom he is extremely popular. It's plain to see why, too. He clearly cares a lot about his students. When students have problems, he is always ready to respond on the IVLE forums and through email. His explanations are generally clear and understandable, and he is very patient in helping those who take a little longer to grasp the concepts. I felt that one improvement he could've made was during the phonology part of the module. Phonology involves coming up with rules to explain certain observations about the way sounds are organised in a language. For those who, like me, are poor at pattern recognition and daunted by large data sets, phonology can be quite distressing. It would be useful to give students a bit more of an organised step-by-step breakdown of how to conduct a phonological analysis, for instance in the form of a flowchart. Click here for a preview of the content! Special mention for students with disabilities: The care that Leslie has for his students extends to those with special needs too. You just need to be open and communicative about the help you require and he will be happy to discuss it further with you.

Module: 8/10

I became so interested in some of the module content that I started observing phonetics and phonology at work during everyday occurrences. For example, I happened to catch an episode of the kids' cartoon Sofia the First which was being screened just before the live telecast of a football game I wanted to watch on the same channel. The story was about a knight called Sir Oliver who was aspiring to be bestowed the title of First Knight, so he went in search of the legendary Ice Fire Shield. It did not escape my notice that in both "First Knight" and "Ice Fire Shield", the stress was on the words "First" and "Ice" respectively. I attributed this observation to the Compound Stress Rule, which states that the stress is to be placed as far to the left as possible in compounds. Compounds are strings of words that group together to refer to a specific thing. So both the title "First Knight" and object name "Ice Fire Shield" are compounds. In another example, I started to mentally transcribe my family members' Chinese dialect speech into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) with added Chao Tone Letters. These fun little party tricks were somewhat dampened by the part of the module about conducting phonological analyses, which I didn't enjoy because I'm terrible at spotting trends in a mass of data, which phonology entails.

EL2151: Social Variation in English

MCs: 4 - essential major module for English Language majors and Unrestricted Elective for others, provided you have passed EL1101E

Delivery:

Weekly 2-hour lecture
Weekly 1-hour tutorial

Assessment:

Attendance and participation = 15%
Group project, requiring you to record a speaker in two different situations and analyse the differences in the way they speak = 25%
Midterm = 20%, all MCQ
Final = 40%, one compulsory structured question worth 40 marks, and three-choose-two essay questions worth 30 marks each, all topics from the entire semester may appear

Lecturer: Associate Professor Joseph Park - 10/10

Anybody who's been through the local education system within the last 20 years will be familiar with the PEEL structure: Point, Explain, Example, Link. A/P Joseph is a master at it. His lectures are all very well-organised in this manner, and he gives ample examples to illustrate each concept so that they become relatable and easy to understand despite the abstract and theoretical nature of the subject area. It's obvious that he puts in the effort to find relevant and up-to-date examples to put into his lecture slides. For example, he included a mention of the highly anticipated locally produced zombie movie Zombiepura in a lecture that took place around the time it was due to be released in cinemas. Even the final exam contained a transcript from a recent sitting of parliament. As a student, this is something I greatly appreciate because many professors take the easy way out by recycling the same old slides and exam questions year after year without refreshing them. They resort to doing that because they want to spend more time on research to boost their academic credentials and, in turn, their career. But A/P Joseph shows that it's possible to do both well, as his papers have been widely cited by other linguists writing about language ideology. Oh, one more thing: His voice is maddeningly sexy. I envy his wife who gets to hear it every day. If you're female and reading this, consider yourself warned! He's quite the "oppa". Click here for a preview of the content! Special mention for students with disabilities: A/P Joseph is as good as his word in arranging for any special accommodations you might need for your tests and exams.

Tutor: Mr Christian Albert Go - 9/10

It can be a toss-up with these postgraduate-student teaching assistants. They can be quite good or downright abysmal. Fortunately, Christian is the former. He conscientiously prepares his own recap slides each week, and when he wasn't getting enough participation from the class during discussions, he adopted an online platform called Menti to encourage the students to contribute their ideas by typing them out instead. Generally his explanations were decent and he seemed to understand the content adequately, but he got flustered by several curveball questions that the unnervingly intense linguistics majors threw at him over the course of the semester. He needs to build up his confidence and ability to deal with them given that he is pursuing his doctorate and will soon have to strike out on his own as a full-fledged assistant professor, as he will no longer be able to consult with any higher-ups before answering.

Module: 9/10

It has a good balance of theory and real-life observability, ensuring that it can escape from the domain of the purely abstract into the realm of worldly relevance. In fact, it is so interesting to me personally that I find myself quoting sociolinguistic concepts to account for everyday behaviours that I see occurring around me. I even contribute my two cents' to the r/linguistics subreddit on Reddit once in a while. One such comment, on the diglossic features of Singlish, garnered about 20 positive karma. I do have a criticism about the design of the assessment though. To have an essay-type final exam for a module that is essentially a surface-level introduction to sociolinguistics is not justifiable. The module coverage presents a range of theories, facts, and terminologies, but does not expound on any of them in sufficient depth to allow for a critical discussion, which is what an academic essay calls for. At the 2000-level, the aim should be content retention of the key concepts in the field, laying the groundwork for the critical discussions at level-3000 and -4000. I think the final should consist of multiple-choice and short-answer questions instead.

GEH1014: Samurai, Geisha, Yakuza as Self or Other

MCs: 4 - General Education: Human Cultures

Delivery:

Weekly 2-hour lecture
Weekly 1-hour tutorial

Assessment:

Attendance and participation = 15%
Group project, in which you will choose a piece of popular media like a movie or comic portraying Japan or Japanese people and examine how it perpetuates stereotypes = 30%
Peer review of group project, in which your group will write a report about the submission of another group = 15%
Final essay, in which you must write 2000 words in response to questions assigned by the lecturer during the last lecture for submission by the last day of the instructional period = 40%

Lecturer: Associate Professor Deborah Shamoon - 7/10

Do you know what ASMR is? It's a type of sound wave that makes you feel relaxed. A/P Shamoon has an ASMR voice. Ever the attentive and hardworking student, never before in my entire life as a student had I fallen asleep in class until she came along. Her lectures became my weekly afternoon naptime with her droning voice a more effective knockout punch than anything those fighters at ONE Championship can muster. To be fair, she evidently has deep expertise in the subject area and is keen to the pass this on to the students. But boy, is she a bore!

Tutor: Ms Kania Sukotjo - 8/10

She was fairly average until the very last tutorial when she said that although we had been identifying and critiquing instances of Orientalism, which is sort of like racism but applying only to East Asians, in popular media throughout the module, it did not mean that these media are bad and we should not consume them. Orientalist media exists because it is entertaining and it is a formula that has worked time and again. There is nothing wrong with enjoying media with Orientalist stereotypes as long as we are aware of them and do not allow them to have negative effects on us. I thought this was a very balanced, sensible, and mature way of assessing the situation and my opinion of her improved greatly. There's nothing worse than a social justice warrior who boycotts something from atop their moral high horse.

Module: 7/10

This module has ruined ONE Championship for me. I cringe now whenever Michael Schiavello screams excitedly about "the bushido spirit", which he does every single occasion he goes on air. The television show "Ninja Warrior" makes my eyebrows knit together, and the lie that Singapore was a fishing village before Lee Kwan Yew turned it into a bustling metropolis elicits dry heaving. All of these are examples of invented tradition, essentially folktales that have been repeated so often that they are now accepted as fact. This is one of the interesting things I took away from this module. And I'll be brutally honest here: I didn't really care for this module at first. I had to fulfill my GEH and this module had no final exam and fit my timetable nicely, so I chose it. But I didn't plan to spend any effort on it, and was ready with an S/U to expunge the C grade I was prepared to accept. Throughout the semester, I didn't touch a single reading or film. Indeed, the weekly load, consisting of a movie of an hour and a half as well as an academic journal of around twenty pages, is quite high for a General Education module and I wasn't going to lose any sleep over trying to keep up with it. When it came to the final essay, which we were given an unreasonably paltry two days to write, I smoked my way through, packing my writing till it was chockfull of turgid expressions, passive voice, and sentences that would've stretched right around the circumference of the Earth. Lo and behold, I scored above the 75th percentile for that assignment and didn't need the S/U after all.

NM2101: Theories of Communications and New Media

MCs: 4 - essential major module for CNM majors, and Unrestricted Elective for others

Delivery:

Weekly 2-hour lecture
Weekly 1-hour tutorial

Assessment:

Attendance and participation = 10%
Personal media memoir, a short 500-word reflection on a media object in your life and how it perpetuates unequal relations of power in the world = 5%
Individual essay, in which you apply a theory you learned during the semester to a real-life example = 20%
Midterm = 30%, 20 MCQ worth 3 marks each, 10 True/False worth 2 marks each, and three-choose-two short-answer questions worth 10 marks each
Final = 35%, same format as midterms covering only content taught after midterms

Lecturer: Dr Renyi Hong - 10/10

It is obvious that he thoroughly prepares himself for every single lecture including those whose topics are not within his personal area of expertise, as he delivered his lessons extremely fluently and confidently. He brought in many examples based on things that are currently happening in the real world to draw links between the theoretical and the concrete, and this rescued the module from what could have otherwise been a hideously dreary affair. It is lecturers like Dr Hong that demonstrate that it is possible to strike a balance between teaching theories and imparting knowledge that is actually useful in real life. For example, he used the case study of content moderation on platforms like YouTube and Facebook to show how the iron curtain works: we as users assume that when we report an offensive post, it goes into some artificial intelligence algorithm which magically decides whether or not to ban the post, when in fact the action is usually taken by a human being, possibly sitting in a third-world country being paid a minimum wage. Click here for a preview of the content! Special mention for students with disabilities: Dr Hong is supremely kind and caring. He bothered to find out what help I need, and made sure I got it. As I take my tests and exams in a separate venue, my existence often gets forgotten by the professors who tend to stay with the main body of students, so the cockles of my heart were warmed when he appeared in my room to check in on me before my midterm paper and at the end of my final exam.

Tutor: Ms Samra Irfan - 7/10

Not bad, but nothing outstanding either. She recaps the concepts well enough and that's all I need from a tutor.

Module: 10/10

It was not as textbook-ish as I feared it would be. The concepts are easy to understand and apply to everyday life. And seeing the real-world manifestations of the theories are incredibly rewarding. For example, have you noticed that the Singapore government likes to say things like "The society is not ready for the repeal of Section 377A"? They fill the newspapers with this kind of reasoning for their decisions: "7 out of 10 Singaporeans are in favour of such-and-such a policy", "Most Singaporeans agree that", and so on. They do this to take advantage of the spiral of silence. Those who have dissenting opinions are made to feel like they are in the minority, and they are more likely to keep their views to themselves for fear of being ostracised by the mainstream. This is how the government maintains social control and suppresses criticisms against itself without resorting to outright censorship.

NM3217: Design for Strategic Communications

MCs: 4 - elective major module for CNM majors, and Unrestricted Elective for others

Delivery:

Weekly 2-hour lecture
Weekly 2-hour computer laboratory session for hands-on training in the use of Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Dreamweaver

Assessment:

Attendance and participation, including putting up your assigned blog entry on the class blog during the semester = 10%
Organisational research report, detailing the client you have chosen to work on and analysing its public relations needs = 20%
Create a flier within two hours in the computer lab = 10%
Create a simple website using HTML code = 15%
Create a brochure = 25%
Class quiz = 20%, a motley collection of MCQ, True/False, and short-answer questions covering all lecture content

Lecturer: Ms Jan Chen Shizhao - 7/10

Ms Jan is a current practitioner in the design industry who is teaching on the side, so she knows her stuff as far as design principles are concerned. I do like having practitioners come into the university to teach when the module is an applied one like this because they have a wealth of hands-on experience to tap on which enables them to enrich their lessons with personal anecdotes. But, and this is a big "but", Ms Jan seemed to think of her students as beneath her. She appeared to take great pleasure in insulting past batches of students and passing snide remarks about the present one. She also told stories casting her clients, colleagues, the interior designer who made a mistake when renovating her flat, and even her own father and brother in a negative light. This supreme arrogance was fairly grating on the nerves as it occurred week in and week out. Special mention for students with disabilities: Ms Jan is accommodating towards students with special needs. She made a special version of the class quiz question paper for me by turning it into a PDF form, as I do all of my tests and exams in softcopy on a computer. Due to the visual nature of the subject matter, visually impaired students may encounter some challenges that even Ms Jan may not be able to help with. I would advise such students to think twice before signing up for this module.

Tutor: Mr Aaron Ng Yi Kai - 10/10

Aaron is a very patient and nurturing tutor who guided us through the use of the Adobe software slowly and in a step-by-step manner that was easy to follow. This ensured that I, having had no prior exposure to the software, did not get lost and was able to grasp how to use it adequately enough that I could do the assignments with little difficulty technology-wise. He is also highly approachable and answers questions in a kind and caring fashion. As a PhD student himself, Aaron is juggling his own workload and pressures but he still finds it in him to treat us with dignity and respect, helping us along without criticising us unfairly, and giving us plenty of detailed written feedback on our design pieces. He is a fantastic example of what an educator at the tertiary level should be.

Module: 10/10

I'm a big fan of modules that teach practical skills so I look upon this one with favour. I had the chance to learn the entry-level technicalities of Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Dreamweaver, which are useful in many industries but especially in communications. Now I can list them on my resume, enhancing my skillset. And when I need to do minor repairs to a publication, I won't need to call in a specialist graphic designer as I can make the changes myself. The workload was heavy but fair for a level-3000 module. CNM majors, especially those who are gearing up for a career in public relations, should strongly consider taking this module, especially if the lecturer for that semester is Aaron.

How time flies, I'm already in Year 3! The next set of module reviews, coming in June 2019, will be the last for a while as I will be on internship during the second half of the year. I hope this set has been useful for you! As usual, the comments section below is open if you have any questions or suggestions.

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