In many ways the differences between academics at Australian and American universities are few and far between. But there are also some stark differences that have taken some adjusting to.
For one thing, during lectures at home we’d rarely be asked questions and never would the class just be given free reign to discuss the topic at hand. Partly this is due to the size of the lectures, but even in a lecture of 16 students last semester at home we didn’t often have discussions in the lectures. I gather in some underclassmen classes here they have a similar set up to home, with large lectures and smaller discussion classes (what we call tutorials at home). But here, in upperclassmen classes, I’ve sat in a philosophy class where for a good 20 minutes we went off on a tangent discussing if aliens feel pain (there was no clear answer, as it turns out!). My Health Law class is 2 and a half hours of analyzing cases, raising issues and brainstorming as a class when the answer isn’t immediately clear. My Modern Architecture professor is a fan of randomly selecting a name off the class list, and quickly asking a question you have no hope of knowing unless you’ve properly read the readings. The benefit of class discussions, and being asked questions (and asking some of our own) is that there’s far less chance of getting bored, and it makes the longer classes take far less time.
Another big difference I’m finding a little challenging is the assessments here in the US. Generally, in classes at home we’ll have two big assessments a semester – one long mid-semester essay and one final essay or exam. Here, one of my subjects has 5 short essays as well as the final exam! The advantage of the approach at home is that you have fewer assignments to worry about overall, but you also have no way of knowing your progress until quite late in the semester. As much as I’m dreading all the assignments I have due over the next two weeks I can see the benefit in knowing my progress at this point in the semester, and being able to evaluate what my strengths and weaknesses are in each subject, and how I should best address these in future assignments.
One thing that hasn’t changed, despite the hundreds of miles and 16 hour time difference, is the mountain of readings I need to get through each week. Mostly this is because I picked two reading intensive majors but I’m finding it a struggle to fit in readings in between the actual assignments, exploring DC and having fun! Hopefully I’m doing enough…
The truth will tell once this batch of assignments are marked and I get my results!