Interdisciplinary studies at other universities
Other universities are also making efforts to embrace integrated education. Recently, Sungkyunkwan University has announced that it would make software classes mandatory for students entering from 2016. The university will also establish Sungkyun Software Education (SSEN), a software education center. The university believes that the ability to use software is necessary for every student including those of humanities and social sciences.
“This would help students with their future jobs, as maneuvering software is needed in almost every career,” said Chung Da-young, a student majoring in Economics. “However, there could be complaints since students have to take another class on top of other mandatory classes.”
Moreover, starting from April this year, Sungkyunkwan University has started the Sungkyun PUSH (Public Understanding of Science and Humanity) forum series. During this forum, professors of all majors and invited specialists come together to discuss recent issues and seek ways to develop education curricula.
Chung-Ang University is another school that promotes integrated learning. Its School of Integrated Engineering aims to mix the advantages of various majors to create new technologies, allowing students to acquire professional knowledge in diverse fields. Three majors are offered in the program: Nano-Materials Science and Engineering, Digital Imaging Science and Engineering, and Biomedical Science and Engineering.
A similar type of education also exists at Hanyang University, achieved through the Department of Electronic Engineering. Founded in 2010, the department aims to provide education that merges different IT technologies to create new technologies in fields such as the production of smartphones and intelligent robots. Around 62 percent of graduates in the department were employed after graduation, and the industries they work in range from venture businesses and IT industries to patent agents.
Mixed responses toward convergence education
The movement toward convergence education seems to persist as the demand for communication between diverse sciences increases. Appreciating the importance of it, Ewha has established a new college for convergence education, the College of Science & Industry Convergence. The college will include five existing majors such as Clothing & Textiles and Health Education & Management along with the newly established Department of Content Convergence.
While some are positive toward the movement, others express concerns over the mechanism for achieving the goal.
As convergence education blends different disciplines, it can provide opportunities for students to learn about unique or unfamiliar areas. For instance, as academic high school students are required to choose a curriculum between liberal arts and natural science, they claimed it is not easy to approach a different area of study that they want to learn.
“Since I took liberal arts courses in high school, it seemed impossible to become a psychiatrist,” said Park Su-hyun, a Brain & Cognitive Sciences major. “Thanks to the major, however, I am happy that I can get closer to my dream.”
However, some expressed concerns over the depth of education. They claimed that in an attempt to cover various disciplines, it is possible to lose the major’s characteristics.
“It would be great if students could learn more about specific programs such as Photoshop,” said Lee Joo-bin, a senior majoring in Clothing & Textiles. “However, in the process of converging, the curriculum can become disorganized and hinder students from mastering a particular field.”
There also have been complaints over the scope of “convergence,” such as the unclear relation between disciplines.
“Among the SHP’s compulsory courses, there are some classes that seem detached from ‘convergence education,’” said a student majoring in the SHP who wishes to remain anonymous. “The scope of convergence is sometimes too wide to find the correlation between courses is hard.”
Similarly, the prevalence of convergence education at universities was a source of concern for some people. It was suggested that Korean universities are easily swayed by popular educational paradigms.
“The emphasis on convergence in tertiary education aims to expand the opportunity to merge different fields of study,” explained professor Heo Gyun-young, the Director of the Center for Convergence Education at Kyung Hee University. “It does not mean that every student should receive convergence education.”
In addition to its use irrespective of students’ needs, interdisciplinary studies have been criticized for offering shallow knowledge on different fields. However, some professors explained that the depth of convergence education should depend on each student’s needs.
“There are job sectors that look for people with basic knowledge in diverse fields,” professor Heo said. “Meanwhile, for those who want to gain expertise in a specific area, convergence means studying more than others to acquire greater knowledge in several fields. Therefore, the latter group of students should double major in conventional majors as well as studies related to convergence.”
Reporters: Huh Ryun-jung, Kang Na-min, Lim Ye-ju, Son Young-chai