Denison vs. Edinburgh

Sarah Mason University of Edinburgh, Scotland


April 4, 2016

Hello, all! It’s been another great week in Edinburgh. Friends visited, I finally checked out the rather touristy “Scotch Whisky Experience”, but possibly most exciting, classes are over! Yes, classes here end in March, and now all I have left is two big exams in May. So in my free time, I will share some reflections on my experience with UK schooling so far. 

Coming from a tiny liberal arts school in the middle of Ohio to an enormous university in a capital city is a big change in itself. On Denison’s campus of 2,400 students, attendance is mandatory, participation is encouraged, and all your professors know you by name. Here, all of my classes were large lecture halls, where attendance is not counted, and there’s not much room for student involvement in the lectures. I had mentally prepared for these differences before coming abroad, but it was definitely still strange walking into a huge lecture hall for class and not necessarily having to interact with anyone.

What struck me more was the enormous focus on individual learning and high level of self teaching required. Because lectures here don’t usually count attendance, I know a lot of students who, instead, just viewed the PowerPoints online. As a student, you are expected to keep up with the reading and material on your own watch, so as not to fall behind. Back home, most of my classes would have 3 to 4 exams a semester, multiple essays, assignments, or presentations, plus a final. Here, each class has maybe about 2-3 assessments for the entire semester. While this may seem simple at first, it gets much harder when you realize how much weight each assignment holds. Doing poorly on one assessment could jeopardize your entire grade. This assessment style was one thing about university here that I didn’t enjoy. Trying to keep up to date with material without regular assignments to encourage me to do my work was difficult, especially while trying to explore Scotland. I realized that I do much better in a system where I am regularly assessed and forced to keep up with the work, rather than expected to do most of it individually.

One more big difference that I noticed throughout my time was how labs are administered here. Back home, biology labs generally require extensive pre-lab preparation, a long and sometimes difficult lab procedure, as well as a post-lab writeup. Here, my labs were very laid back, often just looking at specimens under microscopes or performing simple procedures. None of these labs required a writeup; however, we were tested in a final lab practical. This was one difference that I particularly enjoyed; however, it may have partially been because of the subject of my bio class here.

So, overall, I have to say that I miss my tiny little liberal arts school. While there are definite benefits to the university style here, I am much more comfortable (and motivated!) back at Denison. I definitely have learned a lot here at the University of Edinburgh, but will be excited to return to Denison this fall.

Until next time – Cheers!