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The Colloquium model: how is it best suited to a liberal education course?

New thoughts, new ideas and new learnings are best complemented by new pedagogical models. At Sai U, we have found in the ‘colloquium model’ the means to add value to the five phases of instruction: engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate.

The term ‘colloquium’ refers generally to an academic meeting at which experts or specialists speak at length on a topic or on related topics and then answer questions relating to them. The root of colloquium is the Latin loqui, which means “to talk.” Discussions are what happen in colloquia where different aspects of an issue are dissected and discussed threadbare.

At least two courses in the first year of undergraduate education at Sai U employ the colloquium model. ‘Global Challenges’ which aims to introduce students to a range of issues across the world and ‘Frontiers in Arts and Sciences’ and ‘Frontiers in Computing and Data Science’ that acquaint students with pressing issues in the disciplines, are delivered as colloquia through the semester.

Our students will vouch for the fact that there is never a boring moment, for not only does the subject matter for discussion vary every week, but also the expert who deals with it. Week after week, students are exposed to a range of issues from a cure for cancer, to the complexities of artificial intelligence, from South Asian History to the rise of the West, from climate change to issues in cognitive and social psychology, from human rights to opportunities in cyberspace. The wide range of issues allows them to gauge their own interest and aptitude and choose their fields of specialisation in the second year.

The very first semester at Sai U featured two-hour long sessions with former Chancellor of the University of California Nicholas Dirks, University Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago James A Robinson, German investigative journalist who worked on the Panama Papers Frederik Obermaier, Sociologist and Political Scientist Jack Goldstone to name just a few distinguished academics. Students learnt of the issues not from a book or from a person teaching out of a book, but from the very authors, from the mouths of shakers and movers across the world.

The sessions were preceded by a dissection of the speakers’ work in order to help the students grasp better the essence of the speakers’ arguments. The colloquium model adopted in Sai U is not a mere TEDx talk. It provides the opportunity to engage with the best minds in the field directly during the session. More importantly, it allows the carrying forward of the engagement by email. Sai U thus takes the leadership in facilitating networking at the international level. Our students who dream of working with the leaders in the field are provided with opportunities to realise the dream. The visit abroad initiative is a further step in the direction.

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