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The Challenge Semester: A New Wave at SKKU

This year the spring semester began on February 22nd because of the Challenge Semester, which first went into operation in 2020. Starting the semester in February, not in March, would be new to all Kingos. The challenging semester has added to the students’ confusion, though especially during the pandemic, where some classes are held in blended mode (online/offline). Therefore, the Sungykyun Times (SKT) will talk about the concept of the challenge semester, its problems, and possible ways to improve it.

What Is the Challenge Semester?

The Purpose of the Challenge Semester

The Challenge Semester was first discussed in February 2019, and the school intended to implement it in 2020. However, due to students’ opposition, it was postponed for a year, only operating as a summer session in 2020. As announced, this system will be introduced in full-scale from this year. The Challenge Semester is to be implemented to help students gain experiences during summer vacation. Therefore, the summer vacation now extends to three months, and students can participate in various programs like internships and extracurricular activities. The school authorities explained that they extended the summer vacation because it requires at least three months for a student to master something. In this way, the challenge semester was introduced to provide students with more opportunities. According to the Sungkyunkwan University Weekly interview, Kim Dong-wook, the Provost of Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), said that the most important part of the Challenge Semester is “to facilitate global experiences and provide multiple activities and programs for student success.”

2020 Challenge Semester (CTL SKKU YouTube)

Details of the Challenge Semester

The Challenge Semester has three parts: credit courses, free-credit courses, and internships/global programs. A credit course is a lecture program where students can get credits in the next regular semester. It has a similar form to the summer/winter sessions, except that it is free of charge. Credit courses use credits for the next semesters in advance, so students have to register for the next semester. For example, suppose a student has 18 credits for the next semester. In that case, he or she can take a maximum of 18 credits in credit courses and can enroll in the next semester, excluding the credits that have been taken during the Challenge Semester. Also, the extra credits one can get are limited to three no matter how many courses are taken during the credit course. A free-credit course is a program to provide students with diverse academic experiences and help them get Sampum, the certification system that should be taken for graduation. The internship program intends to allow students to communicate with companies and society. The global program was not carried out last year due to the pandemic but planned to proceed in 2021.

Issues Surrounding the Challenge Semester

There have been many students thinking negatively about the Challenge Semester from the beginning. Also, the lack of communication between students and the school was posed. Even after gathering students’ voices, a practical solution for addressed problems did not materialize. What are the reasons for the students objecting to the Challenge Semester?

Intensified Confusion in the Academic Schedule

The biggest problem students are concerned about is the consequent difficulties that arose from the academic schedule shift. First, students taking national exams, which are held between February and March, can be jeopardized. Several students prepare for national exams, and among them, the Certificated Public Accountant examination is held on February 28th and the Patent Attorney Examination on February 27th. Therefore, examinees could not attend the lecture of the first week and alter their timetable. Secondly, students have difficulty participating in extra-curricular activities. Most winter internships or student ambassador activities last until late February in accordance with the general semester starting in March. Students who took part in the 2020 winter internship expressed worries about this because it is hard to find a precedent or solution. Some students posted on online school community boards that it was difficult to make an excuse to companies, and that a shortened winter vacation is only beneficial to those who attend global internships. Lastly, students living in public dormitories also have trouble. Some students from other regions stay in dormitories operated by the local government because of the low price. However, some dormitories’ opening dates are scheduled after SKKU’s spring semester begins. For example, Gyeonggido Dormitory’s check-in date starts on February 25th this year, making students who do not have relatives in Seoul struggle to find a house to stay in before the check-in date.

Problems Associated with the Academic Schedule

Problems Regarding Contents of the Program

Besides the problem of an early beginning, students also complain about the lack of diversity in programs. First, the lectures in credit courses are not diverse. The school explains that students can take various areas of study, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), the fourth industrial revolution, student-success, and entrepreneurship, on the homepage. However, only one or two classes are about student-success and entrepreneurship, while there are eight to nine classes about AI out of 15 courses in total. Many argued that there should be a balance between the subjects. According to one of the prize-winning presentations for the 2020 Challenge Semester, they estimated that the classes about machine learning and deep learning seem to be at the senior level. Besides this, many other classes required a significant level to follow up the lecture. The class syllabus was not presented specifically, so the students could not know the exact lesson goal or level before taking the classes. Also, in free-credit courses, the lack of class choices and the program differentiation were brought up. Newly opened programs like the PSAT Camp or LEET Camp can be replaced by the Waryonghyeon classes where students prepare for national exams. Also, the fact that Learning by Teaching, one of the programs of free-credit courses, existed before the Challenge Semester shows the shortage of its own unique contents.

Lectures Biased Toward AI (indianexpress.com)

Where should the Challenge Semester Head To

After the student council had a meeting with the school president on January 29th, some problems seem to be taken care of. Students who are taking national exams will be able to get their attendance permitted even if they take the first-week class after their exams. Also, the school headquarters is planning to send an official notice of students’ early entrance to public dormitories and will provide residency if they refuse to. However, there should be more accompanying efforts for a continuous and better Challenge Semester.

Student-Led Challenge Semester

Since the Challenge Semester aims to offer students diverse experiences, students’ preferences and convenience for programs should be taken into more consideration. The Challenge Semester should be the semester for students. Though the school made efforts to listen to the voices of the Kingos, there has been a constant miscommunication. Also, due to insufficient explanations, some students have doubts about the semester beginning in February. Thus, it is crucial to reflect students’ opinions for a better operation. It would be useful to inform Kingos about the list of lectures before the Challenge Semester begins and adjust the classes according to students’ demands. Furthermore, an effort to exchange an opinion like creating a website for getting feedback or consistently communicating with students through the student council is needed.

For the Student-Led Challenge Semester (watv.org/ko)

Improvements in the Quality of Programs

The programs in last year’s Challenge Semester still need some supplementations. It lacks programs that help students to spend a meaningful vacation. Providing new programs and lectures are required to solve this problem. The school might open programs that students have demanded but are canceled during the regular semester or offer more classes on diverse topics by inviting external lecturers. Moreover, it is essential to put effort into supplement programs by reflecting students’ opinions using a survey method. The university should also accept feedback from students who participated in programs and continue to enhance the contents of the Challenge Semester. Lastly, though it is impossible to hold classes for all students, more students can benefit if the school increases students’ maximum enrollment in lectures.

The new 2021 semester started on February 22nd. Fast and precise solutions for current problems should be considered to successfully cope with some concerns and persist with the Challenge Semester. As the saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm,” the SKT hopes that the Challenge Semester could become another opportunity for Kingos to have useful experiences.

강민주  romaine@g.skku.edu

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