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Grace Abroad: UK teaching styles impact on academic achievement

For most American students, a college campus is fast-paced, with heavy workloads and busy schedules that can amount to high stress.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how the U.K. approaches higher education, specifically at Swansea University. From organized class structures to mid-lecture breaks, here are the major differences between classes and teaching styles in the U.S. and the U.K.

Teaching styles

In the U.K., professors in Wales are called "module instructors," but still hold the same responsibilities. They use a more informal approach to teaching, with discussion as their main focus. Instead of lectures, professors rely on interactive questions, activities and group work to engage students with the class materials.

They also use a more international approach to covering topics, which isn't common in the U.S. In the past two weeks, I have learned about more cultures than I arguably did in high school, which says a lot. Professors are also more lenient about grading, with a 70% and above counting as an "A" letter grade.

Course offerings

For my major, the U.K. offers many unique classes. From courses about social media cultures to adaptations of film and literature, there is something for every niche interest. 

Courses are structured into lectures and seminars, similar to the U.S. Each lecture is assigned a seminar, which students attend later in the week. Lectures are two hours in the U.K., but students are granted a 10-minute break after an hour, which is unheard of back in the U.S. Meanwhile, seminars are only an hour and include one-on-one discussions with the professor. 

The classroom's overall atmosphere is much more inviting and open to questions in the U.K. and professors tend not to rush through their course material. The importance of understanding is strong in the U.K., with many professors not letting a two-hour class time ruin their students' grasp of a concept.

Flexible schedules

Unlike my schedule back in the U.S., the U.K. only requires students to take three modules or courses, adding up to 15 credit hours. In the U.S., 15 credit hours are usually about five classes a semester. This difference has been extremely beneficial for my mental health, as I have more flexibility to get my work done on time.

Many students in the U.K. also have one or two days off per week due to this class structure, which promotes taking time for your physical and mental health during the week. Regarding club meetings, meeting times are less structured. 

Meetings are more about letting off steam and channeling your energy into something fun and relaxing. This also helps create a flexible, interactive and enjoyable schedule which is challenging for many students to find in the U.S.

Holiday breaks

In the spring semester, students in the U.S. typically only get one week of Spring Break. Meanwhile, universities in the U.K. take two to three weeks off for spring break, making it easier to travel or enjoy some much-needed downtime. 

In comparison, the two countries give their students ample time off, from four to six weeks during winter break.

Since moving to the U.K., I have had to get used to the emphasis on rest, but I wish the U.S. held more of this sentiment for college students. College life in the U.K. values connection and destimulation and breaks are taken more seriously for students.


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