NUS Technology in Higher Education Day

On November 16, the Provost of NUS convened a day of talks on Technology in Higher Education, which featured a wide range of presentations on tech-enhanced teaching, use of virtual reality in classes, and online education. It was a great way to learn more about the innovations at NUS and some of the new NUS learning science initiatives. A schedule of the event lists some of the great talks during the day, which included a talk by the NUS Provost, presentations of LIFT technology grant award winners, information on the Ministry of Education (MOE) Tertiary Research Fund, and a mix of talks on innovations and the new NUS institute for the Application of Learning Science and Educational Technology known as ALSET.

Tech Day 16Nov2016 Programme

It was interesting to learn more about the history of NUS and its approach to innovation. The Provost provided a timeline (shown below) that indicated the ways in which NUS education has been steadily strengthened in its approach by technology. Important milestones include the mid-90’s IVLE Learning Environment, the 2007 Duke-NUS TeamLEAD pedagogy implementation, 2012 Educational Technology LIFT grants, and then by 2014 new NUS-internal online courses known as NUS iBLOCs were implemented, along with several open MOOC courses through the Coursera platform. The currently offered NUS Coursera Courses include stand-along MOOCs such as Reason and Persuasions: Through Three Dialogues by Plato and Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition.  A notable development in the past two years are several NRF “Science of Learning” grants, and the new institute known as ALSET, headed by the Duke-NUS Medical School associate provost Bob Kamei


The NUS administration is also interested in empowering faculty by developing a “Learning Eco-system” – which includes their Centre for Teaching and Learning (CDTL) and Center for Information Technology (CIT) which offer workshops for faculty known as TEL workshops. The NUS administration also has begun creating more Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms, and currently has 48 of them on campus.


The approach that NUS takes to innovation involves moving with pilot programs and then “Scaling Up What We Do Well” – a pattern shown throughout the past 20 years with initiatives of all kinds – NUS Overseas Colleges, the NUS Engineering Design-centric program, and even the Yale-NUS College. This has led the NUS leadership to consider the NUS approach as NUS Education 3.0 – building on the two earlier periods of growth in educational technology and learning science initiatives.


A lot of the approach at NUS involves promoting Lifelong Learning and developing 21st Century skills. This is now part of the NUS general education requirements, and is the inspiration for many of the NUS initiatives, including the Yale-NUS College. During my time at Yale-NUS, I have been very grateful for the chance to help implement a curriculum which is based on these types of skills which are increasingly relevant to solving the complex, interdisciplinary problems facing the world. Within this framework is the oft-cited “Fourth Industrial Revolution” theme, which includes the development of steam power around 1787, the division of labor and manufacturing around 1870, the development of automation and computers around 1970, and now the emergence of “systems thinking” and new technologies that embody multiple sciences such as nano-technology, artificial intelligence, new materials and synthetic biology. This leads many to realize that not only will fewer jobs be created (due to automation) the types of jobs will change dramatically – with a corresponding need to retool higher education to meet these new demands.


Some of the new developments in education such as “nano-degrees” (pioneered by Udacity and other MOOC providers), and “just in time training” demanded by corporations for updating their workforce skills suggest that new formats for courses – both online and in person – might be a welcome change to meet these rapidly shifting demands. The NMC Horizon Report was cited as one example of how higher education might respond, and how hybrid instruction might be able to adopt a philosophy such as “teach less, learn more” and to “move to student-led, teacher facilitated, and tech-empowered” forms of teaching.  The rest of the day included presentations that showed how NUS is responding, using flipped classes, virtual reality, and interesting problem-based learning implementation of a wide range of topics in its curriculum.

Graham Gibbs and Teaching Excellence

During the U21 meeting in Birmingham, we were given a talk by Graham Gibbs, as part of the “expert evidence” for the Universitas 21 group. We were convened to develop a position statement on the role of teaching within a research intensive university, and I was representing NUS as part of my work with the NUS Teaching Academy, as well as representing Yale-NUS as CTL director.  Graham Gibbs was a director of the University of Oxford Learning Institute, and is a Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy. His work includes numerous papers describing ways to assess and reward excellent teaching – such as his report to the Higher Education Academy, “Designing Teaching Award Schemes.” Graham is also the author of several very influential articles on teaching over the years such as “Dimensions of Quality,” “Twenty Terrible Reasons for Lecturing,” and the SEDA blog site53 Powerful Ideas that Everyone Should Know.”


Graham Gibbs’ report on Designing Teaching Schemes was one of the sources I used in recommending a Teaching Award Scheme to the Dean of Faculty and Academic Committee at Yale-NUS College.  This report indicates that it is essential to design Teaching Awards carefully, lest they enshrine bad teaching or popularity, and thereby have an irrevocable damaging effect on the teaching culture of an institution. Other elements of his prescription include a system that includes observable classroom teaching, a focus on student learning (instead of just popularity), some recognition of the scholarship of teaching and learning, embodiment of a teacher’s disciplinary scholarship within teaching, a channel for recognition of how a professor influences their peers and provides leadership and promotes innovation within the institution. Such a teaching award scheme would have to allow for nominations and letters of recommendation from both professors and students, and a mix of materials in assessing the excellence of teaching. Gibbs also is careful to point out that the awards must be assessed by a committee that includes a group of faculty and leadership that can provide an agreed upon and transparent rubric for evaluating and recongizing good teaching.


Within Graham’s talk were a number of very interesting and provocative ideas. In Graham’s opinion, a university has “hired the wrong people” if “they are off doing research at every spare moment.” He is convinced that teaching matters, and in order to bolster and improve it, the quality of teaching has to be rooted within disciplinary departments. He is naturally suspicious of top-down and government initiatives to improve teaching, such as those implemented within the UK. He is also suspicious of metrics and rankings that provide only superficial data on teaching quality, such as the staff to student ratios (which often tracks faculty who primarily do research – and not a good metric of teaching).

Graham studied the departments at Oxford University, trying to determine what made some of them good and others terrible at teaching. He used the geology department as an example, where a culture of promoting teaching has been established. One element of this culture was the way they hired faculty, which includes a consideration of the very important question: “do they like young people?”  An affirmative answer to this question is one essential ingredient of making a good teaching culture, in Graham’s opinion. Graham also promoted the idea that good teaching is a way to be a good “steward of the discipline” and can provide a high quality next generation of practitioners. Graham noted how many leading research universities are now also enforcing policies that require faculty to be considered for their teaching abilities as they are hired, and making sure that something is done to promote good teaching among the junior faculty through new faculty programs and well-designed teaching award schemes.

One interesting point Graham made is that many leading universities (including NUS and Yale-NUS) have excellent teaching centers, but that all of these centers tend to adopt an “opt in” mentality, which reaches the excellent teachers but not the ones that are needed to be reached. Graham suggests other mechanisms to develop good teaching broadly across departments, such as funds available to hire students to create new instructional materials, staff members within a CTL that can visit faculty within their departments, peer tutors that can help train faculty and students in technology topics, and innovation grants, which can enable faculty to both try new things, and to adapt innovations from other departments to their own context. Graham also places a high premium on mechanisms to promote people talking about teaching within departments – which can be as simple as a “beer on Friday” policy or a regular meeting dedicated to teaching discussions within departments.

Graham also pointed out a very interesting element within teaching and learning – the ways in which students interpret their assessments. Graham pointed out that successful students were aware of how the system works, and use feedback from their work completely differently than non-successful students. Graham attributes this to “assessment literacy” and that these successful students recognise their own responsibility for learning and find ways to interpret how they are learning.

LCRO – Las Campanas Remote Observatory

One of the joys of my recent semester has been exploring the Chilean night sky – from the comfort of a classroom in Singapore, using the Las Campanas Remote Observatory (LCRO). This system, developed by a fearless crew of entrepreneurs and amateur astronomers in California, opens up the night skies of Chile to our Yale-NUS students. During the Fall 2016 semester, I was using LCRO with our students for final projects, for exercises in astronomical coordinates, and for studying exoplanets. Next semester I am going to be offering an observational astronomy course, and from here in Singapore – having a telescope like this is a lifesaver!  The telescope itself is a 0.3-meter telescope, mounted on a superb Astro-Physics mount, with a FLI ProLine Camera and filters that include gri photometric bands, as well as narrow-band filters like H-alpha, O-III, and S-II. Needless to say, it is a SUPERB system, and I am grateful to Mike Long, and to the Carnegie Observatories for giving me the chance to pilot astronomy projects with undergraduates with LCRO. Below is an image gallery of some of the galaxies and nebulae which were taken during Fall 2016 as part of our Yale-NUS College experiments. Stay tuned for more developments – including my new curriculum for remotely operated telescopes like LCRO!

You can see more about LCRO at the LCRO image gallery link:

And also the LCRO astronomer site:

Enjoy the images!

screenshot_938 screenshot_939 screenshot_940  screenshot_943 screenshot_944  screenshot_941


U21 Meeting on Teaching Excellence in RI Universities, Birmingham, UK

From October 26-28, I was part of a delegation from the National University of Singapore attending a meeting at Birmingham University, entitled “What is Teaching Excellence in a Contemporary Research-Intensive University?” The meeting was convened by the Universitas 21 Network, a global coalition of leading research-intensive universities from across Asia, the US, Africa and Europe. The diversity of the attendees was really remarkable – and I had a chance to talk about higher education with a very interesting group of colleagues from South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, the UK, Malaysia, and of course the US!  Our project was to create a “Position Statement” to answer the question which provided the title of the meeting. The meeting conveners came up with this summary of the meeting’s purpose:

“The purpose of this conference is for U21 colleagues to come together, with international experts in the field, to design a ‘Position Statement’ on the unique features of research-led teaching/education in a contemporary research-intensive university. The Position Statement emerging from this conference will make an important contribution to the ongoing work of the U21 Educational Innovation Cluster on developing, enhancing, recognising and rewarding teaching excellence in a research intensive context; this work is due to be presented to U21 Presidents at their Annual General Meeting in May 2017. U21 delegates at the conference will have the opportunity to reflect on existing evidence about teaching excellence in higher education, situate this evidence in the challenges facing contemporary research-intensive universities, revisit the meaning of ‘research-led teaching/education’ and to ensure that their views, and those of their institutions, form part of U21’s work in educational innovation.”

The meeting had an interesting structure where we received “Expert Evidence” from thought leaders in higher education, and then convened in our working groups to incorporate this expert evidence into our written position piece. The experts and their talks are listed below with short “takeaways” from my own notes and thoughts. At the end is the summary of our working group’s production of the position statement, along with some nice photos of the region around Birmingham England. It was a real honor to represent NUS at this international meeting and to meet some of the exciting colleagues and experts that were present.


Our working group came up with this statement:


The research intensive university has a culture in which the undergraduates are full partners in the research endeavour of the institution. The role of the RI U is in developing full human potential for excellence in scholarship and the creation of knowledge

The research intensive university is characterised by –

  • Leadership that is research informed and nurtures a growth mind-set in all members of the community
  • The creation of a learning community in which students and scholars are generating and contesting knowledge collaboratively
  • Teaching that embodies the same core principles of research and the same rules of academic engagement. This includes discussion and debate, critical review, learning from failure.
  • Teachers with deep expertise, experience, conviction that comes from their authentic connection to the curriculum through research and scholarship
  • A research-intensive university inspires its students to become next generation researchers and leaders through their exposure to developing their capacity for critical thought and exposure to different epistemologies and methodologies that are research-led
  • A research intensive university provides its students with the capacity to create new meanings by imbuing its teaching with the various components that make research successful such as creativity, imagination, resilience and deep capacity for questing and imagining of new possibilities. 


Reward and recognition processes are clearly aligned with a values system in which synergistic interactions between teaching and research are celebrated and normalised. Commitment to small group teaching in which undergraduates are exposed to open dialogue and discussion that is research-based.

The working group included  Amanda Gibney from University College, Dublin, Ireland, Bryan Penprase from Yale-NUS College, Singapore; Simon Bates from University of British Columbia, Canada, Sarah Speight from University of Nottingham, UK,  Wendela Wapenaar from Nottingham University, UK,  and S. Busiom from the University of Johannesburg. <> <>
Sarah Speight <> <>
Wendela Wapenaar <>


Expert Evidence 1

‘What is ‘teaching excellence’ and how is teaching improved?’

Professor Graham Gibbs, (formerly of Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities, UK)

Expert Evidence 2

‘Learning Gain in higher education: conceptualisation and measurement’

Professor Jan Vermunt (University of Cambridge, UK)

‘Learning Gain: career readiness and employability’

Dr. Eluned Jones (Director, Careers Network, University of Birmingham, UK)

Expert Evidence 3 

Learning from the U21 Network

‘Presenting the evidence: Constructs, policies, practices and attitudes towards teaching in U21 institutions – findings from across the network’

Professor Stephen Marshall (University of New South Wales, Australia) Professor Graeme Aitken (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

Professor Simon Bates (University of British Columbia, Canada)

In this session, we will report on the activities and findings of two interrelated EI cluster projects over the last two years. The first of these has been to develop and validate a shared framework for teaching excellence and leadership in education that can be used to guide practice across the network for evaluating teaching contributions as part of our academic promotion processes. The second project will report findings from a recent survey of teaching practices and attitudes across a number of U21 institutions. Together, the framework and the baseline data on practices and attitudes will form the basis of planned training and development opportunities for an identified pool of individuals within and across institutions so that they can become recognised members of a U21 College of Peer Reviewers of Teaching.

Expert Evidence 4

‘What is excellent teaching from a student learner perspective?’

Student Panel

Expert Evidence 5

‘How teachers build credibility and authenticity in students’ eyes?’

Professor Stephen Brookfield (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, USA).

Here are some images from University of Birmingham – and some of the beautiful sunsets  and fall colours of England. 

UKbirmingham.2016 - 9 UKbirmingham.2016 - 6 UKbirmingham.2016 - 7 UKbirmingham.2016 - 8 UKbirmingham.2016 - 3 UKbirmingham.2016 - 4 UKbirmingham.2016 - 5 UKbirmingham.2016 - 1 UKbirmingham.2016 - 2

UN World Space Week and “Chasing Cosmic Explosions” Talk at Singapore Science Centre

As part of the Singapore UN World Space Week (, I gave a talk at the Singapore Science Center entitled “Chasing Cosmic Explosions” that describes which describes supernovae, gamma ray bursts, and the search for optical counterparts of gravitational wave sources. This also describes the emerging global network of telescopes that our group at Caltech is assembling which includes a Yale 1.3-meter in Chile as part of a network following up newly discovered novae, supernovae, and other “Transients.”  The entire spectrum of events for World Space Week is also on Facebook at this site:


You can see more about our GROWTH and ZTF networks at these sites: –

This talk was streamed live on Facebook and had a pretty good attendance across the world – with people in Taiwan, Turkey, the US, and India all watching!  It is an amazing time of global interconnectedness!



Book Chapter on NUS undergraduate education and the Founding of Yale-NUS College

As part of the NUS Teaching Academy,  we receive briefings and advise the leadership at NUS. On September 22 we received a briefing from the NUS Provost Prof. Tan Eng Chye on the many initiatives that NUS has developed over the past decades.  The talk was extremely interesting as it highlighted the steady increase of programs and rankings of NUS and the ways in which pilot programs in undergraduate education such as the general education, and University Scholars Program were introduced nearly 20 years ago, and have scaled up into much larger initiatives such as Yale-NUS College and the University-wide Quantitative Reasoning course. I became very interested in the history of NUS, and also how the founding of Yale-NUS College fits within the history of NUS, and its strategic interests.

This research into NUS and its history of undergraduate education innovations played a key role in a book chapter that I have written entitled “Undergraduate Education at NUS and the founding of Yale-NUS College.” This  chapter will appear in a sequel to The New Flagship University, and will be produced by the UC Berkeley CSHE, and edited by John Douglass.  I will post more information on this chapter when it is available. Below are a few excerpts:

The Development of NUS as a Leading Global University

The National University of Singapore, like Singapore itself, has experienced incredibly rapid growth in its physical infrastructure and international stature over the past two decades. The young city-state of Singapore just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as a nation and in the process of fifty years has built a nation that provides the third highest per capita income in the world[1], and a vibrant and diversified economy that includes leading industries in the financial sector, high-tech manufacturing and design, biomedical research and petrochemicals, along with a large component of activity in shipping and resource management. The latest economic data from Singapore also highlights the importance of knowledge industries, since 70% of the GDP comes from service industries, and only 25% from manufacturing and construction[2]. These industries have propelled a very rapid growth in Singapore’s economy and purchasing power which outpaces nearly all of the competing countries over the past five decades. One example of this rapid growth is Real GDP per person, which has risen by over 15-fold in the last 50 years[3].

[1] World Economic Outlook Database, October 2016International Monetary Fund. Database updated on 4 October 2016. Accessed on 6 October 2016.



The integration between education and industry has enabled the small country of Singapore, with a population of 5.3 million (with an additional 1 million foreign workers), to leap into the top ranks in a number of emerging technical industries. Starting in the 1970’s with shipping, chemicals and high-tech manufacturing, and continuing today in electronics design, biotechnology, financial services, and materials science, the Singaporean economy has managed to be flexible to shift into new areas where there are emerging demands. Singapore’s economy has rocketed to new heights in the past decade and is now at $292 billion in GDP (2015), which exceeds its neighbor, Malaysia (a country of over 29 million, nearly six times larger in population and over 450 times more land area), and is at parity with Hong Kong (a close rival in economic performance with the benefit of full economic integration with China).

Singapore’s higher education sector also plays a role in its economic growth, and has been similarly growing in influence and prestige. Singapore’s flagship university, NUS, now in the top ranks of world universities, and with several Centres of Excellence that are leaders in niche areas of science and technology, such as Cancer Science, Quantum Technologies, Mechano-biology, and Environmental and Life Science Engineering. While no single university ranking is definitive, all of the rankings have placed NUS highly, within rapid rises in the past few years. The Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings for 2011, for example, placed NUS as 34th in the world, with especially high scores for “international outlook,” that arises from over 70 joint concurrent and double degree programmes with prestigious universities around the world. In the same year the QS rankings placed NUS at 25th in the world. By 2016 these rankings had risen to 24th in the THE rankings, and to 12th in the world in the QS rankings, and NUS now is consistently ranked as the best university in Asia with both THE and QS rankings.

The rise of NUS to such levels of prestige is even more remarkable when considered in the context of Singapore’s rise and the very recent granting to NUS (in 2005) the status of an autonomous educational institution[1], despite its status as the oldest institution of higher learning in Singapore, founded in 1905. The NUS President Shih Choon Fong played a key role in bringing about this transformation of NUS, with a complete reform of the university governance in 2006, and the development of new procedures for hiring, promoting and tenuring faculty in 2006. Prior to these reforms, NUS and the other Singaporean tertiary institutions (NTU and SMU) was administered through the Ministry of Education, and its professors were civil servants. With autonomy, NUS could provide a more traditional form of faculty governance, develop a tenure and promotion policy, and perhaps most importantly, have a free hand in innovating in undergraduate education and incentivizing excellence in research and teaching.

Along with these structural reforms in governance, the campus received ever-increasing funding, and its operating budget, facilities and salaries rose remarkably in the past 15 years. For example, in 2004, the operating budget was $1.16 billion SGD, and salaries comprised $548 million. In 2009 this rose to $1.35 billion SGD and salaries comprised $732 million. By 2015 the corresponding figures were $2.36 billion SGD, and over $1.0 billion on salaries[2]. After adjusting for inflation (which accounts for a 35-40% rise in prices between 2004 and 2015), this represents a real growth in NUS in operating budget and salary of approximately 50%; this investment in NUS and its infrastructure also provided for real increases in research productivity and teaching quality which enabled NUS to rise in its rankings. The growth of NUS in institutional reputation and financial support came with a growth in the size and quality of the faculty. In 2003, NUS had 1622 faculty, with only 12% at the Assistant rank, and 87% at the Associate and Full Professor ranks. The number of faculty increased steadily from 2003 to 2009, from strategic hires of a mix of mostly junior faculty and also internationally known senior researchers. By 2006 NUS had 1820 faculty, and this number rose to 2207 by 2009, levelling to 2374 faculty by 2014. The hiring of faculty after 2005 was enabled by the new faculty governance procedures at NUS, which enabled NUS to be autonomous in its hiring, and separate from the Ministry of Education’s civil service procedures. Along with the growth in numbers of faculty came a rise in the number of named professorships, which by 2015 included 94 named professorships made possible by benefactors, with 11 being created in 2015 alone.   NUS also targeted key areas of research through its Centres of Excellence, which in 2008 included the Centre for Quantum Technologies and the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore, each of which were funded by large grants of over $150 million over 10 years. By 2014 NUS added additional Centres of Excellence that included a Mechanobiology Institute and the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering.

International partnerships also played a key role in the NUS growth and rise in global rankings, where NUS typically is ranked near the top in the THE “International Outlook” category, finishing 12th in the world in 2016. NUS now includes membership in 8 different international consortia, such as the IARU, U21, Pacific Rim Universities and Ecolas group of universities. These affiliations provide for a wide array of exchanges between faculty and students, dozens of joint degree programs, and hundreds of international research collaborations..




The Founding of Yale-NUS College

The Yale-NUS College is a case study in the convergence of an internationalizing strategy from a major US University (Yale), and a recognized need for a new form of undergraduate education from the partner host country (Singapore) within the context of a rising flagship National University (National University of Singapore). As such, the Yale-NUS College is from the outset designed to meet the overlap of strategic needs of both Yale and NUS. A true partnership of these two universities provides the potential for a long-term stability that other “branch campus” initiatives may find harder to achieve. The tireless efforts of many leaders made the founding of Yale-NUS possible, and key figures from Singapore included NUS President Shih Choon Fong and NUS President Tan Chorh Chuan, MOE Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and NUS Vice President Lily Kong. From Yale University the key founders included Richard Levin, Yale’s President, Charles Bailyn, the inaugural Dean of Yale-NUS College, and Pericles Lewis, the first Yale-NUS College President, along with a group of inaugural faculty.

Like many initiatives in Singapore, the roots of the Yale-NUS College and liberal arts arose from a concerted strategy that involved leaders at the highest levels of government. A government report from the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector in 2008 outlined the need for a liberal arts college in Singapore. Within the report is the finding that:

“The Committee has identified liberal arts education as a valuable addition to our university landscape. We believe that liberal arts education serves to develop independent thinkers, effective communicators and potential leaders for the future… Liberal arts education is characterised by broad-based, multi-disciplinary learning, high-quality teaching and intensive interaction among students and with faculty members. The introduction of liberal arts education will help us offer an intellectually invigorating environment and an additional avenue to develop independent and critical thinkers who can go on to become leaders in the economic, social and political fields.”[1]

The current President of Singapore, Tony Tan, also came out strongly for liberal arts in several speeches. In 2010, while Executive Director of the Singapore Investment Corporation, he noted that the British-based educational system dominant in Singapore had “served Singapore and Singaporeans well” but that the American liberal arts may be why the United States economy is “more dynamic and entrepreneurial” when compared to European ones, and that the American system “fosters a readier acceptance of change and a greater willingness to take risks.”[2]In the United States, Yale’s President Richard Levin was also working towards a vision of an international campus. Richard Levin had a vision for Yale’s “Fourth Century” as a time when Yale would expand internationally, to become a truly global university. In 1996, in a speech entitled “Preparing for Yale’s Fourth Century,” Levin noted that becoming global was the necessary next step for Yale in its mission to advance undergraduate education, and educate the next generation of leaders:

“Yale is one of the very few universities in the world with the tangible assets, human resources, and internal culture to make possible simultaneous dedication to the preservation, transmission, and advancement of knowledge. … Two such characteristics warrant reaffirmation as we develop a strategy for our fourth century. First, among the nation’s finest research universities, Yale is distinctively committed to excellence in undergraduate education. Second, in our graduate and professional schools as well as in Yale College, we are committed to the education of leaders. Beyond these commitments, we must recognize that the leaders of the twenty-first century, in virtually every calling and profession, will operate in a global environment. To prepare our students for leadership, our curriculum needs to focus increasingly on international concerns; our student populations must have strong international representation, and our students should have ample opportunities for study abroad. Indeed, we will continue the transformation of Yale, begun in the eighteenth century, from a local to a regional to a national and now to a truly international institution — international in the composition of its faculty and student body as well as in the objects of its study.”[3]

In 2001, as part of the celebrations for its 300th birthday, Yale launched its “Fourth Century Initiative” based on Yale’s natural progression toward internationalization. By 2001, the World Fellows Program had already been created to bring students from across the globe to New Haven to study international issues. A Progress Report on Internationalization of Yale from 2005-2008 reported the rapid expansion of international programs for undergraduates, with the largest growth coming from a combination of new international summer internships (in 28 countries) and summer study at campuses from the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), a consortium of leading world universities that includes Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, NUS, ETH Zurich, Peking University, UC Berkeley, University of Copenhagen, University of Tokyo, and the Australian National University[4]. During this period, Yale created many new student exchanges, sent increasing numbers of students abroad, expanded international student enrollments in Yale College, and strategically hired faculty with expertise in international fields. Additional international programs expanded rapidly from 2005-2008, such as training classes for senior government officials in China and India, and extensive research collaborations with China (such as biology research at a Peking-Yale joint center, and nanotechnology at Yale-Beida center), and a proposed Yale Institute of the Arts in Abu Dhabi. The Yale International Framework of 2009 listed some initiatives with Singapore (virtual classrooms, a jointly taught summer course at NUS with Yale and NUS faculty and students, and projects on tropical forestry in Singapore), but the liberal arts college in Singapore was not yet part of Yale’s extensive international strategy.[5]

Meanwhile, the National University of Singapore had been developing its own vision for a liberal arts college, years before approaching Yale with the idea. The NUS President from 2000-2008, Shih Choon Fong, was an enthusiastic backer of the liberal arts, and sought partners for a stand-alone liberal arts college that could be based in Singapore. Among the potential partners for this college approached were the Claremont Colleges, who were invited into negotiations for a partnership to create a sixth Claremont College in Singapore. The Claremont College presidents, delegations from Singapore, and committees of faculty from both Claremont and NUS discussed the ideas at length in 2008 and 2009. These discussions produced the document entitled “Claremont in Singapore” that described the new college. After hosting a delegation of Presidents from the various Claremont Colleges in 2008, President Fong was excited about the opportunity for a new liberal arts college to develop a “learning and living environment that seeks to catalyze a transformational experience for students.” At that March 2008 dinner, President Shih said to the group of assembled leaders from the Claremont Colleges and NUS:

“My colleagues and I are fortunate that through this academic outreach, we have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Claremont Colleges and your diverse accomplishments, particularly in the liberal arts, science, business and the arts. Both the Claremont Colleges and the Singapore’s universities seek to prepare our students for the global economy, equipping them with a competitive edge in our culturally complex world.”[6]



[3] Levin, R.C. Preparing for Yale’s Fourth Century. 1996; Available from:

[4] International Alliance of Research Universities. Members. 2013; Available from:

[5] Yale University. Yale International Framework – Yale’s Agenda for 2009 through 2012. 2012; Available from:

[6] National University of Singapore Newshub. Claremont and NUS: Building Bridges Across Disciplines, Cultures and Continents. 2008; Available from:

Some other interesting excerpts from NUS web sites and figures are below – taken from NUS publicly available materials.


Timeline of Innovative Programs at National University of Singapore (from NUS web-based sources):
Special programme in Science – 1996
Core Curriculum 1998

The GE curriculum consists of modules that cut across the wide range of disciplines that a comprehensive university offers. It encourages students to explore disciplinary practices and thinking in the humanities, social sciences, sciences and engineering sciences. The GE curriculum also engages all students in discussions about the social, cultural, scientific, and historical topics that will, at the same time, lay the foundations for important life skills such as critical thinking, communication, and reasoning. In a nutshell, the NUS GE curriculum aspires to inculcate the habits or qualities of mind that define a successful graduate.

GE consists of five pillars:

  1. Human Cultures
  2. Asking Questions
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Singapore Studies
  5. Thinking and Expression
All students (except those from the Faculties of Dentistry and Law, and the School of Medicine) are required to read and pass five GE modules, one from each pillar. Students are strongly encouraged to complete the GE modules within the first two years of their candidature.

SEP – 1999 Student Exchange Programme

University Scholars Program 2002
The University Scholars Programme is an interdisciplinary academic programme for NUS undergraduates. It offers students in this programme the freedom to explore across disciplines, a wide range of extracurricular and overseas opportunities, and a community of exceptionally motivated and talented students. Science students wishing for a more vibrant science education may want to consider this programme. Students enrolled on this programme will also get the chance to be enrolled on the Joint Degree Programme with the Australian National University or theDouble Degree Programme with Waseda University.

NUS Overseas Colleges 2001
Choose to spend a full year or half year of your undergraduate life working and studying at our partner universities all at the same time – you get to decide what’s best for you!
Full Year Programme (for Undergraduates)
Feel the buzz of creative energy and experience the rollercoaster ride of emotions as companies are founded, bought and sold. Our one-of-a-kind full year internship programme places interns in dynamic entrepreneurial hubs around the world. Take classes at prestigious universities such as Stanford, Fudan, Tsinghua and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). Interact with famous startup founders, angel investors and other inspiring role models to learn the secrets of their success.
Short Programme (for Undergraduates and Graduates)
Transform your mindset. Get a short but intense immersion in Innovative Israel and Beijing. Experience life at a start-up and immerse yourself in all the exciting opportunities.

Duke NUS and ESP  2006 – ENgineering Science Programme

DCP and GEP 2009 – Design-Centric Programme + Global Engineering Programme – Georgia Tech Special Term program – going to Beijing

U Town RC 2011

 Yale-NUS College – 2013

RVRC and Global Studies 2014 – Ridge View Residential College
Centre for Future Ready Graduates – CFG “Roots and Wings” 

Power of Stars Second Edition is complete!

In collaboration with many of my colleagues at Yale-NUS College, and with the patience of Springer, Inc., I happy to report that I have completed my second edition of the Power of Stars book. The new chapters have all been submitted and the publisher is happy to accept these as a new edition to appear some time around April 2017. The new edition has benefited from my time living here in Singapore and includes new sections on ancient astronomy within India, Australia and China, with original photographs and new digital graphics based on travels throughout Asia since 2014.
The new edition includes several improvements – these are listed below:
  • Chapter 1 includes new sections on Native American sites such as Chimney Rock and Hovenweep with photographs from site visits, new information on Mercury and Venus transits, and new figures to help guide amateur observers in their viewing of planets.
  • Chapter 2 includes new sections on Hawaiian and Polynesian navigation, finding guides for some of the main star clusters, nebulae and galaxies in major constellations, new information on the Inuit skylore, and improved sections on Indian observational astronomy and observatories.
  • Chapter 3 includes expanded sections on Aboriginal Australian creation, a new section on the ancient Hindu creation stories, and figures from trips to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and Mammalapuram, India.
  • Chapter 4 includes updates on the Chinese cosmologies, and an extensive description of Hindu and Buddhist Cosmologies.
  • Chapter 5 includes new photographs and information from the Purple Mountain Observatory, Nanjing, China, and an expanded section on Chinese calendars and timekeeping.
  • Chapter 6 includes an update on the Antikythera mechanism, including figures from reconstructions of the device based on new research, and updates on the rapidly developing world of atomic clocks – which have improved by more than a factor of 100 since the first edition.
  • Chapter 7 includes the research on Stonehenge, photographs of the Hovenweep site at summer solstice, additional information on Islamic city orientations, a description on new research with lidar to uncover lost cities near Angkor Wat, and an extensive analysis of orientation of shrines and temples in Tamil Nadu based on site visits during 2014.
  • Chapter 8 includes an improved section on Turrell’s artistry, and an updated look at the top skyscrapers – soon to be joined by ever-taller skyscrapers that attempt to defy the laws of physics and architecture in their reach for the stars.
  • Chapter 9 includes updates on the latest research on Dark Energy and Dark Matter, including new images of dark matter from the Hubble Space telescopes, an update in the largest telescopes of the world, and a mention of the discovery of the Higgs Boson and its connection to the early universe.
  • Chapter 10 retains its philosophical tone, but adds a summary of the “concordance cosmology” with updated results from new types of cosmic ray and neutrino detectors, and new information on the discovery of gravitational radiation and its profound impact on our understanding of the universe.

A sample of some of the new images within the Second Edition are below.

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Visit to Indian Institute for Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune

During my visit to Pune I had a chance to visit the new IISER institution in Pune – the Indian Institute for Science Education and Research. During the visit I met with Professor Sunil Mukhi, the Head of the Physics Department. We met in his office and discussed the IISER curriculum, the Yale_NUS curriculum, and ways of teaching “authentic” forms of science. At IISER the authenticity comes from a research-rich environment, and like Yale-NUS IISER strives for excellent education and interdisciplinary work. One example of interdisciplinary work is from Ramana Athreya, who does both radio astronomy in remote parts of India and conservation biology – even discovering new species in his explorations and mapping genetic trees to determine migration patterns of these species. After a discussion in the office I had a chance to meet with other physics faculty, including Bhas Bapat, who is a leader in developing and managing the IISER curriculum, and we had a wonderful lunch where we discussed what it is like working at IISER, and some of the details of life at IISER. The faculty live adjacent to the campus in a nicely appointed bank of flats. These flats are within a short distance of the student hostels but the faculty I met with seemed happy with the living arrangements. They also discussed their research – Seema Sharma does work on particle physics, including the Large Hadron collider, and gets her students deeply involved in her research projects. I also met two visiting professors, one from Australia’s University of Queensland and one from Germany, and they were very happy with their research productivity in the IISER laboratories.  Since all the students are responsible for conducting a 1-year MS research project, many opportunities exist for collaboration and for hosting the IISER students, and I am hopeful for future links between Yale-NUS and IISER, Pune.

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The IISERs were created relatively recently – making them a new type of “start-up” university in India. The IISER in Pune is the largest, oldest, and some would say the best of these new campuses. IISER is intended to offer an alternative to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) for India’s most talented young people interested in focusing on science. The IISER campuses offer a rich environment for exploring science, with integrated research experiences within the first four years of study, a rigorous core curriculum that integrates the sciences, math and computer science, and a year-long research experience after the four years of coursework that results in a Master’s degree.

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The Government of India established six Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Bhopal, Mohali, Pune, Kolkata, Thiruvanantapuram and Tirupati. According to the ISER website – “The IISERs represent a unique initiative in India where teaching and education are totally integrated with state-of-the-art research nurturing both curiosity and creativity in an intellectually vibrant atmosphere of research.” These institutes are now ten years old, and are also developing graduate programs for PhD study. One unique aspect of the IISER curriculum is that while students all take 100% of the same courses in years 1 and 2, they are then set free to take any course they like for years 3 and 4. Students do not choose majors, and many of the faculty are encouraged to bring students along into interdisciplinary research topics in their coursework and for internships during the academic year.


The IISER web site describes their five-year BS-MS program:

The five-year BS-MS program is a flagship program of all IISERs.

The IISER Pune BS-MS course aims to integrate the conventional bachelors and masters programs into a more holistic science education experience, bringing together conventional disciplines in the biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and earth sciences. The program focuses on the unified nature of science and aims to train some of the brightest young minds of our country, through some of the best practitioners of science in India. Our students are encouraged to take part in research activities, both in IISER and in other leading research laboratories, thus providing them a symbiotic relationship between conventional education and research.

Overview of the Course:

The first two years involve a set of comprehensive mandatory courses in all areas of basic sciences, viz, Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology with a few courses from Humanities, Arts and the Earth Sciences. These two years are devoted to creating a broad knowledge base in the basic sciences.

The third and fourth years are devoted to developing a few specific areas in depth. They involve a choice of specialized courses from the within the broad areas introduced in the first two years. IISER Pune is unique among the IISERs in only having a credit requirement each semester. Thus, a student may take courses from across the disciplines or choose to focus on courses from a particular discipline, based entirely on their own interests.

The final year at IISER Pune does not involve any course work, so students focus entirely on their research project and the resulting Masters thesis. This model has resulted in a large number of publications involving undergraduate student authors. Click here to view a list of all under graduate students’ publications from IISER Pune.

A detailed description of the courses within the IISER core curriculum is available online.

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Visit to IUCAA Astrophysics Institute, Pune

From September 18-21 I visited the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune. The Institute features 20 of the best astrophysics researchers in India serving as staff scientists, and a cadre of visiting faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. The intellectual energy of the place is palpable, and within the serene grounds these astrophysicists are working on the new Indian Astrosat – India’s Hubble Space Telescope, and designing new gravitational wave detectors for detecting black holes. My visit was sponsored by Varun Bhalerao, a long-time collaborator who I have known since he was a graduate student at Caltech. Varun and I were sponsoring an undergraduate researcher from Pomona College last summer on a project related to Short fast X-ray transients  (or SFXTs). In our research project, we were able to combine data from the Swift satellite that measured the x-ray emission from the SFXT ( a neutron star orbiting a very massive O star) with ground-based optical and infrared data from the Yale SMARTS telescope in Chile. Varun and I discussed the physics of the interaction between these two stars, and how the optical and infrared data could be useful in determining the geometry of the two stars, their orbits and the presence of an accretion or debris disk in the region of the stars.

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While at IUCAA I also had a chance to reconnect with Somak Raychaudhury, the IUCAA director, and an old friend from our Future of Liberal Arts and Sciences in India project. Somak has just moved to Pune from Calcutta where he was Dean of Physical sciences at Presidency University. I had the chance to meet his family and catch up with him, as well as to share some ideas that Varun and I had about creating a network of remotely operated telescopes within India for research and education.  During the visit I also had a chance to reconnect with Ajit Kembhavi, the former IUCAA director and director of India’s Virtual Observatory project. Ajit was visiting NUS in Singapore a few weeks earlier and so it was great to meet with him and to discuss the potential of developing an integrated platform for managing remote telescopes, with facility for student undergraduate researchers to propose research topics, write online journal articles, and to access calibrated data in a single place. During the visit I had great discussions with Raghunathan Srianand, or Anand, who is a leading quasar absorption line researcher. His graduate students and postdocs explained some of the great work they were doing – including detecting DLA systems in absorption in 21-cm radio observations, exploring the presence of very close aligned quasars and absorbing galaxies from composite SDSS spectra, and numerical modeling of the intergalactic medium.  The chance to visit Pune was very exciting, and the intellectual energy of IUCAA makes me determined to spend a large part of my upcoming sabbatical in Pune!

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Environmental Education in Bangalore, India

As part of my ongoing series of discussions at the Raman Research Institute (RRI), Bangalore, I visited Bangalore to meet with my long-time collaborator on the Future of Liberal Arts in India, Dr. Lakshmi Saripalli, and to discuss our many projects together – both in astronomy and in liberal arts education. The visit to Bangalore was from September 15-18, and included a chance to discuss science education with Lakshmi, and with some of the visitors at the RRI. My timing was interesting as it coincided with visits from the Raman Research Institute Academic Committee, and as a result I had a chance to talk with many of the leading science educators during breakfast at RRI. These included a panel looking into the graduate fellowships at RRI which included Gauta Menon from the Madras Institute of Mathematical Sciences , who is a leader in India in science education ( Prof. Menon was very interested in talking about the new Yale-NUS College, and we discussed the new Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) institutions within India and some of the initiatives he is doing in physics education. Gauta told me about some online videos he has been making to promote simple laboratory experiments in physics, and we were both excited about the rise of IISER institutions in India and new institutions like Yale-NUS to help promote new forms of education that are tied to more authentic assessments that enable students to gain experience, fieldwork, hands-0n research, and other non-lecture based learning in their education. We also discussed the rise of “bio-inspired engineering” and how it promises to revolutionize biology. His own research is on creating new mechanical devices that are inspired by biological mechanisms on the molecular level. In the process of our discussion he connected me with Sunil Mukhi, the head of physics at the IISER in Pune (where I was visiting a few days later!). We agreed that I should come to visit Chennai on my next trip to India and we can talk more about these topics.


The discussion about bio-inspired engineering carried over into deeper discussions about environmental education and the need for India to develop new awareness about the environment as it continues to develop and grow its economy. Lakshmi is active with a number of foundations in Bangalore working on developing this kind of awareness. During the visit we visited two sites – the Indian Institute of Human Settlements  (IIHS) – where a meeting of local environmental activists and thinkers were discussing “Trashonomics” with an enthusiastic audience. The group included several who have been increasing the awareness of the need for recycling within India, writing children’s books on the topics, developing a movement for composting food waste, and in general promoting a more sustainable form of economic growth for India.  IIHS itself serves a very important role in studying human settlements in India and blending ground-based socioeconomics research with additional “big-data analytics” from satellites and demographic databases.

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A talk on “trashonomics” at the Indian Institute of Human Settlements

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Some Posters at IIHS – including one from my earlier talk at IIHS from April 2015!

Lakshmi and I also visited the campus of Bhoomi College (, a new university on the edge of Bangalore that also runs the Prakriya Green Wisdom school for children. The Bhoomi College has one year postgraduate diploma programs in Holistic Education and Science and Management for Sustainable Living. Many of the students in the program are recent college graduates or technology employees who want to help reform some of the environmental and educational policies within India. The Bhoomi College and its school are creating a learning community where environmental responsibility and simple living are at the core. Their motto is adopted from Mahatma Gandhi – “Live simply so that others can simply live” and they have created a beautiful and sustainable campus that includes farms, passively cooled buildings made from very low-cost materials such as sand-bags, low-cost concrete, recycled construction materials, and in many cases include open windows for air circulation and natural earth floors. The Bhoomi group also sponsors a wide variety of thought-provoking events, linking to long traditions within India, discussing the cultures of tribal people in India, and develop new forms of gardening, diet and architecture. Their magazine ( covers a lot of these topics in great detail.

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While at Bhoomi College we had a chance to meet with Seetha Ananthasivan, the founder trustee of K.N.A.Foundation and Bhoomi College. She has been working in the fields of ecology and Ecological Education and is the editor of the Bhoomi magazine and the Founder of Aastha Foundation ( and Prakriya Green Wisdom School ( Seetha showed us the campus and explained how it was built, and how the simple and environmental living is imparted to students at the school. We also discussed the impacts of globalization on people in India and the larger region, and how many of us who benefit from globalization are unaware of the environmental impacts we are having.  The discussion was very thought provoking, and Lakshmi and I returned to RRI very impressed and hopeful about the new wave of interest in environmental education in India.

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