First some terminology:
The term “module” is used to refer to a specific course and each module has “lecture”, which is essentially a where the “lecturer” talks about the topic and the students take notes. These lecturers are referred to by their names rather than the generic professor as we do in the United States, as not all lecturers are professors. Some modules, in addition to the lecture, also have a “tutorial”, which is more like a seminar session and similar to my classes back at Hofstra where we may be required to read up on something and then the “tutor” will discuss it and involve us in the conversation by asking questions or having us opening debate the issue at hand.
With that being said, classes here are structured in a completely different way from what I was used to. At Hofstra we have classes that usually do not go over 30 students, where we are expected to participate, attend all the classes, turn in work weekly, etc. Although it depends on the area of study, most lectures have a larger group of people and there is no required participation. If there are tutorials for a module, they are usually every other week. Along with this, the education process is done much more independently. At home, I go to my classes prepared with the assignment that was specifically detailed to me from last class and I am ready to engage along with my professor and peers about the topic. I usually have papers, homework, and exams throughout the semester which will be turned in a graded and used as feedback for my next assignment. In Ireland, I go to class to take notes based on what the lecturer tells me and then am supposed to be doing my own work outside of class more as background research, based on a reading list distributed at the beginning. There is no specific order or assigned dates for the readings, but the list is sometimes split into mandatory readings and recommended readings. The student is not tested on if he or she has done the readings, but is simply expected to keep up with them on his/her own and demonstrate his/her knowledge of them come the essay or exam.
This brings me to the second point on assessment: There is often only one essay and/or one exam and that is the entire grade for the module and class attendance is not taken in most lectures. It was overwhelming at first because I am used to being assessed throughout the entire semester, being told what work was required of me, and actively interacting in my classes. It took a while for me to realize that it was up to me to read what I chose, when I chose and that the only grading that was going to come about was the main assignment or exam. I have an appreciation for both systems. I think it is great that there is so much option here and that you can feel free to explore any of the issues related to the topic in however much detail you want. It also requires you to develop a lot of self-discipline. On the other hand, I think there is a lot to be gained from interacting actively with your peers and professors and it focuses me more when I am working on a specific topic according to what my professor tells me to do.
Finally, the grading system here is different both in practice and in ideology. In the U.S., we think about it often as starting out with 100% and from there, you are deducted based on the errors on each assignment. Here in Ireland, it is looked at as if you start out with nothing and then work your way up to your final grade based on the level of work you do on your one or two assignments. I think I prefer the Irish ideology honestly; to me it is more motivational in a positive way saying that I can build up from having nothing to whatever I can achieve with my best work instead of focusing on trying to avoid failures that are taking away from my previous perfect score. In practice, a clear differentiation can be seen in the academic policy as well. At Hofstra, I spend more time in the classroom and also spend much more time working on assignments that get put together at the end of the semester to make my final class grade. Because the U.S. system works from the top down, 100 is an A+ and as you get deducted, you fall into the ranges of 90-100 as an A, 80-89 a B, 70-79 a C, etc. In Ireland, there is only the one or two main assignments that you work toward showing you know the material and you also work your way up. If I submit something that is of high standard, the best I will probably achieve is a 70 which is first and comparable to our 100%. Needless to say, it is definitely throwing me off at first seeing a mark that would barely make a C at home actually being a top score… but it is all in the perspective.