TITLE: Jobs and Beauty at the University
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: September 25, 2004 3:58 PM
DESC: how much of your university education should be about your future job?
ended with the realization that helping folks, especially students,
adopt agile development methods comes down to motivation. That's
a much different task than presenting course content objectively
and clearly. Often students get it, they just don't get around
to doing it.
I don't have any answers to this puzzle yet, but it reminded of
Tall, Dark, and Mysterious's
recent blog on universities and job training.
TDM is a math professor in Canada, and she confronts the fact
that, while professors and universities often prefer to paint
academic life as a pure intellectual journey, most students
are at the university to earn a job credential. This creates
a motivational gap between what students seek and what their
courses sometimes want to teach.
Computer science occupies a different part of the spectrum from
majors like math or history or literature. Many of the skills
and tools that we teach have direct application in industry.
Courses in programming, software development, database, and the
like all can introduce "practical" material. But in many ways
this makes our situation more difficult. I'm guessing that most
history and literature majors aren't there for job skills, at
least not in the superficial way that, say, a CS student may
want to study networking. But when our networking courses
go theoretical, students' interest can begin to wander, because
they don't see the real value.
Don't get me wrong -- most of the students I've dealt with have
conscientiously continued to work through the theoretical stuff.
But I know that, in some sense, they are humoring me.
I agree with TDM that we should be aware of our students'
goals and take them into account when we design our courses.
Why not let students know that some of the theory we're studying
applies to real problems? In my algorithms course last week,
I enjoyed being able to point out how we can encounter the
Knapsack Problem in maximizing profits in an Internet-based
auction. After seeing the naive brute-force solution to this
problem, and connecting the problem to a real-life problem,
perhaps students will better appreciate the more complex but
efficient algorithms we will study later.
That said, there are some beautiful ideas in computing that
don't necessarily have a direct application in current practice,
and I also love to have students encounter their beauty.
I always hope that, if I do a good job, at least some of the
students will appreciate some of those neat ideas for their
own sake and realize that the university can be about more than
just earning a job credential.