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? ----- BODY: My last entry 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. -----