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Do university courses teach the right things for life at work later on?

I'm so glad I'm not a teacher - or at least a school teacher or University lecturer. For in these jobs, I feel that I would be spending far more of my time preparing my students to pass exams than I would spend preparing them for what life was going to bring them beyond the educational establishment.

Bruce came around on Friday night. He's headed for a degree in robotics / artificial intelligence, but has to pass his exams in C programming before he can move on to the next stage. Now - to me - C programming is all about working out how an application will work, and coding it to run robustly, and have a good user interface. It's also about making reuse of existing code for efficiency's sake - at writing and maintainance time - and about well commented and structured code to help the maintainance programmer later in the code's lifecycle. To Bruce, at the moment it's all about passing his exam. About going through past papers which regurgitate the same sort of question (or even exactly the same question) from one year to another. It's about knowing how many bytes of memory are occupied by a pointer [why on earth does he need to know that?] and recognising obsure keywords in a list of potential variable names [again - why? - the compiler will indicate an error quickly enough if you use a word like volatile as a variable name, and you cab change it; no need to remember every obscure possibility parrot fashion].

I wish Bruce well; he concentrated well during the evening, he was prepared and is clearly bright, and in there are some strong areas of overlap between the things he's learning and the things he'll need, so the course isn't headed totally into academia. Perhaps he wants to teach the course himself, in which case it would be totally relevant! But I would dearly love to have seen him studying and understanding pointers, structures, arrays, and how and when they should be used, and I think he would be better served by his University if such topics were given much more prevelance ... at the expense of him having to know exactly what erroneous value you would be left with if you overflow a char variable.

This week, I'm teaching our own C Courses. They would not have been right for Bruce swotting for his exams, which is why I invited him along at a different time. But I feel that they're so much more targetted to the practical. Yes - of course I appreciate the University's mandate to produce a product (trained people) that's measured against a particular set of criteria, and the choice of exams as a way to set those criteria - but I'm so glad it' not my mandate. My mandate is to train people to do their job better.
(written 2011-08-10)

 
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
G310 - Well House Consultants - A better class of course
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  [1576] Making PHP and MySQL training relevant to the course delegates - (2008-03-15)
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  [230] Course sizes - beware of marketing statistics - (2005-02-27)
  [224] YOUR application and YOUR data - (2005-02-22)
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  [215] Open Source becomes mainstream - (2005-02-14)
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Z301 - Current Affairs
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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