[Israel.pm] [hackers-il] My opinion on the Technion - revision 1.5

Shlomi Fish shlomif at iglu.org.il
Thu Mar 22 11:30:43 PDT 2007


Hi Nadav!

I'm BCCing this message to my friend, co-student and former partner from the 
Technion.

Thanks for your email! I'll reply to your comments here and later integrate i 
into the article. (to prevent further critique).

On Thursday 22 March 2007, Nadav Har'El wrote:
> On Thu, Mar 22, 2007, Shlomi Fish wrote about "[hackers-il] My opinion on 
the Technion - revision 1.5":
> > http://www.shlomifish.org/philosophy/computers/education/opinion-on-the-t
> >echnion/
>
> For the sake of fairness, I would mention the department you studied in.
>

Right.

> Because my experience in the Math department couldn't be more different
> than the one you encountered. Most (although unfortunately not all) of the
> professors were excellent teachers, and I really admired both their
> knowledge (which you also admit is good) and their teaching method. I got
> the feeling that most of them really loved teaching, loved the material
> they teach, and cared about the students.
>
> Of course, the fact that most Math courses had 5-30 students in them - not
> the hundreds you probably had in many of your courses - did a lot to
> improve the situation. Sometimes even with a good teacher, if you're in a
> "stadium" of 200 students, you feel neglected and lost, and it's easy to
> blame the teacher. I know I have (in huge courses like Physics 1M). Of
> course, with a really gifted teacher, you'll enjoy even a course in a
> stadium, but these are obviously rare.
>

Indeed. It is possible that the lecturers didn't seem enlightened and seemed 
narrow-minded to me, while in fact they were to some extent enlightened only 
they did not show it. Like I said I find it hard to believe that someone can 
become a professor in the EE department, without being very intelligent, as 
even graduating with a B.Sc. is hard enough. Many of the professors probably 
were just trained not to become an authority on anything except their fields 
of interest, and so delegate stuff to other professors with this particular 
field. That or after being enlightened students they were crashed 
by "reality" as they grew older:

http://www.shlomifish.org/philosophy/philosophy/advice-for-the-young/#growth_death

In a sense like I said I gave up on some of my aspirations, and decided to 
study material I mostly have the knack for. I'm not saying I was crashed by 
reality - I'm still excited about stuff, learn a lot everyday, have an ever 
growing list of things I'd like to write or read about, etc. But I gave up on 
the Technion's EE faculty on teaching me things that I did not know nor had 
the knack for, and which were not part of the corriculum. For example, I took 
the course "[Elctromagnetic] Waves and Conduits", which was badly managed, 
without any good reference material, without a website, with an unclear 
lecturer, with a good T.A., but whom without him I would not have been able 
to solve the homework, and with two tests that I did not know how to solve, 
and as a result recieved a close to 0 grade. After it, I decided that 
Maxwell's equations and their manipulation into optics scared me, and so 
eventually did not take any course in Electro-optics, which I intended to 
learn. (And is supposedly a very hot topic nowadays, optical fibers, optical 
computers and all considered.)

> My other comments about your essay:
>
> Your section about the faculty is confusing: did you find them enlightened,
> or not?

I found most of them un-enlightened. Many T.A.'s seemed more englightened and 
less narrow-minded than most of the lecturers with a Ph.D. or Prof.. It is 
possible that what I consider being "rehav-ofakim" (wide-minded, the antonym 
to narrow-minded) has a generation gap, because the lecturers were not 
interested in the same things that I am when they were B.Sc. students. So 
they may not know a lot about UNIX or XP or OOP&D or FP/Scheme/Haskell/etc. 
or dynamic languages (Perl, Python, Common Lisp, etc.) or all of the latest 
hacker culture and technologies, but they are knowledgable about the hot 
technologies of their day.

>
> I agree with you about the *huge* load during my studies (many days I
> did not go to sleep before 3am...), but in previous discussions here, we
> agreed to disagree about the merits of "pair programming" ;-) The most
> basic problem with this method is that it's *not* pair programming -
> usually the pair doesn't work together, but rather divide the exercise and
> do each part separately. I wrote about my more fundamental problem with
> this approach in http://nadav.harel.org.il/homepage/musing/educooperation

I read it and let me try to convince you why are wrong, as I wrote then:

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/hackers-il/message/3493

It's better to reach a real agreement than to agree to disagree.

1. First of all let's see what's the worst case scenario is. One partner does 
all the work. The other one slacks. Then test day come. The one partner 
passes (hopefully with blazing colours), and the other one gets 0. Test is at 
least 60% of the grade. So the other student fail.

1b. The slacker prepares for the exam intensively close to the end of the 
semester, while not learning before that. So he passes. Does he deserve the 
grade? I suppose - as he still knows the material and worked hard.

1c. So if someone slacks he still fails the course. (factors and other 
monsters non withstanding.)

2. Is the Technion should do anything that it can to prevent students from not 
doing their homework properly? After all, they can just copy from references. 
At a course I did - "Image Analysis and Processing" (I told you about it 
extensively) , my partner and I sat for days on end solving each of the four 
exercises. Since we didn't do some things properly (or according to what the 
one who graded the test expected - ;-)) we were graded below 94 and above 80. 
But there were many 100's in the grades list. So my guess was that they 
copied it from a reference.

I don't think a university should be concerned with that, because there are 
many ways to cheat, and the grader's time is precious.

3. You do agree that when the two partners are compotent and they both sit 
down to solve it, there can be wonderful synergy. I've experienced it first 
hand many times. Often I was more successful at getting the exercises right 
and often the opposite (varying from course to course and from exercise to 
exercise) but we both had an easier time, and we both learned a lot from each 
other.

4. And it's more fun, than solving it all by alone. Man is a social animal. 
One is alone, two is a company. Psychology matters.

5. I'm not implying something stupid like it will prepare people for pair 
programming in their work (which may or may not happen). People can get used 
to pair programming or pair solving very quickly because it's natural.

6. As an analogy, most scientific articles have more than one writer.

7. I believe people will have enough chance to "work on their own" during 
their studies, as you say. There are many such courses, and some students 
solve each their own version and then compare it, for peer review and 
criticism. (There's a documented teamwork "pattern" for this too.) 

>
> What you write about the test difficult baffles me. Do you claim that
> working hard on the exercises should be enough to get a 100? Should it be
> enough to be a "hard working" to finish the university with a 100 GPA?
> Shouldn't the tests really be just hard enough to differenciate between
> people who work hard (and have a lot of free time...) but have a shallow
> understanding, and "geniouses" who got deep understanding of the material?

Maybe. However, don't you think hard work and spending a lot of time should be 
as equally rewarded as talent and "genius". Usually hard work will result in 
understanding at least in most EE courses. This is not Medicine, where all 
you have to do is memorise a lot of things by heart. Or humane studies in 
many universities (but not all) where you can easily fake it very well:

http://www.paulgraham.com/resay.html

(look for "physicists" and "French literature").

So if he worked hard he deserved it. Tests should quantify the knowledge and 
understanding of the material, not your intelligence level, however you want 
to "measure" it. If you already knew the material (say Theo de Raadt (hi 
Elad!) taking a Technion's "OS Design" course.) and slacked off completely, 
and then aced the test, then he also deserves to get 100%.

> You know, there's an even an opposing view which says that the tests should
> not be too similar to the problems encountered in the exercises (which is
> what you suggest). The problem with that suggestion is that it strongly
> emphesizes memory - not understanding or even hard work; Your best way to
> pass these tests is to memorize all the exercises - if you do, you'll
> finish the test in an hour and get a 100, but if you don't, there's a high
> chance you'll do something wrong and get less than a 100.

I agree that tests should tests should not show exact exercises that were 
shown in class. After all, you need to be able to understand it enough. But 
in the Technion they are many times completely off-tangent. Here's an 
example:

I took the "Intro to Algorithms and Data Structures" course which a crash 
course on basic and more complex data structures (up to a hash), graph 
algorithms and other algorithms for EE students (who cannot take the CS 
course due to Technion politics.) There were almost no correction proofs 
which to be done correctly are very tedious and require more sophistication 
and mental prepartion. The exercises were satisfying, the lecturer conveyed 
the material well (at least I thought so), and the test was fair. I received 
100, as I spent some time before the test explaining the material to a 
friend's friend who relatively slacked off, and teaching is the best way of 
learning. He receive a grade in the 70's and 80's

Now a different friend of mine took the course, did all the homework and when 
he came to the test it was littered with having to do correction proofs. They 
weren't shown and they weren't prepared for that. Maybe 
Cormen-Leiserson-Rivest covers them somewhere superficially, but it's not 
what you expect from a "Hashmelator" (= Electrician) (not that CS students 
are better when they come but they are better prepared in the course for such 
proofs.). So this is one case where it doesn't hold.

> In fact, you can even memorize exercises which you never did yourself. I'm
> sure that you know the (assumed) difference between P and NP, right?
> Solving an NP problem is hard, but once you know the solution, verifying
> that it is correct is easy (polynomial time). Math homework (for example)
> is the same - solving it is hard, but once you see the solution, reading
> it, memorizing it and even understanding it - is easy. Practicing the skill
> to understand someone else's proofs is *not* the same as practicing to
> create new proofs.

I hate memorising stuff. I had bad memory. I can never remember if it was -1 
or 1 in what context. I want to have pages and I want to have all the 
material at hand. I don't want to have to recreate a 10 page proof in a Game 
Theory exam (which I understood, but would be damn if I remember). A math 
student I knew (a friend of OrrD) told me she once memorised a proof, and 
wrote it down at the test, and that after she recieved the test back she 
compared it to what was written in the notebook and she said they had been 
virtually identical.

Math is not about memorising a lot of obscure proofs and theorems. That's what 
books and formulae pages are for. While important, I don't think you can 
expect someone to recreate a 10 (or was it 20) proof in the duration of a 3 
hours test. Math is about remembering concepts, knowing how to attack 
problems, applying these problems, doing analogies, implementing what you've 
learned elsewhere (including more real life situations). If you thought a lot 
about a problem (say this one: 
http://www.shlomifish.org/MathVentures/3d-outof-4d-mathml.xhtml or its ASCII 
art version http://www.shlomifish.org/MathVentures/3d_outof_4d.html ) then 
later you will remember its technique of solution everytime and can utilise 
it as a tool in your growing mathematical arsenal. But passively reading a 
long proof from a book or copying what the professor said is not as effective 
as doing it yourself. I don't suggest you prove everything from scratch, but 
you gain more insights from the exercises you solve, and so memorising the 
proofs you've passively digested is suboptimal.

Another thing is that those who are good at maths (people with audible memory, 
who remember sounds, speech, songs, etc. very well) have worse and more 
accurate memory than people with a visual or even photographic memory. I once 
briefly tutored someone with a photographic memory who could memorise entire 
pages for a time (until he forgot them). He had no problem acing his History 
Matriculation exam where he memorisd the whole book.

But then when he did 5 units of Physics, he kept finding he had a small amount 
of time to do the tests properly. I initially thought his teacher was a nazi, 
but then after looking at the returned test saw that he did it all wrong, and 
she was right in grading him improperly. Now I would have found this test 
relatively trivial and come up with an accurate solution (minus some typos), 
because I have a better knack for math, partially because I have an audible 
memory.

>
> > Note that I still haven't added the section "Should I study in
> > University", where I basically say "I don't know.".
>
> I think the answer is obvious, YES with a capital Y E S. Even if you think
> that it didn't change the way you think for the better (I believe it did)
> then at least it changed the way that employers think about you, which is
> important in today's job market...

Well this question is more complex. What should I learn? CS? EE? Math? IE? CE? 
SE? Philosophy? Linguistics? Physics?

Should I do it straight out of high school? Should I work before that?

Nadav, FYI, Ori here never went to university. And on the ride to and from 
Haifa he was fully aware and understood the data structures and algorithms I 
used in Freecell Solver (hi Muli!), version control systems, etc.  He was 
very computer literate, that even many EE graduates can learn from.

Also, Randal L. Schwartz wrote this:

http://use.perl.org/~merlyn/journal/29946

It's not so simple, Nadav.

-----------

Thanks for your response. This email was a braindump and too much verbose and 
recursive. I'll put the relevant parts after repharsing back into the article 
to clarify it, but I'm in no condition to do it now.

And I'll finish with a joke (from an IRC conversation:

EE studies. In the Technion. Been There. Done That. Forgot a lot. Remember too 
much.

Rashi:
------

Forgot a lot of useless stuff (but also important stuff). Remember too much 
useless stuff.

Regards,

	Shlomi Fish

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Shlomi Fish      shlomif at iglu.org.il
Homepage:        http://www.shlomifish.org/

Chuck Norris wrote a complete Perl 6 implementation in a day but then
destroyed all evidence with his bare hands, so no one will know his secrets.



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