Monday, December 18, 2006

Idiot instructors

I've had some great instructors at the University of Calgary, but they're certainly in the minority.

When I wrote that The U of C Sucks, I really thought I was going to school at a particularly bad university. Yet on the internet I've been seeing a lot of discontent about the quality of post-secondary education throughout North America. Here's one example:
On the first day of class, she struggled for a full five minutes trying to turn on the computer...

...despite repeated help and instruction from others in the class, Gabrielle just couldn't get it right. She started ever page with a BODY tag instead of the proper HTML tag, and insisted that it made more sense that way because HTML was "the language" and not a part of "the code." Her "proof" of this was that, thanks to Internet Explorer's forgiving nature, the pages rendered just fine.

Gabrielle's grasp of "documents" versus "programs" was just as painfully embarrassing. After editing an HTML document, she'd always say, "OK, I'm now saving my HTML program and will run it in Internet Explorer." I won't even get into how much Gabrielle struggled with doing actual web development in PHP.

Now I suppose this story is one that can describe just about every struggling Computer Science student that will eventually change their major to Communications. There's only one difference: Gabrielle was not a student in the Web Development course. She taught it.
Now, perhaps the story itself is a fabrication. Or not. But what's interesting is the high degree to which those in the forum identified with the story. It's believable because it rings true. Some of the responses:

"Honestly, this sounds about par for the course for a Community College / Junior College instructor. I had a couple of real boneheads in the comp sci department -- and this was at a *silicon valley* JC -- supposedly one of the best in the country, at that."

"That's like every 4th CS teacher I've had."

"The year I was appointed to the faculty, I taught a 4th year, or maybe it was graduate level, independent study course on X programming because the prof (my boss) was over-extended. I was all of 18 or 19 at the time, had never programmed in X and wasn't the greatest C programmer in the world. He knew I'd figure it out (and I did), but it could have gone horribly wrong, too. And this was at a good school. I can easily imagine a lesser school having someone like Gabrielle teach a web class."

"I used to work as both a lecturer and as tech support at a pretty decent CS university, and honestly there were some staff there who made two short planks look like a computer (...). Typically they start our as students who cheat their way through an undergrad degree (...) and get hooked on the lazy academic lifestyle. [...] they come back for a postgrad degree, take a decade to get through a PhD and wind up with a vague understanding of one very narrow field of CS and absolutely no idea about any others. The universities themselves don't help because they are all about bringing in money from research, and that's the direction they push the staff. Teaching undergraduates is generally treated as an annoyance they have to do to satisfy government requirements to keep all the lurks and perks associated with being a university..."

"For my OS Theory class, they couldn't find anyone to teach it. So the first night, the CS Chair came in and explained that to us. The second night, we got our professor..."

Well, you can imagine where that last one is going. Yup, something's rotten in the state of our schools.


Unwired said...

"After editing an HTML document, she'd always say, 'OK, I'm now saving my HTML program and will run it in Internet Explorer.'"

Thanks for the laugh. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during Gabrielle's presentation on HTMC. What sort of compiler did she use to generate her HTMC executables anyway? :-)

Just know that crap instructors aren't exclusive to undergrad courses. A few years ago, my company sent me to a one-week training course offered by a large equipment vendor. The entirety of the course consisted of the instructor reading verbatim from the same training manual as that supplied to the students. The cost: $400 per day. Thankfully, the vendor offered each of us who endured it a free training course of our choosing.

zooplah said...

But to be fair, the HTML element is required, but the HTML tag isn't. It is in XHTML, but in courses that still teach frames, stylistic HTML, etc., we can hardly expect them to scratch the surface of XHTML.

Qwertie said...

Yes, some people mentioned that in the thread, but I bet the instructor in question didn't know that. A competent instructor might have explained "yes, it is conventional that all documents have an HTML tag but the HTML standard does not require it, and my personal taste is to leave it out. Mind you, you are correct that most HTML documents have a HTML tag and that the XHTML standard requires one." Even if she knew what was in the standards, it sure sounds like she didn't give an accurate explanation to the class. Being unable to explain what one knows is almost as bad as not knowing it.

Nate said...

Thing its... this sounds exactly like both of the lecturers that teach our Multimedia major... we often have to tell them how you do things... and when they give us labs with worksheets they have no clue how to do those worksheets...