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A Short Report From The Trenches

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It’s Monday.

The snowstorm was on Friday and went a bit into Saturday.

Schools were closed Friday and there was no mail service in all of NE on Saturday.

Classes were cancelled Saturday and Sunday–yes, there are Sunday classes some places–and now…

Schools are closed in most of the towns around here, as are colleges and universities.

The roads, it seems, are not all plowed yet.

Our road is plowed, and various grown children have gotten the snow off our walk.

The snow walls on either side of our walk are up to my shoulders, and the snow walls on the road are probably over my head.

I haven’t gone out to look.

But this probably the first school snow day I’ve ever experienced when the temperatures are supposed to be over 40 by noon.

It’s cold in this office, and my work is done, so I’m going to go grade papers or something else useful.

But I’m beginning to think that our response to this snowstorm is a form of institutional PTSD.

We’re usually a lot calmer about this sort of thing.

Written by janeh

February 11th, 2013 at 9:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'A Short Report From The Trenches'

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  1. I’ve lived in both Boston and Los Angeles. I prefer a small risk of earthquakes to a yearly dose of snow!

    The last thread had a comment by Michael about Computer Science. I sent a copy to an email friend who teaches Computing Science at one of the California state universities. Here is the reply.
    Hmmmm. Sounds like a posting made by a person who thinks the role of a college education is to prepare the graduate for jobs in the, say, 5 years immediately following graduation. Certifications could do that, but their useful lifespan (the length of time a particular certification “looks good” on a resume) is short. Technology changes too fast — Cisco yesterday, Juniper today, gosh knows who tomorrow.

    Also a person who has a fairly narrow view of what computer scientists do. Or can do. :<

    (N.B. A computer science BS does not prepare a student for designing computers. For that, you'd need a BS in computer engineering, or electrical engineering. An MS would be better.)

    College professors attempt to educate students for the long term. Not just the five years immediately after graduation, but the 10, 20, 30 years after that. That means more emphasis on underlying principles and concepts that will still be true, usable and useful 20 or 30 years from now. We try to prep our students so that, 10 or 20 years from graduation when they need to quickly pick up a new skill (or certificate, for evidence they have the skill), they have a firm understanding of the framework of knowledge that specific skill fits into. They have a broad view of computing inside their heads, so a new skills can just, plunk, slot right in easily.

    So, yes, one particular job might require only specific certificates. But jobs come, and jobs go, and the student better be preparing for a long career wherein they change jobs many times. Universities aim to give students the ability to make a long, successful career, not just to get the first job out the door after graduation.

    Particular employers may only care about particular certificates, today, and that will show up in the job postings they write. The employees themselves had better have their eye on what they need to know for longer term success.


    11 Feb 13 at 4:21 pm

  2. Hmm. A lot of wasted condescending snark which does not hide the fact that what he says is, in the end, in complete agreement with what I said.

    And yes, picking the right certification is a pain, and what’s worse, they expire so the gravy train rolls on for the certifier.

    Oh, yes, at the margins, some of those who go to the right schools may pick up a few “underlying concepts” that will aid them in 20 years to pick up a new skill.

    Most of them, however, can’t troubleshoot their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag.

  3. Right now, today, you can go to a school to teach you plumbing, medical billing, radio broadcasting, etc. Many of the skills taught by these schools require licensing, but not all.

    These schools participate in the college loan system, and these are the schools that are behind the largest percentages of college loan default. They call them “private colleges” but they’re not even schools like Post or Lincoln College of New England (formerly Briarwood).

    Additionally, when you get up into the certifications for the higher paying fields, it’s even more obviously all about the money. The reason for the complaints in the post by jd is that the schools have all figured out if they only teach you enough to stay current with your certifications but not enough to actually know any core information, you’ll have to come back in a few years and give them some more money. This is why many colleges (Fairfield University and Naugatuck Valley Community College are two examples I can give) have stopped teaching software engineering and now teach the software engineering as “an integral part of the curriculum.” They don’t cover the material, and the students end up with nothing to show but maybe some certifications that don’t include really understanding the basis of what they’re doing, so they have something to trick an employer into hiring them but a need for another certification in a few years.

    And it’s not cheap. It’s usually assumed enough business can afford the tuition that they’ll survive just fine. There is, in fact, an entire industry built on bilking businesses out of education money. Courses that cost one- to two- thousand dollars per day are not unusual in the computer field, as long as they include a guarantee of getting the certification.

    And let me also point out that certifications are at the whim of employers. In the 1980s there were no jobs for tools and dye makers. They forced my father into early retirement, my boss changed fields, and no school in Connecticut teaches the trade any more. It used to be the skill of your tool and dye makers got less as you moved away from Bridgeport. They don’t teach it any more because the demand went away. It went to Mexico, China, and other overseas markets with low wage costs. Now businessmen whine about thow there’s a shortage of tool and dye makers, but we can’t get people who actually know the skills that have been taken to the grave or forced into retirement. So these businesspeople have created a high-paying market for people without the skills or knowledge of the less-expensive people they got rid of. The core knowledge is gone and business people don’t understand why they can’t compete because they think it’s about money, not skills.

    Do I think our educational system is broken? Yes. But I wouldn’t expect your system to be better – just different. It certainly wouldn’t get more people exposed to the contents of E. D. Hirsch’s cultural literacy curriculum than are now. There’s no quick cash in that for anybody anywhere.


    12 Feb 13 at 8:45 am

  4. The problem with educating for the long term isn’t that it isn’t sometimes very true and pertinent, but that “deep strategic thinking” is always the excuse when a college or university hasn’t educated at all. When their students fail any test we give them, they tell us that the student is educated in ways we can’t test for. The Emperor’s cap and gown?

    Possibly worse is the Sayers Excuse (from Gaudy Night) that the victim has “learned how to learn.” Sorry Ma’am: a degree in Classics does NOT mean you know how to learn to be a cook, a salesman or a carpenter. Different skills may require very different learning techniques.

    jd is right. We need very badly people who have studied certain areas and understand not just surface techniques and facts but underlying principles. The problem is that too often the degree does not ensure this. Sometimes it does: my people will hire a Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies graduate pretty much on sight. But the other foreign area studies majors will face a much longer process.

    And that remains the problem: absent trustworthy educational institutions, we can check for training, but how do we confirm education?

    Would Turing be any help here?


    12 Feb 13 at 10:41 am

  5. The college I graduated from, Oakland University in Michigan, (after a start at U of M and a lot of years in between) at least tried to get it right. Basic 101 courses in all disciplines were taught by the best professor/head of department. Yep, the big guns caught the lecture courses, instead of pawning them off on adjuncts. I guess on the theory that they knew the full scope of the field best and could best convey it to the masses.

    In upper level classes, once they got you interested, they tried where feasible to bring in knowledge experts with real world experience. For instance, Organizational Theory taught by someone who actually ran a large corporation. I had an “Ethics of Journalism” course taught by Neal Shine, who at the time was the Publisher of the Detroit Free Press. He was a terrific teacher, too.

    But that was a long time ago. Don’t know if those principles still hold, or if they just take your money and wave goodbye as you leave. I do have to say the primary skill that got me employed after I graduated was the computer operation I used in a research project for my Linguistics professor, and in the Journalism lab. All my other skills I’ve learned on the job.


    12 Feb 13 at 1:16 pm

  6. I wrote my first program in 1960. I learned by being handed a programming manual and a problem that had to be solved for my Physics research group. During the next 40 years, I used Fortran, Cobol, and two different assembly languages. I retired before I had to learn C, C++ or Java. I never had a formal computing science class.

    There are some basic concepts such as if statements, loops and subroutines which much be learned in order to think like a programmer. Once you have learned to do that, picking up a new language is fairly simple.

    So yes, it is more important for Computing Science to emphasize concepts rather than a particular technology.

    Computer design is an engineering subject and not part of Computer Science, I have seen them go from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits and “processor on a chip”, data storage has gone from punched cards to punched paper tape, to mag tape, to floppy disk, to 10 megabyte hard disk to 500 gigabyte disks.

    The engineers need to be flexible. Being locked into one technique or skill by a certificate is not good for a long career.


    12 Feb 13 at 2:20 pm

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