Apr. 7th, 2012


Apr. 7th, 2012 06:28 pm
holdthesky: (Default)
When I was at school, to avoid me annoying the rest of the class by fooling around, they chucked a whole load of GCSE and AS syllabuses at me and said that I could study any two more I wanted as long as I did so with no teaching support.

I found this a great deal of fun. I took the syllabuses and went to the library to find out what teaching material was available and ordered a whole load of books and read reviews of them in teachers' supplements (in the days before the internet), and then divided the syllabus up into weeks and studied each subject each week. Then I got hold of past papers from the various exam boards and tried them out.

It's kind of distressing that since then I've never really been given as much freedom. People kept on saying to me "at University you'll have to be self-motivated and will be given a lot of freedom", when actually it was completely the opposite. I had to stodge my way through handouts which might not have been how I chose to learn the subject and was frustrated to find that if, for example, I'd found a more suitable treatment of a subject at another place, I still had to work through the questions on my course's handout and use the lecturer's terminology making it all a bit force-fed.

In the era of the internet and world-class bookshops delivering in days to your door, learning like this is all infinitely easier than it was, too.

Then there were tutorials. I've always found tutorials deeply uncomfortable, a bit like communal toilets or exercising in a gym. I've always found learning difficult, time-consuming, frustrating, and rage-inducing, but ultimately rewarding and so am not really sure what I'm supposed to gain from attempting to do it in public. And people say that I'm quite good at it, so goodness knows how painful communal learning must be for other people.

All of this comes to a head because I'm thinking about doing a Masters (in Bioinformatics or similar). The courses are, of course, very expensive and the reason they're expensive is, really, that they're costly to produce. I've worked behind the scenes on this kind of thing, so know that most of the cost is from the teaching material, interim assessments, tutorials, etc, which I've always found a complete waste of time.

What I'd love to see is a course with just three elements. The first would be some kind of interview where people worked out whether or not I was suited to the course or if it would be a complete waste of time. The second bit would be a good syllabus and a set of past papers. The final part would be an examination. In effect the institution would become a certification body rather than a teaching one. I think that the activities described here would be less than 10% of the typical cost of course delivery. I can study this stuff on my own (and do) but making sure you are aware of the breadth and scope of a coherent body of knowledge, independent checking that you are suitable for the course independent of your own assessment of your ability or interests, and independent testing of that knowledge would make the whole thing much more worthwhile and be well worth paying for.


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