Jeff Atwood brought up a subject of lerning today that made me think of the exam I just went to. The notion in his post is about how you learn to learn in college, but also touches on the subject of why todays students are not taught how to use the possibilities of the net. And it is here that my story begins.
Just recently I finished up a course in Efficient AI on ITU. It was a really good course that taught advanced algorithms in many different aspects of the field of AI. During the course we had some smaller programming assignments, and finally the course ended up in an exam. And here the timetrap suddenly clasped. The exam was a four hour written exam. Written as in paper and ball point pen. Now why is it that they can't provide us with some computers for writing our answers? I mea, we are at the Copenhagen IT-University for crying out loud! Is it because we could use the computer to solve the exam? Hardly, if they made sure no compilers were installed on the machine. Heck, if it is a logistics problem - make us bring our own machines. I mean - we were allowed to have every written note we could think of, as well as all the printed material we could carry in there with us. Might as well have brought it in electronic form and save several hectars of fine swedish forest in the process. Of course - then they could not have checked for compilers, but really - it is a course teaching algorithms used in programming, so if you are capable of writing programs to solve tre problems you were gven - is that not a display of your understanding the curriculum? Even if you brought in third party libraries, and had access to the internet you still had to have SOME clue of what they were talking about in the exam questions in order to solve the problems.
I can imagine the kinds of answers to my questions I would get if I posed them to the faculty staff. Most answers would probably be in the region of preventing cheating anf judging people fairly. And while I do acknowledge that some precautions should be taken against people shamelessly copying others work, it would not be that hard to take some electronic countermeasures against it. We are seated in a controlled environment after all. But my main problem is that I think that in the name of paranoia they are making the environment way to controlled - way too far away from an environment where the skills that are taught are to be used.
My proposition is therefore more along the lines of opening up. Giving students the tools they would normally use for the kinds of problems proposed. Yes, even the internet - logging whatever needed to satisfy big brother. The problems could then be made accordingly harder, perhaps requiring a bit of programming or a making the problems easier to solve with programming, but not impossible without. I bet that at the end you would still see the students that have paid attention during the course and prepared properly for the exam being the ones that end up with the good grades. And in the process you would have made sure that the skills related to solving problems in real life - like finding examples and articles on the net - are being kept alive and not treated as "bad stuff".
Luckily my hand got out of its cramp before I got to the celebration beers. And yes, I did get a really good grade. :)