I'm starting this post with the requisite apology for not posting...but I have been out and about quite a bit lately! I've realized that I only have a month left in London, so I'm trying to get out and see everything that I have left on my list to see! On top of that, I just spent the weekend in Dublin! I've wanted to visit Ireland since the beginning of the year and since it's so close I can't believe it took me so long to get there. It was just Kelsey and I on this trip and we had a lot of fun exploring at our own pace and just taking it easy.

In other news, this being my last month in London and all has brought on a bit of a return to reality since I have my first exam tomorrow. The UK system heavily emphasizes exams and most of them count for 70% of my overall course grade. Yuck. They are also SUPER strict about the rules during exams. You're not even allowed to bring bags/notes/anything other than pencils and erasers into the exam room. It's kind of annoying if you want to bring your cell phone, you have to leave it in a ziplock bag at the front of the room. And, if your cell phone rings during an exam, it can result in immediate failure of the exam. What's also super annoying about exams in the UK, is that since they are so strict about the seating arrangements, all exams have to take place in lecture halls and apparently this university doesn't have enough lecture halls to host all the exams on campus. Therefore, ALL of my exams take place off campus. And I don't just mean walk across the street off campus, I mean I have to take the tube to get to my exam location. Since it's off campus, I want to bring my cell phone with me, but it's such a hassle to have to jump through all their stupid hoops just so I can have my phone with me.

As far as my exam tomorrow, I feel fairly prepared for it. It's annoying that we aren't allowed to use programmable calculators, so my beloved TI-89 will have to stay at home. Thankfully a friend of mine has one of those regular, old-fashioned, non-graphing calculators (I mean, who uses those?!) because I certainly don't and I wouldn't walk into an exam without a calculator. The real disappointment in not being able to use my own calculator is that I'm not familiar with the location of the buttons and features on this other calculator so it takes longer to solve problems using it. Plus, it's not capable of doing integrals and derivatives so I have no way of checking my work.

My opinion on calculator use has always been that if it's available in the real world, it should be available on the exam. I mean, I understand the motivation behind not letting us use calculators. I actually forgot about 90% of all I learned about how to integrate since I have a calculator that's capable of doing it for me. The result is that I had to relearn a lot of the basic calculus concepts since I've long since forgotten them. Preventing us from using calculators thus requires us to remember all those old calculus concepts. As an engineering school, however, I don't think they are doing us any favors but not teaching us how to effectively use the latest in industry standard tools. When we graduate and enter industry, our employers will expect us to know how to use Mathematica, Matlab, Excel, and TI-89s to speed up our work. Students who have been forced to take exams without calculators all their lives will therefore be at a disadvantage in industry since they will have to familiarize themselves with these tools in able to keep pace with other employees.

The second main reason professors say they don't let students use calculators on exams is that it makes the exam too easy. This assumes that having a calculator on an exam instantly makes that exam easy. That is completely false, however, as the difficult part of an exam isn't solving the integral, but rather using creativity and problem solving skills to come up with which integral to solve. This is the fundamental difference between human intelligence and computer intelligence; and coincidentally why computer intelligence is still years away from matching the intelligence of a human. Humans are able to figure out solutions real world problems because humans can think abstractly. A human can translate a word problem or a diagram into an equation. There isn't a calculator in the world that can do that. And quite frankly, that is what makes exams difficult. The difficulty of the exam comes from how creative your equation must be, not how difficult it is to solve the equation. As an analogy, think of a game of solitaire. The difficult part is in the beginning when you still have a bunch of unknown cards face down. Once all the cards are facing upwards, you know the game is won no matter how many cards are still left in the deck up top. This is how it is with a real engineering problem. All the ingenuity comes at the beginning when you are figuring out which variables go where and how to pair them together. Then, once you have everything in the right order in the right equation, you know you've "won," even though you don't have the final numerical solution yet. A calculator can only help you after you've already "won" the problem. You tell the calculator which equation to solve, not the other way around. Thus, using a calculator on an exam simply speeds up the part of the game where you already know you've won, you just haven't put all the cards on the aces yet. Thus, a calculator could never make a problem "easier," in the same way that the auto-complete function at the end of a solitaire game doesn't make the game any easier. So, if a professor is saying that using a calculator would make an exam easy, the exam was already easy in the first place. In that case, the exam should be harder.

So, the point of that digression was to explain why it annoys me that they won't let us use calculators on our exams. Solving integrals without a calculator is very straightforward and tedious, and quite frankly I was tested on that in high school. I don't see why I need to be tested on it again. Thankfully, USC is more forward thinking in their calculator usage, and therefore TI-89s are encouraged. That way the professors are testing us on our ability to problem solve rather than our ability to do high school algebra.

After tomorrow's exam, I have exams on the 25th, 28th, and 29th, then my dad's coming to London to visit! So I don't really have much time for any more traveling. To celebrate finishing my first exam, I'm going to Liverpool for just one night since I've been wanting to go for a while but haven't gotten a chance to yet and that's the only time I could squeeze it in before leaving. So, that means that Ireland was the last country new I visited on this trip! That brings my grand total of countries visited to 20! Not bad for 5 months. I'm definitely going to miss all the traveling when I get back to the States, but maybe I'll be able to take a few trips this summer! I'm already thinking about going to Washington D.C. and Minneapolis, so we'll have to wait and see what works out.

Well, what started out as a really quick why I haven't been posting post turned into a really long rambling post. Clearly I need to work on being more concise. But, now I need to get back to studying. Expect more to come when I need more breaks from studying!

Perhaps someday you will be a faculty member and you can use your experience to transform education. As you pointed out the world is changing and technology is there to augment the human mind. You might want to read your mother's disertaion and its reference to Engelbart's seminal work on augmentation of the human mind.

ReplyDelete"Increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insolvable. And by complex situations we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers--whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human feel for a situation usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids."

Engelbart, D.C., Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Summary Report AFOSR-3233, Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, CA, October 1962.[1]