A Grumbling Emergence from Introversion

My university’s summer class schedule is rather thin, and I’ve ended up taking my first online course. Looking back over the past weeks, I find that have learned two (2) things from this course: first, online courses are bollocks; second, I loathe academic software engineering.

I am deeply unimpressed by the “online class” experience. Perhaps the specimen to which I am currently being subjected is an unrepresentative sample, but I have to say it is woefully inferior to even a very bad classroom-taught (or “traditional”, as it is quaintly called) course. The “teaching” has been reduced to a few irregularly posted PowerPoint decks; I have no concept of who the teacher might be or if he is actually competent. Interaction with classmates is limited to that strictly necessary to complete assignments. There is little sharing of experience and less camaraderie.

We are required to use inferior web forum software for all course-related activities. This software lacks even rudimentary notification abilities, so one has to check several times each day to see if anything new has been posted (which it usually hasn’t). It logs one out after fifteen minutes, so every post is an exercise in frustration. It pops up dialog boxes with unhelpful diagnostic information every single, bloody login. It re-implements email! Even the teacher and T.A. can’t seem to use the “helpful class-management features” of the software to get grades posted properly, sometimes requiring three attempts. While the T.A. seems to be a reliable enough person, the overall impression of the course is of inferior technology and desultory disorganization.

Perhaps the state of online classes will be improved in five years; this one certainly does not seem to be ready for prime time. I’m seven or eight weeks into this course, and I could have learned just as much spending two days with Google Scholar and a list of a half-dozen seed papers (with much less exasperation and a far smaller outlay of cash).

The course topic (software testing) has not much helped my enthusiasm for this lackadaisical flapdoodle. This is the first software engineering course I’ve taken, and I have to say that it’s not doing a lot for me. The several dozen papers I’ve read are shining exemplars of Sturgeon’s Law. There are few interesting bits buried in the crud, but these are, by and large, derivative of more basic computer science results.

Don’t get me wrong; software engineering is a valuable (and, I assume, more practical than it seems from this course) discipline, but I’m deuced certain that I’ll be spinning my thesis topic in a much different direction.

academia computer science reflections

Magister Scientiae

Ramon Lull’s Arbor Scientiae Somewhat to my surprise, I find that I have finished my M.S. and the degree will be awarded in six days. At last, I can be addressed as Wohlgelehrter Herr Magister! My calculations had led me to believe that I had two more quarters before completion, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue when the department sent me a graduation notice.  The bureaucrats have been propitiated, so it’s all over but the ceremony.

Next stop: doctorate. I’ve officially transferred into the Ph.D. program. Until Friday I could still say that I was still on the fence, but iacta alea est. I’d assumed that switching tracks wouldn’t be a particularly big deal, but I find that it’s a significant mental and emotional shift.

There have certainly been research elements to the master’s program, but at its heart it is structured around classes. Until now, it’s been picking the most interesting items off of a menu and running with them. From here on out, I’m building my own curriculum, and research is central.

It really is like starting out fresh, but from a higher level of sophistication. The professor who has been acting as my advisor is leaving, so I’ll need to establish a new relationship, one that will be the best match for my research interests.

Research interests! That impending choice has certainly been haunting my sleep for the past few months. To my generalist instincts, it feels a bit like selecting the color of my straightjacket. There are too many interesting pathways to select just one! Still, this is the way that the game is played, and I have some ideas. Once they’ve coalesced, expect some discussion in this forum.

I’ll have a brief, much-needed respite before I pick things up again for the summer term. Of course, work continues—it will be a bit of a dance balancing office and academia, but I’ve survived this long. What’s three or four more years?