Since the 1800’s…

I wanted to share with you a final slide from a presentation made by one of my students. I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. You can judge whether this is funny or very sad by yourself:

Since the 1800's...

I assumed a honest typo resulting from the student making the whole presentation 15 minutes before the class, and then winging it. I prefer to think that my students are just lazy and don’t care about the class – this way I can keep my sanity and hope for the future in situations like this one. ;)

It is reassuring that most of the class seemed to catch onto it, and there were subdued chuckles from the back rows. I believe that I even heard someone patiently explaining “cause there was like no computers in 1800’s…” to their confused neighbor.

Someone later suggested to me that you could technically count Charles Babbage as an early hacker. He was active in the 1800’s so the statement above would be at least partially correct… Well, excluding that bit about the internet services. And getting caught…

For the record, I didn’t assign the presentation topics, nor did I restrict them to just technology. Students were free to pick any topic they wanted, and I provided them with a list of potentially technology related topics if they could not come up with a topic on their own.

[tags]hackers, student, presentations, babage[/tags]

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20 Responses to Since the 1800’s…

  1. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:


    Speaking of education, I followed a discussion recently (sorry, it was in Portuguese) addressing the quality of education in the US. Overall, the perception is that the public school system there is fragment, weak, and partial, constraining students mind.

    How do you perceive it, Luke? Do you think that outcomes such as this presentation could be a result of poor background education? If it is that bad, why the government doesn’t address the issue?

    Sorry, I know it’s kinda off-topic but I got curious.

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  2. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I am obviously not Luke, but being a native-born US-an, I feel qualified to respond.
    The education system here in the US is not significantly more or less optimal than anywhere else. It’s just different. The situation Luke brought up is not necessarily a breakdown in the education system. The government can’t make people want to learn, especially about topics that don’t interest them.
    Was this a class for Computer Science majors? Was this kid an athlete in high school, if not in college?

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    [quote post=”2460″]How do you perceive it, Luke? Do you think that outcomes such as this presentation could be a result of poor background education? If it is that bad, why the government doesn’t address the issue?[/quote]

    Well, it’s not really off-topic and it is an interesting question. I really can’t speak much of the public education system because I haven’t really been educated by it. I grew up in Poland, and was educated up until my Junior year in HS under the Polish system. So my experience with public education below the college level consists of 2 years of high school. I went to a public school in a privileged suburban town, so my experience might be biased here and not indicative of the national average.

    Whether or not this means anything, back in Poland I was struggling C student. When I moved to US I became a straight A’s student. Does this mean that education level in Poland was higher?

    Not necessarily. The system was set up differently – there was really no such thing as electives, or any choice of what classes you wanted to take. Each semesters you took an literature, math, chem, bio, physics, history, phys ed, and a foreign language. Then there were some other classes on top of that based on the year you were in. So overall, I believe we got much more science than an average US student.

    Of course the teaching approach and expectations over there were different too. For example, the highest grade (6) was almost never given because it required the student to demonstrate “knowledge above and beyond the expected requirements”. The only way to get it was to get a perfect score on the test, and correctly solve the super-hard extra credit question or set of questions. Of course tests were designed in such a way to give you only enough to do the regular work, but not enough to delve into the extra credit – and the extra credit question was not always given.

    Also, if you solved the extra credit correctly, but you lost points on the regular credit questions, you had no chance of getting a 6. In other words, excelling at a subject was extremely hard. When I moved to US I was surprised how easy was it to be an A student – you just had to master the assigned material.

    Another huge difference was oral examinations. In Poland they were common, and actually preferred over quizzes or homeworks. The teacher would call your name, make you stand in front of the class and asked you 3 or 4 questions. You had to answer them (or solve the problem on the blackboard) in a satisfactory way. Failure to do so, or any potential mistakes meant you would be chided and ridiculed (often ruthlessly) in front of your class mates and you would sit down with a grade of an F.

    I always believed this was a really poor technique and many kids were failing these question sessions simply because they would freeze up due to anxiety. I know I did – if you missed the first question, you were usually done for. And of course tricky questions were always there. One of my History teachers for example would roll down a map of Western France and ask you to show him where the battle of Waterloo took place and student was expected to know it is the wrong map at a glance.

    So in many ways, I believe the public education system in the US is actually more fair and allows students who want to learn to excel with much less resistance. In this aspect it is better than the one grew up with.

    On the other hand I noticed that US education seems to put less emphasis on math and science. I can honestly say that I felt that the level here was lower. My sophomore year in the Polish high school we basically covered a lot of material from a regular college level Calculus course. When I moved to US my junior year I was placed in a pre-calc class cause I think there was some procedure for getting into a AP Calc or something.

    It is also worth noting that Poland underwent a huge educational reform in the last 10 years so my experiences from middle school and high school may no longer apply. I have no clue how the education system works over there right now.

    Again, these are just my personal observations and my sample size is very limited.

    I’d say that US system has some strong points and some serious flaws. So did the Polish system though. A lot really depends on the teachers, and on the student’s desire to learn.

    In my case, I believe it was just laziness and lack of interest in the course. The student obviously prepared that presentation right before the class, did not rehearse it, or proofread it and the 1800 was likely a typing mistake. Maybe it was supposed to be 1980’s or something.

    [quote post=”2460″]Was this a class for Computer Science majors? Was this kid an athlete in high school, if not in college?[/quote]

    Nope, it is a gen-ed class. No one wants to be in it, students hate the material and are very reluctant to learn. I don’t remember what major was this particular student but I believe it was definitely not math/science related. A lot of my students are dance, drama, music, nutrition, phys ed, nutrition and education majors. So probably somewhere within that ballpark. :)

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  4. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Responding to the post: I know my internets just haven’t been the same since they quit moving my packets by horse.

    Responding to the first comment: The education system in the US is extremely varied, since it is controlled by states and not the federal government. Different regions tend to emphasize different things. For instance, the civil war is probably a lot less emphasized in Silicon Valley, CA than in Charleston, SC. Technology has been a difficult issue to address, because many states/schools do not want to shift from the traditional breakdown of subjects (English, math, science, etc.). There are topics that the US often focuses on a lot less than other countries (e.g., Geography), but the opposite is also true. The US would have fallen far behind other nations long ago if there wasn’t some good in the education system.

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  5. Geoff CANADA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Ada Lovelace is probably a better example of a 19th century hacker than Charles Babbage. Lovelace actually wrote instructions for the Difference Engine and as such she is credited as being the first computer programmer.

    Forget the massive date error, these kids can’t even seem to proofread! Definitely an example of some not very craft[sic] individuals.

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  6. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Yeah, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t proofread what they’ve written/typed before presenting it to others. Just ask Luke! He hates that! Right, Luke? Hello?

    ;) :D

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  7. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Thanks everyone!

    Luke, reading how it was for you in Poland reminded me of “The Wall” movie (or also the song by Pink Floyd). lol

    The fact that this was not a computer science major and that different states have control over their systems also explain a lot.

    The US would have fallen far behind other nations long ago if there wasn’t some good in the education system.

    Ian, there is a number of reasons to explain the success of the US, no doubt of that. However, I suspect that public education in general is not the most representative of them. But we would need numbers to take this discussion further…

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    [quote post=”2460″]Yeah, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t proofread what they’ve written/typed before presenting it to others. Just ask Luke! He hates that! Right, Luke? Hello?[/quote]

    Oh shush! The spelling mistakes in my posts are purposefully, methodically and meticulously planted in order to give grammar Nazis something to complain about. They are not happy unless they can nitpick and whine about this stuff and I aim to provide everyone with a dose of entertainment here. ;)

    Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. :mrgreen:

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  9. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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  10. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Well, again, I am not an education specialist (even if I did study a bit about e-learning systems), but it is true that the US educational system is very different from Western Europe. I obviously know nothing about Brazil, so I won’t comment. Basic and pre-college education in the USA focuses a lot less on geography, History, literature and languages which are major topics in most European countries and a lot more on maths and anything related to numbers. This has historical reasons, obviously (geography, History and languages are simply vital for Europe, which is a divided continent in many ways). This said, the educational system in the USA is also extremely uneven (just like the rest of the society) and there are schools and universities which are the top of the world in terms of quality and many which are pretty poor. All in all, the average level is certainly high, but there are massive differences between the extremes. I guess that explains a lot too.

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  11. e UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    You have my sympathy. I have read the other comments so I won’t repeat the excellent points already raised. All I have to say is that there is a very frightening movement occurring in many western countries: to embrace and adapt the American educational model…and not that of Harvard or Princeton either. I think students feel they are entitled to a university degree, a possession like an iPhone or a car, rather than an honour received in recognition of high achievement.

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @e – this is true. But then again the opposite is also true – a 4 year college degree is becoming a requirement for just about every white collar job you can imagine. Not having a college degree or having “just an associates degree” bears with it a certain social stigma.

    So kids from affluent families with low ambition, low aspirations, low grades, and low standardized test scores tend to get funneled into universities that will take them both because of social pressure and job marketplace conditions. These folks do not really want to be in school, and should not be really be in college. But they need that degree and they are willing to “suffer” through 4 years by doing the absolute minimum of work required just to get that piece of paper. Others don’t really even care about that degree – they really here only for the 4 years of drinking, partying and living on their own away from their parents. So they only do enough classwork not to flunk out.

    These are the people who think that they are entitled to their degrees I believe.

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  13. e UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    [quote comment=”9120″] But then again the opposite is also true – a 4 year college degree is becoming a requirement for just about every white collar job you can imagine. Not having a college degree or having “just an associates degree” bears with it a certain social stigma.[/quote]

    So we find ourselves in a catch 22 – workplace standards dictate a college degree though the reality is the position does not require the type of education a college degree provides. Students who want these jobs know they must “get” this degree though it will not directly serve the position but it is socially unacceptable to not have it.

    This situation really presents two equally undesirable alternatives because the value of a college degree has been reduced to…what exactly? But then again I am in the Humanities so the practical aspect of education (i.e., serving the job market) was lost on me completely.

    Thanks for elaborating on my comment and allowing me to vent ;)

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Practical vs. Theoretical education is a whole huge flame war in itself. This is the argument and we run into it all the time in the CS department. Should a BS in Computer Science prepare a student for a job in the software industry or teach him theory and concepts that every “computer scientist” should know.

    If you teach just the theory and concepts you get a well rounded individual who knows a lot of theory, and can hopefully apply it to solve various problems. You get a sort of Jack of all Trades who can easily pick up new languages, and was trained to learn and apply new things. Is he prepared for a job in industry?

    Nope, he will still need to be trained in the process a given company uses, he will need to learn the tools, software and assortment of practices. In fact such person will probably experience a culture shock when entering the industry where mantra is more often “get it done fast” rather than “get it done right”.

    If you teach just job oriented skills you will end up with a code monkey with a wide range of skills, but no good idea of how software works. And of course he will still need to be trained since each company uses a different process, tools and guidelines.

    So at most universities the compromise usually falls somewhere off center more emphasis on theory and academic pursuits, and less emphasis on actual “job training”. But we do offer courses which teach “Software Engineering” principles which gives the students an overview of processes and methodologies used (or abused) out there in the big world. And of course we do teach programming in a popular mainstream language. So solving theoretical problems in that language is already a good practical training.

    Then there are some universities teach programing in Scheme which while a great language in itself, is used extremely rarely in the industry.

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  15. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    In the engineering/architecture/construction industries, there are many schools who use co-operative education to balance these ideas. Essentially, after one full year of classroom, you alternate full-time classroom with full-time (paid) work plus part-time night class. You learn the theory/history in class, and practical work experience in co-op. This system produces graduates who are very strong in both aspects. They are often able to go right to work for the firms they did their co-op with, and contribute much more than the average graduate.

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  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I think MSU does offer co-ops but they are optional, and the pickings are usually slim (since we are not really known for our CS program) and usually you don’t get paid (but it depends on the company).

    I never really had time for these things. As an undergrad I would usually took 16-18 credits per semester and had 2 jobs (one off campus, evenings+weekends) and one on-campus (work study type of thing) and helped my dad running his business (he doesn’t speak English so all the paperwork is on me usually).

    And you know what – even now after getting my MS in CS I still feel like I don’t know squat about my field. :(

    So while I’d love to see more practical stuff being taught alongside the theory, I personally think we are not even teaching enough theory.

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  17. Teague UNITED STATES Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Well, it did make the programs take longer. IIRC, 6 yrs for architecture, 5 for engineering. But, the benefits were there. The school I was at, U of Cincinnati, has a rep as a pioneer of this type of program, so their co-op students are in demand and well-paid.

    I hear you on teaching enough theory. How much of that 16-18 hrs were non-CS bs classes just to make you more “well-rounded”?

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  18. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Too many, though I do not regret it. I actually enjoyed most of my classes, and thought they were a valuable experience. I loved the lit classes, I really enjoyed Bio and Chem. I even once took a random class on “Religious Existentialism in the works of Soren Kierkegard” on a fluke – and totally enjoyed it.

    The only ones which sucked big time were:

    a. my gym class – intro to swimming, 8am, Saturdays in the fucking winter (agh). If I took it in the summer, and like in the evening it would actually be pretty fun and relaxing.

    b. A geography class which took a strange turn into geology. The professor sped through first few chapters and then basically stopped at the point we reached geology which was his research area. So for the rest of the semester we were getting to know about all different magma rock types in way more detail that I ever wanted to know.

    c. Mythology class which inadvertently turned into women studies class. We did greek mythology for two weeks, and then went on this “female roles in mythology” tangent that turned into some sort of an angry rabid feminist rant picking apart the evil patriarchal stereotypes in literature. I took this class because we were supposed to be studying and comparing various mythologies as in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Assyrian some Affrican stuff etc… And I was all for that. Instead she insisted that we read “Devil Wears Prada” instead. I didn’t drop the class only because it was my last semester and I needed the credits to graduate.

    Of course sometimes I wish I actually had more CS centric course load. But then again I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life back in HS. I knew I loved technology, but I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do back then. So I picked a liberal arts college with a balanced profile and really tried all kinds of different things my first two semesters. By the time I figured out I’m a CS guy I was already behind the sequence. And then I realized that some of the interesting electives (like artificial intelligence for example) were only offered once a year and then promptly canceled every time due to insufficient numbers registering for them.

    You know, it is sort of a toss up. On one hand, I really do think that the liberal arts education is really a good thing. I’m all for making people “more well rounded” (I don’t think that’s grammatically correct, but whatever). I think I did benefit from it, and I am a better person for it. I do have some appreciation now for some of the other fields of study.

    On the other hand, in retrospect I sometimes kinda wish I went to a more CS oriented school. :P

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  19. ikaruga UNITED STATES Konqueror SuSE Linux says:

    I know it’s an old post, what the hey:

    The sad part is that the kid doing the presentation probably wants to be a lawyer or a doctor. The other sad part is if you flunk them, they’ll get all teary eyed. “The emperor has no clothes” and they’ll take you to the supervisor’s office if you show them.

    I taught college before and I had a girl just like that — she wanted to be a lawyer. However, she couldn’t pass a simple logic test, and got all upset when she failed. She felt entitled … but her abilities did not match her ambitions. Hopefully, she shaped up after my class or chose a different career…

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  20. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Yeah some of them do feel entitled to a good grade in class. You are the mean guy for actually making them do stuff, and making up all these INSANE requirements like showing up to class and submitting homeworks when they are due. I mean all they want to do is to pass your class without actually doing or learning anything – is it that hard to understand???


    Once a student became very agitated when she came to the class for the first time in a month and found out we are having a quiz. A quiz I was talking about for 2 weeks, and reviewed for the last class, handed out review sheets and etc. But she was outraged that I did not post an announcement and review notes online and send out an email to tell people they are there. Which of course would not help, because that girl never checked her email, and actually only logged into the LMS 3 times this semester. But I guess the expectation they have is that I’m supposed to chase after them, and force them to study.

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