I've been thinking about this post of Markus's
recently, and about my own CS degree. It's about two and a half years since I graduated - though it took me about seven years to complete the degree, as I was working full time. My degree was a little different to the standard UK 3-year full-time on-campus BSc - for a start, I think it was the first degree course in the world resulting from a partnership between an employer, trade union, and university. As a result, a lot of applicants were union reps - which makes for great
fellow students, as they're absolutely unafraid of asking difficult questions. (Hmm, now what other group has that trait? I wonder...)
I was also part of only the second cohort to join. We signed up on the understanding that this was a new venture for the company, the uni, and the union, and that there would undoubtedly be more than a few early problems to iron out. We were to think of ourselves as test pilots, and our feedback and help would make the course better for those coming after us. We would need to rely on each other for help and support - the saying "Each one, teach one" came up again and again, though at that time I wasn't aware of its long history
. We both expected and demanded to be considered equal participants in our education - when the course later merged with the CS dept's full-time on-campus course, that attitude seemed to come as a bit of a surprise to those lecturers who hadn't previously encountered us. We were
demanding, and bolshie, but in the nicest possible way - because we wanted to learn so much.
It was a fabulous learning community. I've long since lost access to the online discussion boards, but I can remember commenting once that I thought I'd learnt as much if not more from my fellow students as I had from the lecturers - and getting fervent agreement from other students. I won't deny that it was an extremely tough road to walk - for our students, coursework had to be fitted in somewhere, somehow after demands of family and work, and some also faced considerable hostility from co-workers, family, and even managers who couldn't see the value in doing the degree. Many people left during the course, especially in the early years (though the course was designed to have earlier exit routes if life meant that you didn't want to or couldn't go through to the full degree). I think that out of that first fifty, about five, possibly six of us finally graduated. I was in the second batch to graduate, and I have never felt so proud as I did when watching my fellow students walk across that stage to receive their degrees. Because the whole course had been such an intensely collaborative effort, it felt like a real shared success to me.
I learnt an awful lot from my degree course, and CS was actually the smaller part of it, now that I look back on it. I learnt a lot about how I learn - when I started, I thought my learning habits made me a "bad student", and that the course would teach me to be a good one. While I did get much better at learning, I also discovered that my idea of what makes a bad student was utterly wrong
. I also learnt that, although I'd always thought of myself as a fairly solitary learner, I get a tremendous amount of energy out of learning with other people, and especially if I feel I'm making a contribution to a wider community with my learning.
I'm hoping that in the coming year, I'll be able to help to foster another great learning community. I'd really like to be part of that. I hope that I can contribute at least as much as I gain.