Here’s the extract from an interesting article written by Aaron Rowe that captured my attention few days back:

For many students, earning a degree in engineering is less than enjoyable and far from what they expected. Here are our biggest complaints about the educational rite of passage. Of course, they are sweeping generalizations. Feel free to disagree. 5 Awful Textbooks […], 4 Professors are Rarely Encouraging […], 3 Dearth of Quality Counseling […], 2 Other Disciplines Have Inflated Grades […], 1 Every Assignment Feels the Same […].

Do you think he is just a frustrated engineering student?

As an engineering student, I don’t think he is completely wrong. But let’s discuss his points one by one.

5. Awful Textbooks
Thick, dry, black and white manuscripts are rarely a source of inspiration and sometimes can cause loads of confusion. Often, the text is poorly written and interrupted by lengthy equations with symbols that are different from those used by the professor during lectures.

Thick, dry, black and white manuscripts? That’s definitely not a good argumentation. There are loads of interesting books out there which are exactly like that. The real problem, as he states, is that texts are often poorly written, which makes it even harder to comprehend and already though subject like “Advanced Mathematics for Engineers”. Also, you can’t blame a book if a professor uses a symbol convention other than the one used by the book he chose.

4. Professors are Rarely Encouraging
During each class, a professor that would rather be tending to his research will waltz up to a blackboard or overhead projector and scribble out equations for an hour without uttering a single sentence to create some excitement.

That’s a sad behavior, but that’s the way things work. I have to admit that many exceptions exist, and I was lucky enough to study with some of them. Courses were challenging but also inspiring and fun. Things you learn this way, are things you’ll never forget.

3. Dearth of Quality Counseling
College students may not have a sense for how to build their resume and they might be clueless about the variety of career opportunities that await them. Unfortunately, some academic advisers do little more than post fliers about internships and hand out a checklist of classes to take. They should make some projections about the future job market, learn about the interests of each young scholar, and offer them tailored advice for how to best prepare themselves.

I’m not even sure that applies to Italian universities. The majority of students are clueless about the career opportunities even after their bachelor or master. Post graduation internships are getting often and often just a cheap way for host companies to get highly skilled workers. Maybe it’s just Italy: I would be glad to know.

2. Other Disciplines Have Inflated Grades
Brilliant engineering students may earn surprisingly low grades while slackers in other departments score straight As for writing book reports and throwing together papers about their favorite zombie films.

Some professors view undergraduate education as a type of natural selection, but their analogy is flawed. Many of the brightest students may struggle while mediocre scholars can earn top scores because they have a larger group of supportive friends to or more time to dedicate to studying.

That’s true, but we also have to consider perspectives other than our own. Just think about the courses a mathematician has to take and compare them to… ours. I think he would be pretty much disappointed if we keep on saying our courses are hard, while others are easy junk. But yeah, I guess some other disciplines may have inflated grades.

1. Every Assignment Feels the Same
Nearly every homework assignment and test question is a math problem. Only a few courses require creativity or offer hands-on experience.

I couldn’t agree more. I can understand that behavior in basic theoretical courses like maths or physics, where you have to teach your students the tools he would need further on to solve harder problems, but that’s terribly annoying in a Programming course, even if it’s a basic one. You can score a 30/30 in an Italian programming course just by writing a bubble sort implementation (efficiency and elegance of the solution, are far from being evaluated). Wouldn’t it be better to have an hard task assigned, maybe a real world software problem? That’s where future engineers who think off the schemes will come out. Give them a taste of the real world, and they will give you back a creative, but coherent and efficient, solution.

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