SJSU – My first year in review

This semester is proving to be an entirely new set of disappointments to either semester previous. It has caused me to want to bring my notes together in an effort to save others the heartache and burning feeling in your chest – you know the one where you realize you are wasting your time, entirely. I only hope that my words wont adversely effect my interaction with instructors. The way I see it, they are able to criticize my work in their class and this is my path to being able to provide them with criticism.

First some back story, but I’ll be brief:

I work, semi-professionally because I am an intern. My job puts me next to some very interesting people doing reasonably difficult work and writing semi-boring documents in between putting out 5 alarm fires that turn out to really just be a cat in a tree. I have been in school damn near continuously since May 2001, and unfortunately I’ve run into a lot of bad advice and had to learn a lot on my own – I learned to be self-motivated.

That said, starting at SJSU was a real chore. I was turned away twice because of missing classes which didn’t end up mattering, ended up taking classes I have no interest in and seeing a real odd theme come out of my professors which really confused me – Grading is for fuckwits. The instructors don’t like to do it, they don’t want to do it, and the grading they do tends to be a mass grade to the class, with few exceptions.

The first course I was required to take is CS100W – Technical Writing Workshop with Debra Caires. Suffice to say that if you were gearing yourself up for writing something technical in a workshop setting, that is not going to occur. The course is a hybrid, meaning the teacher is just as busy as we are supposed to be and doesn’t want to have to truck into class every day. Instead we met on Tuesdays and had an online session that met on Thursday. The course was chock full of obfuscation, the likes of which you only see in Perl code, but suffered from a real lack of a sense of direction. We spent a full 5 weeks working on our résumé and cover letter, for a fictitious job, and spent the rest of the course working on a team newsletter and a team case study. In spite of both of those sounding like terms associated with writing, in reality all we did was get frustrated and try to choke our team members to death while they slept. Did I mention a grammar test that you can’t pass? Oh there’s one of those too.

CS 147 – Computer Architecture, with Robert Chun, was up next, and it was an improvement from 100W in that we had clear direction, toward 4 class projects an Integrated Circuit Board that we would never prove to use in the course and two exams. The class had two homework assignments, due the day before each of the exams, meaning we never got the opportunity to learn from mistakes. This class was a stark difference from the insanity of 100W, I remember looking around the class one session and seeing a good 8 people nodded off, heads slung over to one side or the other – odd thing being there were only ever ~ 15 people in class.

Probably one of the better courses I have taken at SJSU, Math 179 – Graph theory with Edward Schmeichel, almost entirely because the instructor. His smooth delivery of even the more mundane of topics always left me inspired to do more work and try a bit harder. In truth I was trying to impress him and I was always glad to land in his class each week a little more challenged and interested in the information at hand. We had complicated college level homework every week or so, burning through his hand written book and always having more information to cover.

In my second semester I crashed into the brick wall that was David Taylor. I made the mistake of taking two classes with him CS 146 – Data Structures and Algorithms and CS 154 – Languages & Automata, and it was quite possibly the worst thing I have done to myself in a long time. His persistent holier than thou attitude and ever present condescension lead to a number of personal issues, but when paired with class average exam scores of 26/100 and 34/80… the class was an absolute travesty. These classes were pushing well into the other end of the spectrum, where Graph Theory was a well set and laid out College level course, 100W and 147 were both expecting so little from me, 146 and 154 expected me to know the tools of my trade at a level that I can only describe as intolerable. I am definitely not a calculus All-Star, but there is a lot to be said for a class with a median score of 31/100, and not for the students in it.

During this same semester I took Physics 50 – Mechanics of Motion with Monika Kress. This class dropped below the bar, along with the majority of the courses I have sat in on thus far. Of 16 weeks we spent 6 discussing vectors, operations with them and the interpretations of them in physical quantities. I distinctly remember the question washing over us… “Which direction am I accelerating as I move faster and faster out the door?” My brain locked up as it tried to parse out which part of that was stupider, but one hand shot up… “Towards the window?” No. No you are dumb and should be thrown out of it. Because of the depression I suffered I ended up missing a full 8 weeks, including an exam, and I still got a B+.

Physics was partnered with two other course though – A workshop and a lab. Note that I didn’t mention homework in any of that. The workshop filled that role, a mandatory course which enforced doing homework in a class setting for 3 hours a week. Unfortunately, what actually happened was I did the work up on boards and worked through a few questions while the arbitrator, some grad student I guess, paced around watching people update their facebook posts with angry notes about having to go to fucking workshop. The lab is another ball of wax. It is the only class I have ever found where you can fail if you miss more than 3 questions total on 3 quizzes. In spite of however much work you do in the lab, you can fail it and have to redo the entire Physics 50, 50W and 50L again. If that isn’t the definition of ridiculous … I don’t know what is.

These past two semesters really did a number on me, influencing my expectations of my next couple semesters at SJSU, primarily causing me to lower the bar. How on earth can a school be accredited and have no drive to help their students succeed, be challenged and enjoy the experience. From dropped emails, a lack of clear direction, over or under appreciating student capabilities and over around the corner to botched group projects that end up costing me friends… it’s all there.

I will cut this post off and start discussing this semester with a clean slate, because it will help everyone to see more of the detail I have to parse through.

  • erico

    hey, I made a comment in the about section because I didn’t know how to ask you that. I came from stackoverflow. Thanks