Rambles around computer science

Diverting trains of thought, wasting precious time

Mon, 18 Aug 2008

This Is Cambridge

One of my main beefs with the Tripos is that it claims to “teach in three years what most Universities teach in four”. This is unfortunately a rather different statement from saying that the students learn in three years what they would learn in four at other Universities. Since exams are competitive affairs, there's no established mechanism for gauging the actual quality of learning that students acquire.

I get the impression that the exclamation “this is Cambridge!” is used as a blanket excuse for cramming lots of advanced material into courses. This is a shame, because such cramming can be counterproductive. The aforesaid statement can easily be used to gloss over any areas where the course genuinely fails to adequately serve most or all of its students. The response---“then they're not smart enough!”---is not good enough. Even if the top students do well by this approach, I'd rather have a teaching course that was optimised for the median student than for the top 5%. If a talented student isn't sufficiently stretched, there are always informal channels (taking [extra-curricular] Master's-level courses, research seminars, self-study) by which to gain more stimulation, and always higher courses of study (and/or research) to pursue afterwards. But if you're not hanging on even to the baseline of the course, you really are out at sea.

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