22 Jun 2009

Weekend Discussion: Useful Education

NOTE: This post will stay here until Sunday night. Posts for Saturday and Sunday morning go below this post.

Dear Aguanauts,

Discussion posts allow you to discuss a topic among yourselves -- exchanging views, learning and teaching. (I only read the comments.)

If you are interested, take a moment to check out (and add to!) last week's discussion on Community. After that, please give us your thoughts on...

Education. Have you learned more useful stuff in the "real world" or academic world? (Examples are nice.)


  1. Funny, just tonight I was watching a PBS piece on student loan defaults. If you pay $100K for a degree that lands you in social work, paying that debt is going to be tough.

    This got me to thinking about my computer science degree and the number of ways my no-name state university shortchanged me (never once taught us version control!) or how all the students would have taken a course on the C language had they bothered to offer it (teaching us, uselessly, Pascal as an introductory language).

    This took me to a moment in about 1999 when I worked at the New York Times. I wandered into a meeting of the sales staff (about 4 young women; this was for the web site) and they were discussing interviewees, and they were enamored by the fact that the one came from Harvard. And I thought that if I had any advice for a teenager today, it would be: 1) You pay for the name brand -- through the nose -- but your education won't necessarily be any better than you'd get at Harvard. But you could get shortchanged like I did. And in the end, for pretty much any school, you get what you put into it.

  2. Have you learned more useful stuff in the "real world" or academic world?

    I've learned more hard-to-understand-without-help stuff in school (chemistry), but I've learned more about how to manage projects in the real world.

    In response to Wainstead - I have a big name public school bachelors, but had lots of useless classes. Then I got a masters at an ordinary state school with much smaller classes, and learned a lot more. But you're right - in job interviews their impressed with the big name school. At least I didn't have to pay all that much for the name brand.

  3. Argh! Big name school, skipping preview and displaying a typo. Shame on me.

  4. I think that academic learning causes me to look at the real world in a new way. When I see tipped tree that the top has grown vertical, I think about how plants grow in response to gravity instead of wow what a funny looking tree.

    The real world learning is just as important. Often in the classroom setting the topic seems straightforward. The real world is messy.

    At a stream restoration workshop we had a day in the classroom and a day on site. One without the other would have been less valuable. In the classroom I learned the why and a framework for the how to restore the stream bank. At the site I learned how, with all the variables, like 20 high school volunteers, too many shovels, not enough clippers and no zip ties.

    I like to have both academic and real world experience. I feel that I learn better that way. Not everyone wants or needs to have both. Ideally both would be respected and valued.

  5. Why are these two stated as alternatives?


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