Some time ago, when I started as a Professor I was teaching a remedial class on mathematics for IT on a Master’s class at a prestigious university, at the end of one the sessions on of the students approached me and told me that the material was new to him and the rest of the class. I thought that he was giving me a compliment and told him I was happy that I was teaching them something new. But he said I did not understand that it was supposed to be a remedial class and I shouldn’t be teaching beyond the minimum denominator of the students knowledge.
I have to admit that it was a disaster. My idea was to use mathematical induction as the core concept and relate that to the correct design of programs in the spirit of Dijkstra. I was therefore giving more emphasis to the techniques of formal proof than specific results. I wanted to model for them the actual process of finding the proofs and purposely I did not rehearse in advance the proofs but I performed cold turkey in front of the class. The class completely misunderstood what I was doing and interpreted it as incompetence on my part. On hindsight I should have made it very explicit and clear what was my aim and method. After many years of teaching I have come to grips with the idea that the student is the customer and his needs and expectations are a primary concern. Yet, students are peculiar customers, an aphorism is that students are happiest when no service is render. One of the main problems is that expectations are very low. Students enrolled in Masters aimed at working adults do not expect or even want to learn anything new. Their real motivation is to enhance their curriculum to qualify for a promotion or a higher level job elsewhere. Typically, they are middle level managers that are overworked and always traveling.
Technology offers an opportunity to provide a more personalized and effective learning model but so far this opportunity is been wasted. Most on-line programs are unnecessarily the same as traditional ones. With fix start and finish dates and the material itself is no different in format or content to traditional course-ware. Instead of fix term course, on-line programs could be based on small task-oriented modules, that will give the students greater flexibility on choosing content and setting a working pace.