When will I ever use this?

I’m trying to break myself of a bad habit.

No, not the one about drinking too much coffee! I mean the one that we’re all guilty of at one time or another; the one where we ask ‘When will I ever use this?’

From a certain point of view, it’s a perfectly valid question. You’re asking if the information you are currently learning will ever affect your life in some meaningful way. If you’re paying for your learning, such as in my current case, then you want to know if you’re actually receiving value for your investment. (Actually this is true even if it’s ‘public’ education – your time is certainly worth something, right?) This question can allow for an enlightening discussion of how the current topic relates to a real world application or, unfortunately, it can be a purely tautological answer: “You’re learning this because it will be on the exam.” While this may be true, it’s also the tool of a lazy teacher! Even if a given exercise is unlikely to be used in the ‘real world,’ it should still be applicable to the subject of a given class beyond simply something on which a student will be tested. Most of us are unlikely to ever be paid for being able to explain the theme of a poem, but this is likely to be a core skill in a literature class. You learn this skill because it is part of the basis on which other skills will be learned and not just because you will be tested on it in some way.

Of course the negative side of this question is that we rarely ask this if it’s something we’re enjoying. I think this is what I’m actually trying to break myself of doing — asking this question simply because I’m getting frustrated when learning something which I’m not enjoying. The above example of poetry analysis comes from a current class, and actually one which I am enjoying. I have yet to find myself asking “why am I learning this?” even though this skill is extremely unlikely to ever be a factor in web page development! (It may be hard to believe, but it is rare that you find a client which specifies that the PHP source code must rhyme, even if it is written in lines.) I love to read and actually enjoy poetry, so it really doesn’t occur to me to ask about practical use, even if I’ve never used this skill in my professional life.

On the other hand, I do find myself asking this with my pre-calculus class. This is not a class I particularly enjoy and I’m honestly struggling a bit to keep up with it. Just as with the literary class and analyzing themes, I can’t recall ever being called upon to factor a polynomial equation by hand, so from that point of view, these skills are equally inapplicable to my professional life, yet because it is the one I’m not enjoying, this is the one I’m finding myself questioning. I understand that these math skills are going to be needed in later classes and that complex math skills actually do apply more directly to my profession than most things from the English curriculum, but that doesn’t keep me from grumbling about it!

So when will I ever use this? This may be one of those times when having done this process backwards I can better see the sense in things. The real answer is that it is very unlikely that you will directly use everything you learn in school. There are certainly skills I’m learning as part of my Computer Science classes which I can look at from the view of someone who’s been in IT for more than 20 years and say that I’ve never used … or at least not directly. I can say that I’ve never written a mathematical proof as part of a development project. Yet, I have written many routines which had to follow specific steps and flows of logic. I note that doing proofs are oddly similar to that process! I may never learn to enjoy proofs (or polynomials, or imaginary numbers, etc.), but I think I will be more reluctant to dismiss this as irrelevant to my profession.

Everyone has their reasons

One more odd bit about going to college at my age: I’m much closer in age to the professors than I am to most of the students. (I’ve even been older than a few of them, but that was mostly at my previous school.) This means I’m also much more likely to find teachers and other school employees attractive, although I’m far less likely (as in “won’t do it”) to extend finding someone attractive to a perusing a physical relationship with them. (Never mind the fact that I don’t have time for another partner!)

I bring this up mostly due to a conversation I overheard between two students concerning a friend of theirs who had taken a class purely based on his attraction to the teacher. Now I can say that having a teacher I find attractive can certainly make a class more interesting. I’ve absolutely had classes with instructors that were very much my type, both physically and socially, and under other circumstances I might have at least made some casual inquiries as to their availability. However, I can’t imagine signing up for a class based on nothing more than the physical appearance of the teacher.

So I must create my first poll ever …

Define attractive however you wish – physical appearance, melodic voice, collecting designer bottle caps, whatever floats your boat outside the consideration of class subject! I’m very attracted to geeks, so naturally the person who was waxing poetically about zir Linux system and advocating for strong passwords really caught my attention. If this was the sole factor in a decision to sign up for a computer OS or security class with that person, I think it would be perfectly valid, even if this is a characteristic I find attractive. If I signed up based on the fact that ze was very much within one of my preferred physical categories … well, I think that would be questionable.

More Studying May Be In Order

It’s been a quiet week in Lake George … Wait, no it hasn’t!

My final exam of the semester was on a Friday evening at 17:45 (that’s 5:45 PM for most people) for a class that was usually held on Monday and Wednesday evenings. This in and of itself wouldn’t have been so bad, but we were expecting family to arrive at our house that evening for our annual Yuletide (Winter Solstice) celebration the next morning. Due to various conflicts, we were holding it on Saturday the 15th instead of closer to the actual solstice on the 21st. The upshot of this being that not only was I spending a good portion of my Friday night taking an exam, I was doing so while loved ones were supposed to be arriving in my home, some of them driving a considerable distance to do so. There were several students that didn’t bother to show up for the exam; presumably they either had sufficient grades they didn’t need to do so, or they arranged at alternative test time. Best of luck to them, I guess. I suspect the time and day of the exam had a lot to do with these absences!

Walking around campus afterwards was like walking through a ghost town! The place was utterly deserted and eerily quiet.

So here we are a few weeks later and of course I’ve received my grades and everything …

Well, at least I passed. My final grades for the two classes in my first semester were a C for Discrete Mathematics and a B for Computer Science II. This gives me a current degree GPA of 3.566 … which is a bit of a drop from the 4.000 with which I started. (It also leaves me with just under 100 hours more of credits required for my degree.) While these grades came as a bit of a shock when compared to the tech school where I was getting a 4.00 with every single class, I’m actually more proud of these grades because I felt like I actually had to work for them!

When I transfered into UWP I expected the classes to be harder. I wanted the classes to be more challenging as I felt like I wasn’t really getting full value from my highly-inflated tuition costs from that other school. I think it’s time to speak of that experience a bit. When I first started to pursue my degree, I was just turning 40 years old. Except for the occasional short class for some work-related functions, I had not been in an actual classroom for more than 20 years. My high school grades weren’t really great, particularly my senior year, and I had no recent history of academics to present as an example of my interests for potential admittance. I was desperate to do something, anything really, in order to make my situation better and I didn’t think I had a chance in hell at getting into a traditional college.  In other words, I was perfect prey for a certain type of school with low requirements and high-pressure sales.

Out of a desire to not incur any kind of lawsuit, I will not specify which one, but if you’re in the United States you’ve probably seen their commercials. They’re the ones which had an image of the VLA radio astronomy observatory with voice over about a railway communications system. They are usually identified with three letters and their former parent corporation was involved with telephones and telegraphs. Yes, that one, much to my chagrin.

I ignored that initial uneasy feeling for a very long time. I must make it clear that I cannot fault my teachers nor most of the administration staff at the campus which I attended. I think most of them really did have a desire to educate and help others, although I should have taken the hint at how many of them would refuse to directly discuss the negative publicity the school was receiving in the local and national press. (I’ll note that a few did make veiled references to the fact that the school has the highest tuition rate of any school in the industry, but would then change the subject, possibly after noting that it sure didn’t go to the teachers!) I cannot say that I learned nothing there, but the classes were amazingly easy and much of the learning came from my own love of the subjects and not from the required material. Again, the teachers were usually helpful with questions and my desire to go beyond the material — apparently students who were actually actively engaged being somewhat of a rarity there, but the official materials tended to be barely above the high school level at best.

After two years I couldn’t ignore the fact that I’d made a serious mistake in going there and I began to look into traditional schools. I really wish I had done so initially, although I don’t know if I could have gone straight into that without the first experience. As poor as their academic standards are, at least they did get me back into the habit of doing homework, taking tests, attending classes and other school activities that we as adults do sometimes blow off all too easily. (While loudly proclaiming these activities as important for our children, of course!) I think I’m now in a better position to appreciate that I will learn more from a class with harder material and more stringent project requirements: I want an actual education and not just a piece of paper!

It’s still been made clear to me that I’m going to need to make school a higher priority and juggle my work load from other sources around such to accomplish this. That’s certainly going to make it interesting for client projects! I’m looking into other funding sources, including setting up a donation page on gofundme. I’m also seeking a campus job with the thought that they’re far more likely to be understanding of “I need to study for an exam this week” than my clients! (Not to mention that it’ll seriously cut down on my commute time.)

I remember when I used to be able to do this …

One very noticeable difference between me and my fellow students, most of whom are significantly younger: I have a lot harder time with ‘all-nighter’ sessions. (Although I do note that I end up pulling them due to my other time commitments and not because I spent the weekend drinking and partying!)

I’m going to go make some more coffee, then review my CS assignment before I submit it.