[OT] Education Theory (was Re: Database Design Theory?)

Hans Fugal hans at fugal.net
Wed Nov 9 15:36:29 MST 2005

On Wed,  9 Nov 2005 at 13:08 -0700, Shane Hathaway wrote:
> I've always wondered if I'm odd in the way I learn things, but I've 
> always had far more success if I start with practical applications 
> before moving into theory.  When I start with theory, I don't know why I 
> need to learn it, so my rebellious nature ignores it.  However, when I 
> start with applications, the importance is obvious and most of the 
> theory is intuitive.  Later, I fill in the gaps in my theoretical 
> understanding by talking to people or reading books.
> People say this approach leads to misunderstandings, which is true for a 
> time, but the misunderstandings cause me to appreciate the theory and 
> dedicate serious time to learning the theory.  At this point the theory 
> is exciting and easy to learn.  In the process, I also learn notable 
> practical exceptions to the theory, helping me see some directions the 
> theory needs to expand to become more useful.  Sometimes I try to expand 
> the theory.

I agree, for myself, but I'd modify it a bit. If there's no
_motivation_, then learning theory is like memorizing a phonebook. If
there's motivation (the names and numbers are all the hot girls in your
high school for example), then it's a different story.

I was like Ross, and loved 252. I think Ross and I both probably saw
at least at a subconscious level the application to problem solving a la
the programming we all love to do.

I took a signal processing class, and although I knew there were
applications in sound and music (that's why I decided to take the
class), and although I did ok in the class, I struggle to remember what
I learned there because at the time I just didn't have the motivational
hooks - the reasons for remembering what I was learning - that I do now.
Luckily for me there's books and grad-level DSP classes. :-)

So my modification is this: provide motivation. It may be doing some
practical stuff first, or it may be enough to show where the theory
applies in something the students are interested in. Don't focus too
much on practical stuff, though, for there lies false security and
misconceptions. Just enough to get the motivation. 

Incidentally, that DSP class was heavy on the graphics applications,
which was great motivation for a lot of people. I just happen to be
completely uninterested in doing "cool graphics."

Hans Fugal ; http://hans.fugal.net
There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the 
right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
    -- Johann Sebastian Bach
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