Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaching African students

I've now taught for one week. It's about time I commented on what it's like teaching here in South Africa.

I have 14 students in my class, and they're all from South Africa. AIMS Cape Town takes students from all across the African continent, but also has a class allotted for South African students; that's the class I'm teaching.

For the most part, the students apply themselves to their studies in a serious way. For example, it's Saturday evening as I write this in my office, and I've had a number of students drop by asking questions about the assignment I gave them (the computer lab is just down the hall).

One thing I noticed is that many students seem to find some of the programming tasks difficult to understand. It's not that they can't program, but rather that they find it hard to map the task I give them onto a program. For example, I supplied them with a program that takes input X and computes output Y. The assignment asks the students to produce a plot of X vs. Y for a variety of X-values. Some needed that explained, in considerable detail.

Of course, it might be the case that my Waterloo students are exactly the same. But I don't hang out in the computer lab at Waterloo, so I'm not around for them to ask.

Part of the issue could be that they're learning a new programming language. Though I expect it's probably got a lot to do with the fact that these are math students, and not computer science students.

Our progress is slower than I anticipated, but not much slower. I think they're understanding the basics of how a neuron works, though. And that's my goal, at this point.

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