sub specie aeternitatis

Reading Class: Actual Learning Ahead

July 4, 2011

Although I transferred something like 130 credit hours from my previous degree towards this computer science degree I didn’t meet all of IU’s gen ed requirements.  Among the credits I was missing was were 8 natural science credit hours.  I knew I didn’t want to do a difficult class with a lab, so I took 2 astronomy classes (3 hours each), both with the same prof.  They were, wonderfully, fairly easy but very interesting.  The first semester covered the solar system and the second (far more interesting) a broad overview of cosmology.  I did very well in both classes and got to know the professor.

After finishing these 6 credit hours, I now needed only 2 more natural science credits.  I decided to continue on my current path and take 1 more 3 hour astronomy class and signed up for another 100 level class earlier this summer.  I wasn’t all to happy with having to take a 3 credit hour class to cover 2 credit hours, but, as I do want to graduate, this was the path of least resistance.  But it turns out I didn’t last more than 1 lecture in this meets 2 days a week for 3 hours each time class.  The 2nd day after the first class, my old astronomy prof came to eat at my restaurant, and I began explaining my credit hour situation.  He immediately said, why don’t you drop that class and take a reading class or two with me?  Sign up for a 1 one credit class, we can do it easily this summer, and then continue it for your last 1 hour either this fall or next spring.  I dropped the class the next day and signed up for a 1 hour reading class with him for the 2nd summer session.

Despite the fact that this is a science class, the 1 hour we meet each week to discuss the book I’m reading (Brian Greene’s newest book, The Hidden Reality) is the most fun, interesting, engaging, and fruitful class I have yet to take.  Perhaps it is my learning style, or that I get along well with the prof, or the material is intriguing, but whatever the case, I love studying this book and discussing in detail what I’ve learned/read.  I know it isn’t possible for everyone to go one on one with a prof in this manner for science credits, but I find it immensely more satisfying than any other science course I’ve had.  Instead of worrying about which facts to memorize for the next quiz/exam or what formulas to apply to which problem, I’m concentrating on learning the material.  And since I know I’ll look the fool if I don’t prepare, I am more motivated to learn on my own than most any other class.  It is very reminiscent of private saxophone lessons both as an undergraduate and graduate.  Perhaps it isn’t the same for others, but for me, the pressure of having to perform every week for a prof  is a great motivator.  It doesn’t always work, of course (there were many times as an undergraduate I went into lessons woefully unprepared although this was probably due more to my younger self’s laziness than anything else), but it is far better than what I experienced with the “real” class.  Plus, its just plain fun to be able to pick an experimental astrophysicist’s brain for an hour each week.