Last year I decided to test the waters and try to resume my studies towards a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. It suprises me to realise that I haven’t had a rant about my issues with tertiary education here in WA previously, so I need to cover a few bases first.

First off, let me explain the difference between knowing things and understanding them. As an example, you might know that when you add two numbers together on a calculator - it will tell you the result. Knowledge is the what.

Understanding is the why. There are many levels of understanding: you might understand that the calculator is running some software; that the software is machine code running on the device; the way the instructions are carried out by the silicon; and so on.

Everyone comes into the course at a different level of understanding. Without sounding pompous or arrogant, I had spent a lot of time writing software and messing with systems - I went in with a different level of understanding to a large number of the students, as did a number of my peers - but we certainly weren’t the majority.

When Universities teach new concepts they need to make certain generalisations and assumptions so that they can effectively teach the concept at hand.

Whilst I understood this, it caused a certain amount of grief for me because I thought I knew otherwise. I would often seek clarification on the assumptions and details where things had been glossed over, because I wanted to understand why those generalisations had been made.

Which can be a problem as lecturers are often stretched for time as it is to answer these types of questions, and student tutors (taking the unit tutorials) either were unable or unwilling to do this either. I realise there’s an element of self-learning here, but sometimes you need to understand where the other person is coming from when they’re teaching with these assumptions.

I have an issue taking this type of thing for granted, and have found it very difficult to understand concepts when I get caught up by what I see as a contradiction like this. In any case, it’s quite hard to move on with an incomplete foundation of understanding.

With this in mind, my issue is that I expect Universities to be a supportive learning environment where you can get a really good understanding of what you’re learning and come out of it understanding what you’ve been taught.

In my experience, this is not the goal of the University and I’ve found the academic staff both unwilling, unhelpful and even unkind - overall a rather negative experience that doesn’t motivate or encourage you to continue learning.

Which is, at least in my mind, what’s stopped me from finishing my degree. I think I may have moved past this point somewhat, though having ‘made it’ in my industry I still have some other motivational issues. It’s something I’d like to do, and I guess time will tell…