I have just reached the end of the first week of teaching here in Berlin, at the “Institut für Informatik“, part of the Freie Universität Berlin.
I am teaching a module called ProInformatik III: Objektorientierte Programmierung – a block course that runs every day with five hours of contact over four weeks.
So, what have I learned so far?
Apart from the fact that translating technical terms into German poses regular challenges (what’s the German word for Debugger?), that apparently my German sounds funny now (well, 18 years out of Germany have left their marks…) and that I can still use a blackboard with chalk (we had a power-out yesterday), one of the most interesting observations is that the students here are much more talkative, more engaged, and ask much more interesting questions than my students at home. Where does that come from?
Well, partly this comparison is unfair. This is a summer course that students can take as a taster before they start to study. If they pass it, and then enrol in the degree programme, they get full credit. This naturally leads to a selective audience. I would guess that it is much more likely that the well-motivated, organised, keen (and possible good) students participate in these voluntary summer courses, so I’m dealing with a subset that is probably easier to teach.
However, I wonder whether there is also another factor at work. In Germany – compared to UK – school starts a year later, and lasts a year longer (although that is just changing now, with most states in Germany changing from 13 years to 12 years of schooling). That means students enter university two years later.
Add to this the fact that Germany has compulsory military service (for males only) we get a situation – in this male dominated discipline – where many of our students are three years older than their UK counterparts.
In other words: Many start here at an age where UK students finish.
The effect is startling. Instead of dealing with kids, I’m dealing with young adults. I wonder whether another year of life before study wouldn’t be a good thing for UK students as well.
I have an old list of terms http://www.f4.htw-berlin.de/~weberwu/deutsch-englisch.html and had the following terms for “Debugger”: Testhelfer; Fehleraufspuerer; Schrittmacher; Programmtester Testumgebung; Tester. But really, we just say “Debugger”.
It’s not just school that makes them older. Many men will have completed military service before starting college and many men and women will have done a voluntary social year. I do like only having about 1/3 of my students coming directly from high school!