What Do I Study? What Do I Do? Showing the PathPosted: March 21, 2012
One of the things I’ve learned from flying a lot is that it’s never as easy to get from one point to another as you think. There are regional hubs, legal connections, affiliations and the many intricacies of which routes are allowed into which countries. There’s a reason that you can either retain the services of a travel agent for a fee or spend a lot of your own time trying to work out the best way to get from A to B. It would be nice if you could fit everything onto one simple diagram and see the best way to go but, even without the commercial concerns, it’s a very hard problem to solve if you’re worried about efficiency rather than connectivity.
We allow our students a lot of latitude in picking their path through their degrees. Although we offer programs that have a core of prerequisites, there are many opportunities for electives – courses that they can pick and choose from. But, on many occasions, students look at the total number of points they require, and the year level, and pick based on interest or short-term goals, rather than any form of long-term vision.
Going back to our airline model, it’s like trying to get to to New York from Sydney by picking the cheapest flight that goes east. Thinking in one-step-ahead terms prevents you from realising the benefits of flights into longer-range hubs, special deals and the round-the-world flight. Technically, optimising your solution so that your next step is the ‘best’ from those available is a greedy algorithm – each step will be optimal but it’s not guaranteed to give you the best overall solution, just a solution.
What would be great is if we could present students with a simple flight path, a map, a poster or an interactive tool that allows them to see where they want to go, where they’re starting from, and how they could get there based on our courses. I’ve started sketching out some ideas based on this but complexity is proving to be a problem – as expected. I have some sketches of solutions and, when I have something that might be useful, I’ll share it here.