Saturday, September 6, 2008

Going to Class in a Classless Society

JoeThe first week of real classes is behind me now—long enough to pass on some first impressions.

The first significant change for me is probably the pace. I'm only taking three classes, but they only last for 6 weeks, so after this first week things are set to start happening pretty quickly. There isn't really enough time in the period to set a bunch of homework assignments, so instead the general model seems to be that each class sets a small handful of projects, maybe as few as two or three. The strange thing is that there isn't a single final grade issued for each class; instead you get a different grade for each component, each with a different weight. For example, in a class worth 7.5 credits, you may get 4.5 credits for passing the exam, and another 3 credits for passing the homework. To pass the class, you have to pass each element individually. Grades are issued on a scale of U, 3, 4, 5, where a U is a failing grade and the rest indicate passing (there used to be a 1 and a 2, both failing, as well as a 6 and a 7 for people who did too much).

I already mentioned the oddness of the class schedules, and after a week it seems no less odd to me. Beyond just meeting at different times each week, one of my classes is scheduled to meet in a different room pretty much every single time it meets for the whole 6 weeks. On the plus side, that one class should give me a pretty thorough overview of the Polacksbacken campus, but I don't know how I'm ever going to remember where/when I'm supposed to be.

With the exception of one class intended solely for new international students, my classes are composed of about 1/3 foreign students and 2/3 Swedish students. While a handful of the Chinese students are women, the Swedes are a unilaterally scruffy-looking bunch of men. They speak English to the professors, but Swedish to each other, and they've all obviously been taking classes together for years. As yet only one guy has shown up for class in his bright red coveralls, though. There are also a handful of undergrad exchange students in the department, but the only ones I know of in my classes are a couple of Frenchmen (don't even get me started on that).

While the buildings at Polacksbacken are mostly barracks built in the 18th century, the insides have been redone within the last decade. Actually, the old military nature of the buildings is if anything a hindrance to the IT department, as reinforced walls don't cooperate well with wireless networks. The rooms I've been in so far are mostly decent lecture halls, but nothing really fancy. The only truly odd feature is that every single classroom has a sink and a mirror in one of the front corners. A way for lecturers to literally wash their hands of their students after a class? I've no idea.

That's it for now. More weirdness as it occurs.

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