Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Time for a change of courses

The first study period of the KTH semester is coming to an end, and with it my first pair of technical courses. Final class meetings were held last week, including some project presentations. This week, I’m finishing up some more project work and preparing a bit for next week’s exams. After that, the next study period begins (although I’ll squeeze a short trip in between!)

The courses

One of the courses I took this study period was on Developing Mobile Applications. It covered many aspects of mobile application design (field studies, prototypes, user testing), development (mobile web apps, Android apps, use of web services), and deployment. In the course project, which was a good exercise in team-based software engineering, my team ultimately developed an Android application that provides information about the Stockholm public transportation system.

The other course, Programming of Interactive Systems, provided a good introduction to network programming, distributed systems, agent-based software design, and similar topics. Its two projects involved a client/server chat system and a game of Tag played by mobile agents on a playing field potentially spanning multiple computers—very interesting software models to work with!

In comparison

As I mentioned previously, I’ve found the week-to-week workings of these courses similar to what I’d expect in an upper-division course at Cal Poly: mostly PowerPoint lectures with the occasional student question, plus (in the mobile applications course, anyway) some time for student presentations and supervised work.

The grading structure is slightly less familiar. Swedish higher education seems more reliant on using a single course exam to judge proficiency, and so even in these two project-heavy courses, the projects themselves are pass/fail graded and account for less than half of the course credits.

I’m not sold on the calendar system either—while 10-week quarters are fast-paced, 7-8 weeks starts to just feel rushed. (True, one is only juggling 2-3 courses during that period rather than 3-5, though by the credit conversions each course is worth 40% more.) This one-week break between lectures and exams is nice to relieve some of that pressure, though.

The ICT School has good connections with industry, much as the Cal Poly Computer Science department does. The Kista campus is adjacent to tall office buildings in a technology hub sometimes thought of as “Sweden’s Silicon Valley”, and I’ve heard plenty of reference to academic collaborations with the likes of Ericsson, Telia, and Spotify.

Overall, I think my Cal Poly education prepared me well for these courses. Indeed, I gravitated towards these over more traditional lecture/exam-heavy alternatives because of my experience with software engineering-centric coursework.