Wednesday, August 10, 2011


It is hard to imagine that again it's the day before CS3216 starts. This is the fourth time.

Every semester I get to teach CS3216, I get ulcers. This semester is likely to be worse than normal since I also get to teach CS1101S concurrently.

How cool is that? :-)

Do I not always say "what doesn't kill you, makes you strong?"

Always good to eat your own dog food. :-)

For the information of the new batch of CS3216 students, I blog because I think it's important to lead by example. Also, over the years, I have found blogging to be a very effective way for students to reflect upon what they really learn in the class, and also for me to understand how they think and to engage them.

In ordinary times, I would probably be responding to every single blog and most posts that students make. But these are not ordinary times. Even if I don't sleep I probably couldn't manage. >.<

What can assure every single student however is that I will be reading every blog post they make religiously and I mean it. :-)

Then I have a final confession to make.

I really don't know HTML5 and CSS3 even as we speak. :-)

This is probably very shocking because people will be wondering HOW it is possible that students are expected to learn about HTML5 and CSS3 if the prof has no clue.

It turns out that if we go back in time 3 years ago when I first started this course, I had no clue how to build Facebook apps either.

We are working with pretty bleeding edge stuff in CS3216 (and thanks to Facebook's capriciousness in how they change their APIs without telling anyone, there will be quite a lot of bleeding over the semester).

If we wait till the prof figures it all out before we conduct this course, this course would never exist.

Obviously, I have also figured out a way to conduct CS3216 without knowing a whole lot. The truth of the matter is that it is possible for me to conduct such a course because the course is not about *stuff* to being with, but about learning how to learn. :-)

I think that honesty is a virtue and it's important for us all to know what we know and more importantly, what we DON'T know.

Sadly, profs really don't know everything and don't have all the answers.

In fact, not all questions have answers. Though the process of formal education has this nasty tendency to persuade students otherwise. :-'(

As they say, in teaching, you tell them what you want to tell them, you tell them and then you tell them that you told them.

Parents send their children to university, hoping that they will get an education. What exactly is that?

IMHO, there are only two things that matter in education (might add more to the list if I figure out more things later): MINDSET and VALUES. The world is changing too fast for *stuff* to matter too much and learning *stuff* is really the easy part.

My goal as a prof is to help students succeed (whatever that means). Success doesn't always mean getting rich, though often it might. I am absolutely convinced that having the right "growth" mindset and the right work ethics is pre-requisite and enabler for success.

Much of CS3216 is structured around creating the environment within which students can build up that mindset. Much of it involves some amount of shared suffering. Suffering, as it turns out, builds character. >:-)

The other key element is values. By this I mean honesty and integrity. Those who are driven and highly motivated often do succeed, but without the right moral compass, we might just have another Enron on our hands, which is obviously NOT a good thing.

To conclude, I would like to share a short speech, given by Caleb Chao, who was SoC Valedictorian last year, and also one of those students crazy enough to have taken CS3216 in his freshman year when the course was first offered 3 years ago.


  1. "what doesn't kill you, makes you strong?" I think all of us can learn from a certain insect that have been around since the dinosaurs age.

  2. But these are not ordinary times.

    This sounds so epic, haha.

  3. I read your past blog before. Sir, did you copypasta, or do you just say more or less the same thing every year? ^^

    Anyway, will you do us the courtesy of penning some short comments on our blogs? ^^ I know I write with an audience (i.e. you) in mind, so some audience feedback would be desirable.

  4. Ex,

    I actually write from scratch. If it sounds like I'm saying the same things then I'm just consistent (or perhaps long-winded). :-P

    In any case, I will almost certainly be leaving comments on student blogs. Probably just won't be doing it quite as aggressively as I did in past years because is in short supply for me this Semester. :-)

    BTW, your profile is not accessible, pls kindly identify yourself?

  5. Nice to meet you Prof Ben! I like how you conducted the first lect and i like the fact that you are blogging too. :D

  6. I feel so good working with passionate people share the same interests!