Non-industrial workplaces

picture by drukaman

Harold has an interesting post on democratic workspaces. Actually, I do not think that democracy captures the issue. I think he means non-industrial workspaces. Here is a juicy quote:

many of us have learned how to send e-mails on a Sunday night but few of us have learned how to go to a movie on a Monday afternoon

University professors and independent consultants both have non-industrial workspaces. Almost. Several professors still run their laboratories and courses using industrial-age models.

While I will not disclose my sources, I know that some laboratories in Montreal require attendance from students during the day, for fear that the university would take back the space allocated. This in an era where a cheap laptop in a local coffee shop is a perfectly sufficient setting to do top-notch research in Computer Science.

Classrooms are badly designed in general. You do not want to get university students facing a blackboard centered around the concept of a hierarchical group. You want universities centered around Downes‘ model where people can network, as in a coffee place.

The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to demonstrate that we can outgun industrial workspaces. Industrial workspaces tend to be very good at satisfying bean counters. They are designed with this very purpose in mind.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

3 thoughts on “Non-industrial workplaces”

  1. I get to teach a course on programming languages come January and I’ve been thinking of how to avoid too much of the traditional classroom approach. Students who have grown up online don’t respond well to it and I may be lucky enough to have the resources to try something a little different. Thanks for the link to Downes’ website.

    As for the industrial workspace notion, I don’t even live in the same city as the university I’m registered in for my doctorate program and I do some of my best writing when I head to the public library. Assuming one has enough discipline, there is no need to head to the lab when you aren’t tied there for equipment reasons.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I do not work in coffee shops, but I wrote my Ph.D. thesis in one. Think it is odd? Harry Potter was written in a coffee shop. Actually, there is evidence that white noise can enhance concentration, not reduce it.

    But this is beside the point, the coffee shop here is a symbol. The Computer Science laboratories I have worked in were not any quieter than a coffee shop, they were just far more formal, with straight chairs, designated chairs and closed doors.

    I do not actually think that universities should turn into coffee shops, but they should mimick them more than the mimick factories. Who needs fixed hours, routine, rigid rules?

    I do my best research sitting by my fireplace, at home, with loads of coffee.

  3. I agree that classical hierarchical classes may not be the best approach to education.

    But I am also quite sure that top-notch computer science research is mostly not done, and will not be done, from coffee shops and bars.

    Research takes lots of work and concentration. I doubt that being creative, having good ideas and knowing interesting people is the key factor to success in a field like computer science.

    It is a good starting point, but not more.

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