I'm taking an innovative course on using technology for humanitarian causes, taught by a professor I really like. But it's awful! How can I tell him what I think, and/or turn this disaster of a course into something worthwhile?
My hopes were high at first, because I was really excited about the topic: I wanted to learn how to use my technical skills to do something good for people, instead of just to make money. I'm hoping to find a job in my field that does some kind of good, since I'm not sure I could stand it otherwise.
But the course turned out to be very different: it seems to be entirely about giving people computers
. Dumping gadgets on people is of questionable long-term value, and, most importantly, it doesn't teach us students anything about how to use our skills--which are not about donating technology but about making
it--to make the world better place. We read case studies of projects that gave people technology, and we're installing a computer lab made from donated computers in a local public housing project. While this kind of community-service might
help some people in the short term, it sure isn't teaching us any new technical skills or any ways to use our existing skills to help people in the future.
I don't think using technical knowledge for the common good is an unreasonable idea. Engineers Without Borders
does it all the time; so does the Humanitarian FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) Project
. And, given that we're adept at crunching numbers and have a GIS expert on hand, I'm sure there's a lot of climate- and environment-related stuff we could work on as well. All great things, but not what we're doing in this class.
The course is small and somewhat student-directed, so I may be able to push the class (or my own work in it) more toward something I could actually learn from. But I have to do this very carefully, for two reasons. First, our class is effectively committed to the housing project's computer lab, so any additional projects or "field work" we take on has to be in addition to our work on that (in other words, at least some
of us have to continue the work on that and probably most will). Second, I don't want to seem oppositional or offensive, because I really like the professor--he's a fascinating person and one of the best teachers I've had--and I want him to like me too.
How should I express my doubts about the course, and how might I try to shift the focus more toward material from which I might actually learn something?