Signal Processing Education - IEEE Xplore

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IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING MAGAZINE [4] MAY 2007. [president'sMESSAGE]. Alfred Hero, SPS President In my previous column, I spoke of.

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Alfred Hero, SPS President [email protected]

Signal Processing Education


n my previous column, I spoke of the need for maintaining our technical agility. Perhaps the most important enabler of agility is a quality signal processing education. According to Heraclitus: “Much learning does not teach understanding.” On the other hand, Aristotle wrote that “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” Whether teaching occurs in the classroom, the seminar room, or at the office whiteboard, most of my readers would appreciate that one can only fully understand a subject after teaching it or explaining it to someone else. The most rewarding classroom teaching experiences I have had are those where there has been intense student-teacher interaction on difficult or unfamiliar material. Impromptu question-answer volleys have often sharpened both my understanding and that of my students. It is, of course, impossible to interact all the students all of the time, especially in a large introductory class. The best one can hope for are a couple of incisive questions from a few students that speak to what is on the minds of many others. Are there more effective ways to educate our signal processing students inside or outside of the classroom? In preparing for my lectures at the University of Michigan, I sometimes need to remind myself that education is not simply knowledge delivery. The pressure of covering an ever-expanding number of topics in the signal processing curriculum often requires a compromise between exposing the students to modern tools and teaching fundamental concepts. Students need to learn by seeing relevant, worked examples; but it is only the rare example that is

simple to present while compellingly practical. I encourage students to cooperate with others to enhance their learning experience, but there is often a fine line between collaboration on a homework assignment and cheating. These dichotomies create challenges that justify re-evaluating the way that we teach our rapidly evolving field. Forty years ago most of the members of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, then called the IEEE Acoustics, Speech

I WONDER HOW BERNOULLI WOULD HAVE FARED IN THE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT TYPICAL OF TODAY’S UNIVERSITIES? and Signal Processing Society, were trained as mathematicians, control/ communication engineers, or physicists. Today most graduate programs in electrical engineering have a track dedicated to signal processing. At my university this track is currently the most popular systems engineering option, and I suspect this is also true at many other universities. Interestingly, at my university we are seeing renewed interest in our signal processing graduate program by students with mathematics and physical science backgrounds. The increasing numbers of students from other areas, like computer science and biology, add further to the diversity of the target audience. Do signal processing programs need to adapt their curricula to match a broader spectrum of student backgrounds? A colleague recently informed me about a Web site called the “Mathematics genealogy project,” which contains an


extensive family tree of mathematicians showing their academic lineage and offspring. Many of the pioneers in signal processing are listed on this site. [The site (http://genealogy.math.ndsu. solicits additions to its genealogy, and I encourage you to investigate—you may be surprised at who you find in your own lineage.] I was impressed to recognize two of our own, Bede Liu and Azriel Rosenfeld, among the list of the top 100 advisors in mathematics in terms of their numbers of offspring. I was able to trace my own lineage back to Gottfried Leibniz, a 17th century pioneer in formulating the mathematical theory of probability and the calculus. Leibniz had only two offspring, but one of them was the Jacob Bernoulli who discovered the first asymptotic theorem (Bernoulli law of large numbers) of probability. In these early days, education was dominated by one-on-one tutor-pupil interaction. I wonder how Bernoulli would have fared in the classroom environment typical of today’s universities? I end this column with one of my favorite quotations on education, attributed to Mark Twain, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” This comment evokes the educator’s main challenge: the need to teach students to learn and, if one follows Aristotle’s dictum, to teach. Perhaps some of my readers have ideas on how to better educate the next generation of signal processing students. If so I would like [SP] to hear from you.

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