My exams this time around are finally done; two of them went okay, and one bombed like hell (see earlier post about that). This last one, finished just about an hour ago, was in a course called (loosely translated) Sustainable Resource Use.
Basically, the course was about the environment and the earth's resources and how we're going to be screwed in fifty years' time. Now, trite as this sounds, it's a real issue, that's not to be denied; global warming is probably rather real, and we will run out of fossil fuels and useful metals eventually. And yes, something needs to be done, and presumably young people should be educated about it because, well, they're the ones who are going to have to do something about it eventually. Someone then decided that a good way to get us to understand is to make a course about it and make it mandatory. That would have been a good idea, if only they hadn't managed to completely fuck it up.
As your average disillusioned college student with a limited interest in things in general, let me explain what the typical lecture was like. It starts out with some person with some kind of involvement in environmental issues, and he's brought slides. Lots of them, filled with little numbers and diagrams and tables filled with numbers. He then proceeds to slowly expose you to these numbers, which range from topics such as greenhouse gases and NOx emissions to metal deposits and fossil fuel stores. About when he reaches his fifth slide out of approximately thirty or so, your mind has gone numb from staring at tables crammed full with numbers without any useful explanation as to what they really mean. After two hours of this, your brain has more or less turned into soup.
Now imagine doing this twice a week for seven weeks, and every time is exactly like the previous one, only now there's some other person standing up there showing the same damn diagrams and the same damn numbers, only in a different font this time. Occasionally you get a guy from a real-world company, who despite his inability to translate simple words to Swedish (on one occasion we had a person from Volvo whose slides featured several words in English which the lecturer apparently did not know the Swedish words for, and so used bastardized English versions throughout the lecture) seems quite capable of pointing out just how excellent his company is at handling environmental issues.
The irony of all this is that none of the lectures really mattered in the end anyway. All the information you needed to pass the exam was present either on the course homepage, or in booklets they had us buy, and all it took was some memorizing of particular numbers and methods the day before the exam and you would know the answer to any question that could potentially end up on the exam. Of course, the next day you could forget all about it.
The moral of the story? I'm not sure if there is one, except "don't do this". Environmental issues are real and deserve attention from those who are going to be the future generation of scientists, because we have to deal with this if we want humanity to make it. This course probably means well, but sabotages any chances it had of getting the point across by smothering the students in a torrent of extremely boring statistics that enter through one ear and exit out the other without making any kind of lasting impression.