Back to the Future, Part I

I won’t lie, there are definitely some challenges to be faced at this particular French university.  For the most part, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I’ve gone back at least 30 years in the educational system, not unlike Marty McFly (“You’re a slacker, McFly, just like your old man“).  And lest I sound overly judgmental about some of the things I’m going to say, I want to point out that most of the professors and staff make comments of their own about how they are “In the Middle Ages” as far as technology goes.  Well maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but I’ll go along with Mid-20th century.

I’ll start with the most extreme examples.  ISEP students receive a monthly meal stipend (which is about half what we’d get at our home University for meals, by the way) and we have to collect this money in person each month.  Now at KSU, they’d just put the money on our Student Account electronically and we’d be good go to.   Here you go to the Bursar’s office to collect this money and it is just like stepping into a time warp.  A woman pulls out a great, big handwritten ledger, finds your name, checks it off, and then opens her little drawer and counts out the stipend in cash.  You sign your name on the ledger that you have received it and that’s it.

Also, when I recently had to turn in an insurance document to the housing office, the woman pulled out a wooden box full of index cards, found the one with my name on it, and added a little “check” that she had received it.

I’ve already mentioned the registration process in an earlier post, but to tell it again this is  accomplished by signing up by hand in the classes you choose to attend.  The professor has a sign-up sheet, you put your name on it, and now you’re enrolled.  Then later you turn in a handwritten document to the International Office which tells them the courses you are taking.  Again, none of this is done on a computer of any kind.  In fact, all this probably isn’t that different than how they would have done it in the 1850’s, never mind the 1950’s.

In our classes there are no syllabi except some dates the professor writes up on the board – IF you’re lucky.  There are no textbooks – at least not in any of my classes – nor are there any other written materials to study.  The lessons consist of lectures with important terms written on the blackboard, just like in an old fashioned Little Red Schoolhouse.  (And yes, I literally mean a blackboard with chalk, not a whiteboard with markers.)  There are occasional worksheets which are badly photocopied – about one step up from mimeograph – but no Power Point presentations or any other kind of electronic resources used.  In one class, though, the professor did play us an audio tape.  I was waiting for him to set up the reel to reel film projector to go along with it, but I don’t think they have those yet.

Test scores are posted on a bulletin board.  I have no idea, at this point, how final grades will be posted – probably I’ll get them in the mail with a stamp on it a few weeks after the semester ends.  (And no, I’m not even kidding.)   If a class is cancelled, you just figure it out when the professor doesn’t show up unless he/she has posted it on a bulletin board.  For those who can’t quite get how primitive this is, I’m talking about actual corkboards hanging on a wall, not online bulletin boards.


Now to be fair, this University is “connected”.  They do have wifi on the campus, although it is not available in student residences.  But when we asked a professor about doing a Power Point presentation for an assignment, she advised us not to depend on wifi to access it because it isn’t very “dependable”  (big surprise!)

And while I was able to borrow a laptop from the University to use while I’m here, when I had problems with it recently I took it to their “IT Department” which consisted of a guy in a broom closet.  (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!   This is a true story!)  When I showed him my problem, he explained that he couldn’t look at it right away because he is the only IT guy they have and he is very busy trying to service the entire university network.  And this isn’t a small university, either, there are something like 25,000 students.

The security system in our student residence is not much more advanced.  Twice since I’ve been here the fire alarm (which is right beside my door, BTW) has gone off and wailed for hours before anyone came to investigate – much less turn it off.   One of those times this was triggered by smoke coming from the kitchen where someone had burned something.  But only after several students called the after-hours emergency number did a staff member finally meander on over to see what it was all about.  There was no ADT sending out an automatic call to the fire dept.  The building could have been on fire and the alarm would have wailed in vain until someone actually called for help.  (And would we then have to dial “O” for the operator and ask Sarah to connect us to the Sheriff’s office like they did in the Andy Griffith show?  I wonder!)

Although I am slowly adapting to campus life circa 1953, I have to admit that I miss KSU even more than I expected.  I’m about ready to leave Pleasantville and get back to a 21st century University.


2 thoughts on “Back to the Future, Part I

  1. Benjamin Vallet

    I am not sure if the University of Picardie is representative of the French educational system which is said to be very good and fair for everybody. At my university we do write on “whiteboards” with markers, have a very good wifi connection (fiber optic) : for instance you can download a movie in less than a minute with this connection; and our courses, grades etc can be found online. Plus if a professor won’t show up for any reason, our administration email us a notification. We even have a card for our meals on which you can put money on. Of course we do pay more fees that the student in “public Universities”, but the amount is still negligeable when you compare it to the one I would in any American college.

    But this is not only the case of my University, now in middle schools and primary schools over here, kids are taught most of their classes using ipads and social networking services like Twitter, Google +…

    Even for your scholarship, it sounds very old fashion. All the international students here receive a bank transfer on their French account they have to open as soon as they get in the country. What would be interesting to figure out is if ISEP students enroll in other French universities have been experiencing the same funny old fashion things.
    If the answer is no, then the University of Picardie will appear as a unique crapy french university.
    If the answer is yes, then that will mean that ISEP does not select the good french universities to study at and then I would recommend to find another way to study abroad for American students eager to study in France.

    1. marykb2014 Post author

      Another funny thing is how the secretary of the DAI (office for international students) will email us certain forms that we must fill out and return to her in hard copy. But since there are no PRINTERS in any of our residences, how does she think we are supposed to print these out??


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