Monday, January 26, 2009

Teaching and Certifcation

I have been presented with the opportunity to teach at a nearby community college, and I was instantly interested. Little did I know what would be under this newly turned stone.

The class is the 4th part of a 4-part series based (loosely) on Watson & Bersinic's "Oracle 10g All-in-one Certification Exam Prep". After going over the book and finding it dishearteningly weak on practicality, I opted to rewrite the curriculum a little. Or rather, a bit.

The book is interesting; it is a comprehensive, rehashed summarization of the online documentation that aims to get you ready to take the OCA and OCP tests. Perhaps it does that. Ever since Bush's "No Child Left Behind" poorly-implemented federal program cursed our educational systems, I have been convinced that "teaching to the test" is horrible in the long-run and only encourages bad habits of short-term consumption and regurgitation. However, the book is also rife with errors, both in the form of typos, bad index pages, and also technical errors and self-contradictory statements. To top it off, the list price is a freakin' $105!!

Having had dreams of utilizing the tenets of the OCM practicum in a classroom setting, I took this bull by the horns and decided to make all the online homework based on the published OCM outline. Some of the outline topics are rather easy to work up a lab for (ie, creating a database, using RMAN, etc). Some of the topics are a bit more difficult to recreate; for example, what exactly does the 10g OCM practicum test in terms of RAC setup and configuration? But for my purposes, I do not really care. Just as a disclaimer, I have never taken the 10g OCM.

This is a relatively entry-level class, so I am concentrating on the "basics"; I am going to make sure the students know how to create, configure, connect to, manage, backup, recover, tune and optimize the database. The first homework assignment was awesome (IMO). Awesome because these students, after attending the prerequisite classes, had never created a database from the command-line before; they even struggled with some of the things like where to put datafiles, how to size the memory parameters and running the catalog/catproc scripts. And I think that is a good kind of struggle. They asked questions, they explored, they made mistakes. In general, they got their hands dirty doing what we in the real world do. Opposed to answering some silly multi-choice question about which line of sql has an error in it.

And what does this have to do with Certification? Would you hire someone who held an OCP card yet had never created a database? Never had the frustration of a ora-4031 (or any number of ORA errors)? What the heck is Oracle actually certifying as a "Professional" anyway? Oracle ostentaciously says that they require the instructor-led training classes specifically for that "hands-on" aspect of the OCP. Have you ever taken those courses? The labs are a joke. The classes are mostly boring lectures. Unless you end up with someone passionate like Andy Fortunak or Sue Jang. Still, I find the whole scheme rather offensive.

I spotted a blog entry by Dan Norris, who in turn had stumbled up on a thought-provoking blog entry by Bex Huff. Dan also mentioned that Oracle has a Certification blog, so I quickly made my way over there and spouted a little. I really mean what I said there; rewrite the certification paradigm and actually make it worth something, instead of a cash cow for Oracle U; isn't Larry already rolling in enough dough?

To top it all off, my students will not be eligible for certification even if they do pass the OCP. Why? The community college where I teach is not a "Oracle Certified Teaching Partner". So, even though the students will most likely get a much better education at the community college than some class they have to travel to and pay $3500 for, they will not be able to be certitifed as those that are able to expend the time and money to do so.

I dearly hope my students appreciate the hell I am putting them through. =) Fortunately, I have recieved a lot of feedback that they thoroughly enjoy it. It is going to be a good semester.