Share

Technologies de la Connaissance
at the Université Pierre Mendès-France Grenoble

Introduction

This is a report of my semester abroad in Grenoble/France. I spent the winter term 2002/2003 at the University Pierre Mendes-France to study "Maths appliquées aux Sciences Sociales, mention Technologies de la Connaissance". This program of "Knowledge Technology" includes maths, artificial intelligence, computer linguistics, cognitive psychology and computer science. Thus, it fits perfectly with my "Cognitive Science" program in Osnabrück/Germany. This report describes the program and the organisation at Grenoble in order to help establishing the partnership Osnabrück/Grenoble. (A detailed German diary can be found here)

Exchange Organisation

Organising the stay at Grenoble was relatively simple: I saw the program's presentation on the web (http://www.upmf-grenoble.fr) and asked if it would be possible to establish an Erasmus Partnership. Within a few weeks, the responsables managed to sign the Erasmus contract and I was allowed to come. The host university sent me introductory information and arranged a place in a students' home for me. The information on the web concerning the formalities for foreign students was also quite helpful. Unfortunately, this support ended upon arrival at Grenoble: The responsable only works 3 days a week and it can be hard to get the necessary information, since nobody else can tell you were to register, where to get a timetable, where to find another responsable or when the introductory meeting will take place. People at the university main building don't know that "Technologies de la Connaissance" exists. An Erasmus program is not provided (neither a foreign students program, nor an introductory week, nor an introductory welcome meeting for foreign students). But when I organised myself an introductory meeting for the foreign students of the second semester, responsables promised to take charge of this next year. (Detailed information on all organisational stuff can be found in English at here.)

Course organisation

"Technologies de la Connaissance" can be studied in a "Licence" program (3rd year) and in a Maîtrise program (4th year). A DESS program (5th year) in "Informatics in social sciences" is also provided. Courses are organised in "Modules": Each of the modules "Maths", "Maths/Info", "Artificial Intelligence", "Cognitive Science", "Computer Science" and "Applications" consists of different courses. Most of these courses cover different topics, which are held by different lecturers. There is no timetable on the web, but the program is the same for all students and printed timetables are handed out. Most of the changes to it are announced on the bulletin board. Since the lecturer is free to place the hours assigned to a course in the semester, some courses do not start with the semester or do not end with it. As the Maîtrise students do an internship, semester dates differ for Maîtrise students and Licence students. Nevertheless, they share some courses. Since the Maîtrise people were only very few this year, we also shared a course with the DESS students. DESS people change their timetable every week. I have to admit that it happened that students, lecturers and administrative staff had different opinions concerning the start and the end of courses, their time, semester dates or exam dates. Exams are organised by the university administration: Their date and time are announced at the bulletin board, each student is assigned a place, sheets are provided and anonymity is guaranteed by a fold, which hides the student's name. What might be astonishing is that all exams (13) take place within 3 days and that grades are published with the students' names on the bulletin board. The French grading system uses points from 0 (failed) to 20 (extremely good). It hardly happens that grades above 14 points are reached, Some exams have mean values of 3 or 4 points (with about 30% of the students having 0 points). At the end of my stay, responsables started thinking about preparing the introduction of an ECTS system for foreign students.

Computer Equipment

The program "Technologies de la Connaissance" is settled in the building called "Bâtiment des Sciences de l'Homme et de la Mathémathique (BSHM)". As the program is the same for all students, the Maîtrise program and the DESS program each have a room, which is reserved for them. There are 2 computer rooms with a total of about 40 computers. These rooms are for the students of the Licence, of the Maîtrise, of the DESS and for courses. There are 5 keys for these rooms, which circulate among the students. If you want to use a computer in your free time, you check out the list in order to determine the one of your group who has the key, you find her/him, you ask for the key, both go to the computer room, they sign up in the list, you type a code and you can open the door. This can only happen if there is no course held in the room. Most computers work, there are 2 printers and 2 CD burners. Practical work with computers is included in the program (programming assignments and use of software). Some lectures provide course information on the internet. There is no mailinglist.

Campus

There are three universities at Grenoble, which welcome a total of 55000 students. The campus dates from the 60's and has preserved its style. Numerous modern art objects have been installed. There are several students' homes ("Résidence universitaire") on the campus. You can apply for them by filling out the form which comes with the welcome package. Students' homes exist in two versions: those for students who stay less than 9 months and those for students who stay longer. The former are not expensive, but this has a serious influence on their quality and their equipment. There are numerous students' restaurants ("Restaurant universitaire"), which offer warm meals for lunch and dinner. You pay by tickets, which are sold at a price of 2.5€. For one ticket, you get one main plate, two plates with vegetables, one dessert, one salad, bread and water. Supermarkets can be reached easily, the campus is connected by several bus lines and a tram station.

Social life

I had the experience that all people I met were friendly and polite. This includes administrational staff, students and lecturers. I had mostly the impression that the relationship between students and lecturers is quite good. There is a sports program offered by the universities and a skiing club, which facilitate getting to know people. This might be useful, because there are rather few foreign students in the program. Since there is no introductory Erasmus program, one may feel quite lonely. It can be hard to get to know other Erasmus people if you come alone. Personally, I enjoyed a good relationship with the French students, but it took several months to build it up. The city of Grenoble is beautiful, it is surrounded by impressive mountains, which invite you for skiing or hiking. Trips to Lyon, Marseille, Annecy and Montpellier can be interesting.

Courses

The "Cognitive Science" program in Osnabrück and the "Technologies de la Connaissance" program at Grenoble are very close. Both cover a variety of subjects related to human thinking, knowledge representation, computer use, language and formalisms. Many courses at Grenoble treat issues which are not included explicitely in the Cognitive Science program in Osnabrück, for instance: Data bases, operating systems, Fourier analysis, pragmatics, human/computer interfaces, speech recognition, latent semantics analysis, graph theory, clustering, network programming and the use of computers in education. Here is a list of all courses in which I participated. (French summaries for 13 of them can be found at here) All in all, I appreciated Grenoble's interesting courses and I would be glad if this semester could be the start of a fruitful cooperation of the two universities.