Technologies de la Connaissance
at the Université Pierre Mendès-France Grenoble
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)
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.)
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Analyse de données (Multidimensional statistics)
This course applies linear algebra to the analysis of statistical data. It starts off with a short revision of matrices, vectors and statistical terms and ends with Principal Component Analysis, Factor Correspondance Analysis and Discriminating Factor Analysis. A complete scriptum is provided and the "R"-software is used. The course is held for 6 months and includes 2 exams and 2 presentations. Although the workload and the course content are not always easy and one cannot expect extremely good grades, I think I profited from the course and the lecturer's engagement. (Summary provided)
This course treats Resolution, Default Logic, Knowledge based systems and Latent Semantics Analysis. It requires knowledge on classical logic and formalisms. The course is held in the first semester of the Licence for some weeks and includes 1 exam and 1 written paper. Although the lecturer treats the issues very rapidly, I appreciated his lively way of teaching and I think that this course is enriching for students from Osnabrück. (Summary provided)
Intelligence artificielle (Artificial Intelligence)
This course covers a variety of AI-related issues: Constraint Satisfaction Problems (CSPs, one of the rare English words in French), Interval Constraint Satisfaction Problems, Optimization Strategies and Knowledge Representation by Objects. All techniques are also applied by practical exercises. This course is held for some weeks during the first semester of the Licence and includes 1 exam and 1 programming project. A copy of all displayed slides is provided. Personally, I enjoyed the lecturer's didactic variety and the practical application of useful algorithms. (Summary provided)
Théorie des jeux (Game theory)
This course covers the classical 2-players game strategies: Search trees, heuristics, minimax and Alpha-Beta. It is held for some weeks in the first Licence semester and includes 1 exam and 1 written paper. A complete scriptum is provided. During the course, the lecturer copies the scriptum to the black board and the students copy it to their notebooks. I was not impressed by didactic variety. (Summary provided)
Bases de données (Data Bases)
This course treats Entity/Association-Relationships, Relational Data Bases and SQL. The course includes 1 exam and is held for 5 weeks in the first semester of the Licence. Although I had the impression that this time was not sufficient, I clearly profited from this well-strucured lecture. I think that the subject fits very well into the frame of Knowledge Representation and is furthermore of practical use. (Summary provided)
Classification automatique (Clustering)
This course is on hierarchical and non hierarchical classification. It is held for 6 weeks in the second semester of the Maîtrise and includes one exam. I find that this course fits well into the gap between statistics and artificial intelligence. (Summary provided)
Graphes (Graph theory)
This course treats both classical graph algorithms (in Java) and the mathematical background of graphs. It takes place in the first semester of the Maîtrise and includes 1 exam. The fact that Java was not teached to the Maîtrise people before made this course difficult for them. Personally, I was impressed by the variety of applications of the graph theory and by the lecturer’s powerful enthusiasm for graphs. (Summary provided)
Complexité (Program complexity)
The theoretical part with the first lecturer covers recurrance resolution. The practical part with the second lecturer treats program runtime analysis and efficient algorithms for standard problems. The course is the continuation of "Graphes" and takes place during the second semester of the Maîtrise. It includes 1 exam. (Summary provided)
The lecturer gives an introduction to phones and phonemes and their production by the human vocal organs. The course also covers "Sound Patterns of English" and multilinear generative phonology. It takes place during 10 weeks in the first semester of the Licence and includes 1 exam. Although I would have welcomed a more complete introduction to the different phones and to the theories, I appreciated the many interesting facts and details about language. (Summary provided)
This course studies the meaning of language by compositional analysis, propositional analysis, frames and case grammars. It takes place during 4 weeks in the first semester of the Licence and includes 1 exam. Personally, I missed the theoretical well-foundedness of the formalisms used. (Summary provided)
Reconnaissance de la Parole (Speech recognition)
This course covers speech production, signal treatment, parametrisation and language models. It takes place during 4 weeks of the first semester of the Licence and includes 1 exam. A copy of all slides is provided. Although the limited time does not allow the practical application of the theories, I appreciated getting an overview about this subject, which is not treated in Osnabrück. (Summary provided)
This course starts off with an overview about the diversity of languages. It then covers grammar, syntax trees and the X-bar theory. It is held for 4 weeks during the semester of the Licence and includes 1 exam. Although I appreciated the lecturer's lively style and learning about the diversity of languages and the French grammar, 4 weeks seemed to be not sufficient for this course. (Summary provided)
Société Française Contemporaine (French Society)
This course was given for the foreign students of all 3 Grenoble universities. It covered French history, geography, the school system, politics, foreigners in France, and the French Society in general. It took place during 5 months and included 1 exam. I am glad that I had the opportunity to learn something not only about Artificial Intelligence, but also about the French culture. Furthermore, this course helped me to get to know other Erasmus students. (Summary provided)
Compilation (Compiler construction)
This course gives both a theoretic introduction (context-free grammars) and a practical introduction (lexical, syntactical and semantic analysis) to compiler construction. It took place durcing 3 weeks in the second Maîtrise semester and included 1 exam. The fact that we had this course with the DESS people complicated the organisation due to their dynamic timetable and missing coordination. I would have appreciated more details and the treatment of real machine code.Nevertheless, I enjoyed this interesting subject and the lecturer's humourous teaching.
Industries de la langue, IDL (Langage processing)
This course deepens the handling of grammar trees and gives an introduction to HPSG. It takes place during the first semester of the Maîtrise and includes 1 exam and one PROLOG project. I consider this a theoretically well-founded introduction to advanced syntax study.
Traitement automatique du langage (Automatic Speech Treatment)
This course explains the practical techniques of sentence analysis, including morphology and syntax. It continues the course IDL and takes place during some weeks in the second semester of the Maîtrise. Although the topic is quite interesting, the overlapping with my departure (and the lecturer's rather calm style) caused me to cancel this course.
Programmation de Réseaux (Network programming)
The aim of this seminar was implementing a chat program in Java. It took place during a few weeks in the first semester of the Maîtrise. The fact that the Maîtrise students did not learn Java before made the chat project nearly impossible for them. I have to say that the lecturer's didactic support was restricted to the very basics.
Programmation en Java (Programming in Java)
This course covers Java up to file management, abstract data types, interfaces, exceptions, graphical interfaces and turing machines. It takes place in the first semester of the Licence. I did not participate in this course, but I have the impression that its goal is an ambitious one, since these topics are scheduled for full 2 years in Osnabrück. To my view, this had a serious influence on the students' comprehension, motivation and grades (mean value 4/20). I gave an inofficial supplementary Java course and the readiness and consequence with which people came and their thankfulness may serve as support for my judgement. (Summary provided)