Topics in Learning Theory

Jan 2018

This was an advanced class in learning theory that focused on "interactive learning" which attempts to model situations where a "learner" can "interact" with his "teacher". Each week, we read a few papers in the field and went through the details in class. At the start of the class, we did some classic results in using expert advice and bandit problems; this material is definitely worthwhile if you have not seen it before. But the rest of the papers were a lot more recent. However, I was not particularly inspired by the papers; they seemed to spend a lot of time defining new learning models which were often infeasible in practice and not overwhelmingly interesting in their own right. Aside from definitions, few of the actual algorithms had novel proofs. More than half of the classes had student lecturers which were of a rather inconsistent quality. I think I would have learned more if Professor Hsu had taught them all. Hsu also has a bit of a stick up his rear. He spilled a lot of ink making very detailed class requirements, but in the end he gave almost everyone near-perfect grades. He constantly complained about barely late students and has needlessly specific instructions for everything, which made the assignments more work than they were worth. Often, he does not seem to understand student questions or answers them kind of dismissively. Despite being a good lecturer and an expert in the area, Hsu is not a great teacher because he lacks good faith in his students.