domingo, 30 de septiembre de 2012

Graduation Rate (III). The soccer world cup.

For an outsider who visits El Salvador it is very impressive the passion that soccer makes in salvadorans. Spanish La Liga is follows very closely by every person in any social class. Fellow professors get around to watch a very small TV that one of them has in his office. Every time there is an important match (like Barcelona versus Real Madrid), downstairs in the laboratories one of our technicians turns on a big TV. Students drive me mad with their noise. Every now and then I have to shut them up.

But soccer has established itself as a measurement pattern among our engineering students.

The concept of graduation rate was foreign. Sometimes as a joke, sometimes as irony, and so many times with bitterness, students talk about how many soccer world cups they have spent meanwhile studying their major.

Let's take for instance students who enrolled in 2006. That year Germany hosted its second soccer world cup. 146 students enrolled in San Salvador, 18 students did it in Santa Ana and 9 students enrolled in San Miguel. Two years later only 11 students enrolled in the very first course on circuit analysis. Just 3 out of 11 could move ahead.

Four years later, by the time South Africa was hosting the very first african soccer world cup, not a single student had the chance to finish on time with the curricula. Just two of them ended the program in six years. However, they are required to write an undergraduate thesis. That job is taking them a year long. So the very top two students who enrolled in 2006 are going to take more than seven years to get their diploma.

What about the other students who enrolled in 2006? Between 85 and 90 percent of them have dropped out. With luck, the remaining 10 to 15 percent would graduate the year Brazil will be hosting its soccer world cup.

Causes of failure (IV). Could a monkey speak English?

Last summer some friends came to visit us. They were with us for two weeks. We took them to several different places: volcanoes, lakes, mountains, beaches, and so on. One of our friends is a professor at a telecommunication engineer school in Spain. In one of our trips, we had a very long conversation about pedagogy in our lectures. Through a spanish popular saying, he described an old spanish school of teaching. "Al mono palo hasta que hable inglés", he said; or hit the monkey until it starts speaking English. He was referring to a fellow professor technique of teaching.
That saying struck me with force. It blew up my mind. In many ways, it described what we have been doing: We have been failing students until they speak english. Let's take for instance the very first course of analog electronic (one out of three). Due to some changes in our department policies, enrollment has increased. But so the number of failing students. Enrollment grew twofold. Failing students almost grew fourfold. Bellow, the figure shows that the number of students retaking the course (second and third chance) has overpassed the fresh ones. Why is it happening?

Analog electronic is taught in three consecutive courses. Legally students only have three tries. But they can overpass that regulation through dropping out all the semester. So we have cases where students are stuck for four and five years in each one of the analog electronic courses. The records showed cases where student have spent eleven semesters to approve the analog electronic courses.

I guess mostly the speaking monkey technique (as it was described by my spaniard friend) has to do with this. But I wonder, Can a monkey speak english? If a student repeat a course three, four and five times does it guarantee learning? Normally, I think, at the end this kind of student is approved as a way to get rid of him. 

A similar situation can be showed in the second course of analog electronic. The number of repeaters has exponentially increased. Below, the figure shows that in 2011 there were 8 students taking their last chance. All of them dropped out. So in 2012 there were fourteen (including the ones who dropped out in 2011). Does it make any sense? Can anybody think a way out?

With irony and bitterness, students measure the time they spend studying their major in soccer world cups.

jueves, 27 de septiembre de 2012

Massive Open Online Course in Santa Ana

Today I gave a chat in Santa Ana. It is the second largest city in El Salvador (64 kilometers northwest of San Salvador). Santa Ana serves both as the capital of the department of Santa Ana and as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name.

The University of El Salvador has four campuses. Behind the central campus in San Salvador, the capital city, the second largest campus is located in Santa Ana (around 9000 students). Engineering and architecture students represent 22% of total enrollment. Electrical, Mechanical and Chemistry Engineering can study for only two years. After finishing the second year they have to move to San Salvador. Other majors (computer systems, industrial and civil engineering) can be studied here without the need to move to the capital city.
I was invited to talk about The Campus Tsunami, as MOOC was defined by David Brooks in the New York Times. In general students were very receptive about this idea. Some of them even complain to me about how abandoned they feel in their regular courses. I tried to persuade them to get enrolled; to make this effort and enjoy the pleasure of learning.

It was my first trip to this campus. I felt so comfortable. I just can hope my message could have some results.

martes, 18 de septiembre de 2012

Causes of failure (III)

The causes of failure of electrical engineering students at the University of El Salvador has many explanations. In my first post, I exposed freshman result in mathematics. In the second post, I presented some results in the very first course of circuits analysis.

Today I started my morning with a shocking experience. This incident would help me out to explain another cause  of failure. A confused father came to our department. He demanded explanations. His son had told him several stories. The father told us that his son's undergraduate's thesis had been rejected. The way the story was run pointed at me as the culprit. I asked to the stricken father about who his son was. He described him. He gave some data that made me to recall who was this student.

I have seen this young guy to roam our department for the last four years. He was my student a couple of times. Whenever I could, I talked to him. I explained to him the need to stay focus. But he never came to class. He never passed my course. Every time I saw him, I smiled to him and he smiled me back. But inside me I always wonder about this kid's fathers.

For more than ten years, this bereaved father has been supporting his son. He has paid room and board. He told us, he never forced his son to study engineering. He decided by his own. They never put pressure on him. But after more than ten years they wanted to see results. Besides the student was putting all the blame on his professors.

I told the father that his son had cheated on him. He was writing no thesis. Actually he had not approved some mandatory courses. In ten years he had only earned seventy percent of the credits.

In a way this extreme case made me wonder about what is to be a student. Some of our students reduce the credit number they should be taking. Others take as a fact they have to fail. Courses will get approved only in the second or third chance.

lunes, 17 de septiembre de 2012

Static Discipline and Boolean Logic

Today, I made a demo like the demo in week two. Not that many students came to see it. It seems the magic of discovering things has gone. But still, some students came to see us illustrating the effect of noise in digital circuits.

The curiosity even attracted the attention of circuit analysis' professor. We persuaded him to take 6.002x.
I hope he could learn circuits and electronics. And just that would be of great benefit for this society!

jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2012

Causes of failure (II)

Why students take so long to get an electrical engineering diploma at the university of El Salvador? Before, in a past post, I showed a graph that describes the failure of our freshman student. In general, High School did not prepare them to college. But how about those who succeeded in Mathematics and Physics, moving ahead with one or two years delay? In a way they have  proved to be at the top of student academic achievements. If the two first years of physics and mathematics had filtered more than eighty percent of enrollment why we were not graduating the ones who had had success?

Digging in sparse records, I tried to make a picture of the situation. I knew there was a very high rate of failure in several electrical engineering courses. The result of the failure ended in long time-to-degree and dropouts.

Let's take for instance the course Circuit Analysis which is a two semesters long. During the period 1995-2007, as an average, less than 30% approved the very first course in Circuit Analysis. Looking at the data I felt a terrible shock. What are we doing as professors? Is it our role to show students how smart we are by letting them failed?

Graduation Rate (II)

How long does it take to graduate an engineer in a developing country?
Graduation rate has never been an issue here at the University of El Salvador. University policy makers are interested in enrolling more freshman. Enrolling more students payoff. On one hand, it is easy to justify the need for more money from the goverment. On the other hand, homegrown radicals  feel pleased by allowing more students to enroll. In their view, the people's university should not deny access to nobody. That mix of views has proven very damaging for the whole of society.

Take for instance, the electrical engineering department; one of eight engineering departments at the college of engineering (Facultad de Ingeniería y Arquitectura). It graduates less than seven percent of their total enrollment. Students take more than nine years to get their diploma.

Observing the graduation rate graph one can see a paradox of public universities in developing countries, at least in Latin America. In the american subcontinent universities eagerly believe they are devoted for the poor. But keeping our young studying nine years of their lives out of the market labor is not only damaged for the family core but for the society as a whole.

lunes, 10 de septiembre de 2012

The burning of a pickle (III)

Anant Agarwal, President of edX and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, has become a Web Start. Just this year, He has emerged as an international web educator. Circuits and Electronics, 6.002x, have won him devotees across the world.

The success of a course like 6.002x is based on capturing students attention.  Anant Agarwal and his team have become masters of their craft.

Just in the very first week lecture they proved everybody how funny they could be. After characterizing several electronic components they crossed the line to characterize a pickle. That is right: a pickle!

If MIT guys could have fun with a pickle why we couldn't have as well? So I decided to replicate the burning of a pickle experiment.

The result was great. Everybody had a little of fun. It gave me a lot of happiness to see faces full of joy. The burning of a pickle was able to capture the attention of our  almost-retired technician.
He prepared everything. As Lorenzo did for 6.002x, Salvador (our technician) did a tremendous job.

sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

The burning of a pickle (II)

Besides testing one single cucumber, We are going to test different pickle arrays. For instance, see Figure below, we are going to put several pickles in serie.

If we do the serie array, I guess, It would be mandatory to test the parallel circuit. So the arrange will look like in the next Figure.
Next monday I will blog about the results. I hope everything will be OK. So we can enjoy and have a lot of fun!.

viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2012

The burning of a pickle (I)

Next week I would like to experiment like in the first 6.002x class: S1V9: Demo Setup - Lumped Elements (minute 7:35). I will not  do all experiments. We are going to focus on the more peculiar one: The v-i characterization of a pickle.
I think we could try Monday morning.  I will take a can of pickles with me. I will use one or two and I give away the rest.

The idea is to put a little fun in this effort.

The chainsaw experiment  would need someone daring. No joke. Our concierge has one we can depend on it.

miércoles, 5 de septiembre de 2012

Symbolic registration day (II)

We have taken out some computers and as a symbolic manner we are registering students. To help students to understand the dynamic of the course we are showing them the former 6.002x platform.

Motivation for 6.002x
Students want to know if this effort would be helpful. For most of them, I hope, It would be. Many of them are right now taking one of the five mandatory courses on circuit analysis and analog electronics. So I am telling them they will have the opportunity to learn and compare.

 I hope this idea could motivate professors to improve their teaching.  And to figure out ways to help students.

Symbolic registration day (I)

Today is the day.  As I have been blogging we are going to make an experiment at a national level. Four salvadoran universities have been challenged to enroll students in large numbers. The challenge has been extended to make students end the course successfully.

I have been sending emails, talking to students, discussing with professors, about this new idea of MOOC. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. This global educational experiment is shaking the concept of Higher education as we, to this very moment, know it.

At the University of El Salvador, We think we have a certain advantage. Last spring four of our present students did  6.002x. This time, They are going to help this new student generation.

We will see if this really give us an advantage.

domingo, 2 de septiembre de 2012

Causes of Failure (I)

Trying to figure out the causes of failure, I made a graph to illustrate the performance of our freshman in mathematics. I could only collected data for the total college of engineering (made of eight different majors). However, electrical engineering student's performance are not that differente than the other majors. Enrollment policies are the same.

Before getting into the electrical engineering department, freshmen are required to study  two years of physics and mathematics. Barely, less than 20% move ahead the very first year of mathematics. After the second year less than 10% of those enrolled keeps moving ahead.
Given this escenario, I  have been wondering a way out. There is no doubt that student who came to our university are poorly prepared. So, could MOOC ideas help secondary education in developing countries? Could it be used as a college remedial course kind of solution? At the University of El Salvador there is no remedial program. Students have no help. They are left at their own; ending as dropouts.

sábado, 1 de septiembre de 2012

Graduation Rate (I)

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation to my fellow professors at the Electrical Engineering Department. Among many others, I introduced  the graduation rate concept. I talked about the importance to measure completion. Using data acquired from our own database, I built a devastating graph. Some of them looked at the graph with astonishment; others with indifference. In fifteen years our department did not graduate one single student in six years. To get their diploma, students took at least seven years.
To explain the concept of graduation rate, I used The Texas Tribune newspaper. They built an interactive graphic that enables comparisons between 38 texan universities on a range of factors, from four- and six-year graduation rates to tuition and fees to degrees awarded. However, I used only the graduation rate measurement.

To many of my fellow professors, the concept was new. So it was helpful to compare among different texan universities. For instance, I used the examples that were given by Hamilton Reeve.I compared Texas Southern University (graduation rate less than 3%) with Texas A&M University (graduation rate 51%).

At the Electrical Engineering Department, there are many factors that are out of our control. But still we could have a positive impact on time-to-degree. Just to get the very bad level of Texas Southern University would be a success for us.

And it is this situation that makes me wonder if EdX ideas on higher education could help developing countries.