domingo, 30 de septiembre de 2012

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.

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