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Without workshops students fail

One out of four students failed their exams at one Life Sciences department after all lectures started to be taught in English. But a new type of workshop may be the solution

Being taught in English makes you fail. After Master’s courses at the Department for Human Nutrition switched to English in 2010, one out of every four students suddenly started to fail their examinations. Before the move, only three per cent failed.

The idea was that students would become more attractive to international employers, but with one out of every four students failing, 2010 was not a good year by any measure. Students who already had to learn a new, academic language, had to do it in a foreign language as well.

Now new workshops seems to have helped. The fail-rate has dropped back down to five per cent. But the department can’t afford to keep the workshops going, and worry that new students will experience the same problems, if not given extra help.

Workshops to the rescue

Switching to English completely has not been easy – neither for students nor for professors. Professors risk relapsing to a less pedagogic form of lecturing, when it has to be in English. The teaching becomes expert-oriented, rather than student-oriented because they are used to working in English only at international conferences.

»When we started lecturing exclusively in English, more students failed their exams, and the grades of those who passed dropped dramatically,« says Lotte Lauritzen, an associate professor at the department.

After seeing the dismal numbers, the department started collaborating with the Center for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP), which organised workshops on study techniques for students and professors.

English-switch is ‘nuts’

The department got funds from the University of Copenhagen project ’The Good Education’, to finance the CIP workshops.

»The CIP workshops have been a success. Unfortunately we do not have the funds to make it a permanent offer to our students. We hope that someone higher up will prioritise this in the future,« says Head of Studies at the department, Susanne Bügel.

In the meantime, the department has to work with the reality at hand: The Faculty of Life Science’s English-language decree is enforced. Lotte Lauritzen still questions the wisdom of the English-language teaching move:

»Personally, I think it is nuts to sacrifice the scope of our academics and risk alienating students from less academic backgrounds to have all lectures in English at a Danish university,« says Lotte Lauritzen.

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