By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; third, by experience, which is the most bitter.” (Confucius)
This quote attributes the method of reflection as the most elegant way of learning, which is reliable, because it is this method that is sustainable, longterm-oriented, and tolerant to unforeseen influences.
I anticipate achieving this way of learning in all my courses and classes on the basis of three pillars:
Today’s science breaks boundaries. This is particularly true for the new and interdisciplinary field of soft matter science. My teaching therefore aims to deliver contents and to sensitize students to adopt working principles from different branches of chemistry and physics such to capture their connections. Along with that, a constant teaching motif is to show larger, area-bridging fundamental principles in Nature.
Teaching at universities still often occurs in the form of frontal lecturing, pushing students into a passive consumer’s role. This is a relict of the pre-Gutenberg era, during which books haven’t been available as mass products, thereby requiring teaching content to be read-out to an audience by a privileged group of book owners. This form of teaching is long outdated, which is particularly striking at our university that carries its name by the inventor of book mass production. Even more, our society is presently undergoing a second Gutenberg-type media revolution in the form of digitalization and virtualization. My teaching seeks to account for this development. I value students as digital natives, who have unprecedented skills in accessing information rapidly; this is an elementary part of their socialization. As a result, in turn, I consider it an essential part of modern-day university teaching to equip students with conceptual competence to be able to judge and reflect information they find. I anticipate to address this challenge by teaching not only factual knowledge, but also deeper fundamental competence.
Science is based on continuous doubt. It is not what we know that drives its development, but what we do not know. I aim at sensitizing students for this principle, with a particular view to showing how science proceeded and still proceeds by constant supposition, evaluation, erring, and re-supposition. A particular aspect is to highlight potential traps of thinking by insufficient separation of observation and interpretation. On the basis of this philosophy, it is my goal to not teach textbook knowledge as something carved in stone, but something that evolved and that is still evolving—and to point out that it is the students who will carry this forward in the future.
“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.” (Confucius)
Interaction in Class
There is no better way to express the efficacy of teaching techniques than the above quote. To put it into practice, I use a teaching style that differs from pure frontal lecturing.My classes are based on a blended-learning and flipped-classroom format.
In the 15th century, the invention of letterpress printing with movable types by Gutenberg in Mainz ushered in the second media revolution in human history. Today, the world has advanced to the fourth media revolution: digitization and networking. Until recently, however, universities (almost) exclusively taught in a way that dates back to pre-Gutenberg times: the frontal lecture. My courses deviate from that. They are blended-learning formats and consist of a self-study phase at home based on conceiving video, audio, and script content portioned into core topics (knowledge acquisition), followed by an individual digital feedback unit on an e-learning platform (knowledge anchoring), and further followed by an interactive face-to-face consolidation unit in presence (knowledge consolidation and transfer). The latter takes up the digital feedback from the e-learning platform and addresses those contents that have not yet been understood by the learning group. For that purpose, it uses the peer instruction method, in which students first answer conceptual multiple-choice questions aimed at basic understanding individually with an audience response system (e.g., smartphone), then discuss them in small groups, and finally respond again. The second round of responses then almost always produces the correct result in a large majority, simply because those students who had the correct answe r in the first place also have the better arguments and can understand and eliminate gaps in understanding among their peers. That way, students take an active role in deepening their knowledge, are stimulated & motivated, and interactively involved in the learning process on several levels. The method thereby fulfills one of the core claims of its inventor, Prof. Eric Mazur (Harvard): "good teaching is to help students learn."
Consistence in Content
In addition to active participation, efficient teaching must be systematic, showing students that similar patterns occur in different branches of science and also during their studies. To realize this goal, I set-up and maintain my classes in close exchange with colleagues in the department. I do this to ensure that aspects occurring in both my and other classes are regarded as bridges and ties rather than as repetition or, even worse, as inconsistencies by the students. In addition to achieving this inherent consistency, I show connections of scientific contents to the every-day life experience of the students.
Competence-Orientation in Exams
In the age of omnipresent digital knowledge, competence to evaluate, critically reflect, and delimit facts from fakes is a key necessity. To account for that, I seek to examine students targeting core competences rather than single-fact knowledge. The prime form of examination that serves this purpose is 1:1 oral examination. I therefore use this form of examination whenever boundary conditions (such as given by the number of attendees per class) permit it. There is just one severe fundamental drawback of oral examinations: they are most prone to non-objective up to arbitrary judgement of the examinee’s performance. To tackle this challenge, my oral examinations are assessed following a competence-centered formalism: each oral examination is evaluated on basis of a form featuring five areas of competence in which the examinee’s performance is evaluated on 1…5 scales. Summation of these individual points gives a percentage that is straightforwardly transferrable to a mark. To get an illustration, take a look at the evaluation form that is used for my class Physical Chemistry of Polymers II, which can be found here.