Monday 5 July 2021
Dorian: ‘I saw that you worked for the European Space Agency (ESA), before you joined UT. Cool! Many people dream of working for such an organisation. What did you do there?’
Michael: ‘Working at a space agency was a dream for me too. I really enjoyed my time there. I did a post-doc at the Mission Science Division. I was involved in earth observation missions, mainly in the BIOMASS mission. I worked on the algorithms that will be used to retrieve data from a satellite sensor. The mission has not been launched yet, by the way. It will be in 2023, if all goes well.’
Dorian: ‘Ah, so you will be watching the launch, right?’
Michael: ‘Yes, I will definitely set my alarm, to watch ESA’s livestream. It will be exciting.’
Dorian: ‘Very interesting! I assume you have lots of stories to tell during your lectures! About the missions and ESA in general. Must be interesting for students.’
Michael: ‘I think so. I believe most academic careers start with an inspirational teacher. Mine did, at least. I had a teacher – she was not the best teacher herself, to be honest – who was very excited about her topic and about the research she did. I thought: wow, this is cool. She inspired me to pursue the path that I am now taking.’
Dorian: ‘Talking about teaching quality, you and I both take part in a pilot: challenge-based UTQ, an experimental version of the University Teaching Qualification. What are your thoughts about UTQ, and challenge-based UTQ in particular?’
Michael: ‘I have mixed feelings about UTQ. On the one hand, it is good to maintain the quality of teaching, and to get new teachers at a certain level. On the other hand, I think it is a bit strange that you need to show you are qualified to teach, when you are already an experienced teacher. So, I like the basic idea, but we can improve on the execution.
‘I’m more positive about challenge-based UTQ. I am a researcher, so I like exploring new things, also about teaching. Challenge-based UTQ allows me to experiment with new things and experience new ways of teaching. It is interesting to use challenges to show that you meet the requirements of UTQ.’
Dorian: ‘True. What I like about it, is that we can pick a topic that really takes teaching up a notch. We can tackle larger issues that we come across in our teaching. For example, I investigate how to integrate challenge-based learning into a beginners’ course. To be able to do pick up a challenge, students need to know and understand some basic concepts. So I ask myself: how can we teach those concepts in a challenge-based way? What are you working on?’
Michael: ‘I am investigating the differences between face-to-face and online teaching. I have noticed that if you are motivated to get something out of UTQ, you can learn a lot. And you can create a professional network- which, to me, is the most valuable. I get to meet a lot of different people. For example, I had the opportunity to interview the rector of UT. In the normal UTQ programme, I don’t think this would have happened.
‘It’s also interesting to be part of a larger group. With my group we looked at what defines quality of teaching. It turns out that different stakeholders – students, teachers, the rector, policy makers, funders of UT – have different ideas about the quality of education.’
Dorian: ‘Final question: was it your ambition to teach?’
Michael: ‘Ha! As I said before, I primarily see myself as a researcher. But teaching is part of that in different ways. As a researcher you want to pass your knowledge on to new generations. Teaching is a good way to do so, so as to leave a legacy. Also, teaching can be a source of inspiration. Students may ask questions you had never thought about. They sometimes come up with ideas which make you wonder: how come I never thought of this?
‘So yeah, I like the mix of research, teaching and projects. And I like the diversity in our department, both in terms of our students and in terms of the topics that we cover. Maybe, some day, I will be that inspirational teacher for one of my students.’