Mike Boldy is a lecturer of mathematics at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EWI). He started working for the University of Twente in 1989. When applying for his job, he was surprised to find he had to come to Leeuwarden. The University of Twente used to have its own college in Friesland, the Vestiging Friesland. When this college was closed, he started to work at the Enschede campus . Last year, he became involved with the Twente Educational Model (TOM), being a lecturer of mathematics in the mathematics course of the first module, as he lectured mathematics to a group of some 800 first-year students twice – an exciting experience. ‘It is as if you are participating in a talent show and suddenly have to sing in front of a large audience.’
A huge room
Mathematics lectures are delivered in rooms 1 and 2 of the Waaier building. Due to the enormous size of this room, it is infeasible to have lectures progress as you would in a 'normal' room. ‘You cannot simply deliver a linear lecture, just providing definitions and theories. If you do that, you lose the group's attention.’ Writing formulas down on the blackboard is useless, as students in the back of room are unable to read the notes. Mike says it is imperative to be more verbally active and use gestures. Prior to the implementation of the Twente Education Model, lectures involved explaining the subject matter and providing examples. This is now the province of the tutorials. ‘Nowadays, lectures serve mainly to inspire students.’
This changing role of lectures and the fact that you are to deliver them to such a large group means you need to teach your class differently. You also need to prepare differently, as standing before this large audience can be intimidating. ‘I took a special Masterclass performance skills to learn how to give lectures to huge groups.'
In addition, together with his colleague, he practised bits of the lecture he was going to deliver. ‘You really need to make sure you connect with the entire room. Sometimes, students are all the way in the back, and you need to be able to interact with them too.'
One way to do so is to involve the students in the lecture actively and to employ interactive moments. ‘We now use a system allowing them to answer a multiple choice question on an internet site accessible through smartphone, tablet or laptop.' Such interactive moments have become part of every lecture. ‘Sometimes, half the group answers incorrectly, indicating you have to pay more attention to the topic.' The questions asked always refer to the concepts just covered in the lecture. Instead of requiring calculations, these questions are some sort of mini tests, designed to establish whether the students had understood what has just been said.
Though Mike likes to give more of these lectures, there have been some nags. ‘The mathematics course is open to all technical faculties, so it turned into a massive administrative and logistic puzzle.' Mike believes coordination could have been better: the ship had too many captains. Clear communication on who was responsible for what was lacking. The lectures were divided over a team of lecturers, the lectures were provided in English as well as in Dutch and the tutorials were the province of the various programmes. It is no longer a case of "one course, one teacher", which does tangle up things a bit.' Clearly, there are some points of improvement for next year. Still, Mike believes it will all work out fine in the end. Looking back on the past module, he is very happy to have been part of it. He has one piece of advice for next year's lecturers: ‘Have fun and go for it!’.