Kjell Staffas. Photo: David Naylor.2022-11-01
A teacher focused on understanding
Kjell Staffas, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Electrical Engineering, was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award in the area of mathematics, science and technology earlier this year.
Fittingly, Staffas was presenting his ideas on teaching and learning at a seminar when he was told that he had received the award.
“I reacted with a mixture of mild shock and great joy,” he explains.
The jury’s award citation underlines Staffas’s ability to adapt lessons to the needs of the individual student and the care he takes to ensure that his students grasp the nuances of what he is teaching.
“Many years ago, I conducted a study that made me realise that there are two categories of student: those with ability but who find it difficult to motivate themselves, and those who invest a great deal of time but still struggle to understand.”
By encouraging students to form study groups, he found that “those with ability” always get by, but when adopting a leadership role within a group, they tended to get even better grades. Students who do not put in enough time are motivated by others in the group to work hard enough to pass the course.
“They keep pushing and get help from their classmates. This also makes it easier for me to identify forums for discussion with the groups while they’re working together.”
One key to Staffas’s success is his short, pre-recorded ‘micro-lectures’. Students view these before lectures, so that valuable teaching time is not spent going through the basics.
“Instead, we can discuss the new stuff from a more conceptual perspective and directly present and discuss problems and solutions based on this new knowledge.”
His micro-lectures deal with the ‘threshold problems’ he has encountered over the years. For example, this year he noticed that students were getting bogged down in formulas.
“They try to learn solutions to a problem by finding formulas that give them a direct answer.”
To address this, he gave a lecture focusing on formulas and explained how they should be interpreted – something that proved to be an aha! moment for many students.
“It really changed their understanding of how to go about tackling a problem.”
Commitment and preparation
When asked what sets his own teaching apart, he highlights the fact that he unfailingly learns the names of all his students.
“I care about each individual student and speak to and pay attention to all students I meet, especially those I feel are on the edge in terms of motivation. I try to find perspectives on all the components I teach and explain their context. I also analyse all the elements I use in my teaching and interview students after the course to discuss both course components and results, and of course the course evaluation.”
Finally, what are his best teaching tips? To begin with, meticulous and clear planning based directly on the course syllabus, and satisfy yourself that students have understood.
“Make sure that there are links in Studium to all course material. Group assignments are always beneficial, but have as many optional elements as possible. The students’ own desire should motivate them. And: learn the names of your students!”
Kjell Staffas, senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering, was awarded the 2022 pedagogy prize in the area of mathematics, science and technology.
Rationale: Kjell is distinguished by his drive and commitment to developing as a teacher. Highly approachable and open to questions, he ensures that students absorb the course content in a nuanced way. Students are inspired to learn more and experience his lectures as active discussions. He has the ability to adapt his teaching to the needs of each student. Students are satisfied that the subject didactic research will benefit them. Kjell contributes to his colleagues’ pedagogy development and stands up for the college.
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