The laureats Kate Murphy, Emilio Da Cruz Brandao, Frank Persson & Oskar Modin. Photo: Daniel Karlsson
The teaching team consisting of Oskar Modin, Kathleen Murphy and Frank Persson at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering are praised for their long-term work with the course "Physics and Chemistry for Civil Engineers", one of the first courses new students encountered by the Master of Science programme and the Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.
– When our students start at Chalmers to become civil engineers they probably don't think, "Oh wow, now I get to study basic chemistry again – how fun!". I think many of them feel they are back in high school again, which is a challenge. So, it is very much about making the subject exciting and relevant," says Frank Persson, Associate Professor in the division of Water Environment Technology.
"You can teach almost anything in a fun way"
He also believes that part of the fact that the course is still well received, after some initial hesitation among the students, is that they have managed to find a long-term concept to break the idea that these are difficult topics. Kathleen Murphy is on the same page:
– I've learned that teaching students in subjects they don't think they'll like in advance can actually work out really well. You can teach almost anything in a fun way! We have also discussed a lot how we should explain principles that can be difficult to understand. In many cases, the students come directly from high school and some of them are not fully equipped with knowledge in these subjects. Our long-term work with constructive alignment has helped to create clarity, and we have developed good support for students over time," says Kathleen Murphy, Associate professor and Director of PhD studies in the Division of Water Environment Technology.
Elements to support independent thinking
The team all agree that clarity and a solid framework, where students feel safe to try themselves, are success factors, especially for courses that come early in their tertiary education. And course elements that require independent thinking and independent work also need to be introduced early.
– It’s partly about having a well-planned course with a good structure to create good conditions, and partly about creating teaching situations where the students can work and learn independently, but still can receive rapid feedback about what they need to put some more work into," explains Oskar Modin, Professor in the Division of Water Environment Technology.
Oskar continue to talk about their focus on exercise and practice sessions and Frank Persson exemplifies by telling about recurring course elements with scheduled exercises where students give feedback to each other under the supervision of the teachers, supplemented by scheduled Q&A sessions.
– What we aim for is for the students to discover things for themselves, feel the satisfaction of being able to grasp a concept by themselves, and thus feel comfortable when similar things appear in the future. That really builds self-confidence and a feeling of "I can do this!", says Frank Persson.
Guidance focused on personal development
Emilio Da Cruz Brandao, Artistic Teacher in the Division of Urban Design and Planning, is awarded the prize for his work on the master's course "Design and planning for social inclusion" from the Architecture program. He agrees on the importance of students receiving good support, even if the students he teaches are at the end of their education, and on the verge of working life.
– The students in the course end up in a relatively vulnerable position as they are active in real-life projects that are in direct contact with society. It can be very challenging for them, and therefore we need to support and show understanding for their personal process. Much of the guidance we provide focuses on personal development.
In his courses, the students are involved in the layout of teaching and construction of the course, a form of transformative learning where the students push him to try new things. The interaction with the large network of external actors Emilio Da Cruz Brandao have built is also a factor that leads to constant rethinking and thinking outside the box.
– It is therefore a question of designing a teaching context that has a direct connection to practice, to the profession. My students are very much in the profession. One course feedback we recently received was that during the course it was the first time the students were actually treated as professionals and not as students, by involved partners," he explains.
The course uses participatory methods and co-creation processes where students are involved and directly influence the development of urban spaces. Previous courses have resulted in, among other things, an outdoor classroom adjacent to Gärdsmosseskolan och a parkour park in Bergsjön.
– We talk a lot about collaborative pedagogy, not only for the students, but also for society. Every time we create collaborations, everyone involved is aware that they are part of the development of society, which is very exciting but also difficult.”
Important to credit teachers deeds
So what does the Chalmers Pedagogical Award actually mean, and will the four change anything following the prize?
– When you do research – publish articles, get new grants and so on, there are clear milestones to celebrate. But when you teach, it's more constant day-to-day activity and there aren’t so many chances to notice or celebrate successes. So this is very motivating! We should celebrate our successes in education as well," says Oskar Modin.
Emilio Da Cruz Brandao agrees, and continues:
– If we want to develop Chalmers into a first-tier university, we need to be recognized for courses we create and develop through experimental thinking and risk-taking. This type of prize and appreciation provides important recognition that what we are doing is good, and that we are on the right track.
The group agrees that the prize has to some extent strengthened them in their belief that it is good to dare to try new things, dare to back down and rethink, because in the end you always learn something.
– It feels great to win a prize, and it's needed. Hopefully this can generate conversations and discussions with colleagues, like "how can we use these experiences". I think you become more inclined to dare to change, to dare to try new things to a greater extent," says Frank Persson.
– We may start off with too low expectations in some courses. This award provides confirmation of how far we have actually come, it feels very nice”, says Kathleen Murphy.
The jury's motivations
“FrankPersson, Kathleen Murphy, and Oskar Modin at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering are recognized for their long-term work in developing the course ’Physics and Chemistry for Community Builders’ which is given as a joint course in both the Master of Science programme and the Bachelor of Science programme in Civil Engineering. The teaching team has, with good cooperation, for several years and with good results, developed the course using student-centered teaching methods and accepted design principles such as constructive linking”.
“Emilio Da Cruz Brandao at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering has during his time at Chalmers and in collaboration with a broad and international network of external actors developed working methods, learning environments, courses and programs where architecture students are challenged in sharp projects. During the course ’Design and planning for social inclusion’, the students, together with actors in the so called million programmes, get to take on concrete projects, which has resulted in both outdoor classrooms and a parkour park. The students are given both good preparation for working life and an opportunity for transformative learning and to create concrete improvements together with the local residents. Emilio successfully collaborates with colleagues on course development and also shares through educational publication”.
The fifth laureate of the 2021 prize is Jan-Philipp Steghöfer of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Text: Catharina Björk