Anya Helene Bagge is Lecturer of the Year
She’s both a groundbreaking computer scientist and an excellent teacher; and now she’s awarded the Teaching Prize at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.
The jury emphasises that Bagge takes responsibility for preventing drop-outs. She has organised a “catch-up week” where the INF101 students work through the most important parts of the subject. Several of the student projects she’s supervised have receive considerable attention in the media.
The award ceremony was held on Tuesday October 17th, at 12:00 in Realfagsbygget, in connection with the Faculty’s career week “På veg”.
Congratulations, what does the Award mean to you?
"Thank you! This award means a lot to me. I’m very happy to be teaching, so it’s very nice when it turns out well and the students are satisfied. I actually haven’t been doing so well this past year, so having very eager, creating and inspiring students around has been a huge help in my everyday life.
Teaching is certainly no one-person job; particularly not in the first year courses with many students and lots of lab work. So it’s perhaps more appropriate to give the prize to my whole team; without them, there wouldn’t have been any teaching, much less a teaching award: PhD fellows Eivind Jahren, Anna Maria Eilertsen and Lars Jaffke have been helping with organising, planning, filling in for me, making exercises and giving very good advice, and INF101 teaching assistants Sigrid Brækken, Kristian Rosland, Knut Anders Stokke and Ragnhild Aalvik have been responsible for the most important part of the course, where the students do practical lab work. Håkon Lerring also deserves a huge thank you for creating the automatic submission and testing system. Other than that, I’ve lots of support in discussing teaching and learning with my wife May-Lill, and also with previous teaching assistants and my colleagues both at home and abroad.
What is “good teaching”?
– I feel that can be very different from subject to subject. I teach fairly practical computer science courses; you have to learn some theory, but developing skills in programming and software engineering is perhaps even more important; skills such as problem solving, debugging and the art of dealing with systems that are larger than your mind can handle.
Based on that, “good teaching” is inspiring students to stretch their skills as far as possible; learn one more technique so you can make your project just the way you want it – and not just because the book or the exercise text says you need to learn it.
For my courses, exercises are definitely most important, both in the form of projects and smaller exercises. University architecture is perhaps not very supportive her: it’s not easy to find auditoriums or lab rooms where you can freely experiment and find the right combination of lecturing, exercises and offering individual help; at least not for courses with several hundred students.
I think it’s very important that students have the freedom to try things for themselves, that they have exercises that are fun and teach the right skills and knowledge, and that we are open to letting students use their own creativity in their solutions.
Why do you think the students appreciate your teaching?
– So, I try to make the exercises and examples as fun and interesting as possible; I try to be available for questions and assistance; and I try to be flexible when students need it (particularly since I’ll end up needing the same flexibility from the students from time to time).
It’s also a great help that I’m teaching the most exciting courses in the work, where students progress from barely being able to write programs, to suddenly being able to write programs that actually do something (INF101), or from solving exercises we’ve made, to completing a project totally on their own (INF219/319), or from being able to use a programming language, to actually creating or implementing one (INF225).
Apart from that, my “trick” is really that I’m just adapting to my own limitations. So it’s sort of partially based on luck.
I use the blackboard instead of PowerPoint, and think up examples during the lecture instead of presenting things that are prepared in advance (partially because I’m not so good at preparing stuff). That means there’s more time for the listeners to pay attention, the students can see the process and how my thinking works, and they can see the mistakes I make and how I find and fix them. 99% of software engineering is bug hunting.
I really dislike working with boring stuff, so if I’m making exercises, they need to be interesting. Games or simulations, for example; we’ve had both Space Invaders and Tetris on the exam (though I’m not entirely convinced that the students appreciate 1980’s games just as much as I do...).
I also prefer having the students think up their own projects and managing their own progress; so for the project courses (INF219/319) I usually have the students design their own projects based on their interests. That means that the project is automatically adjusted to the student’s level; there may be differences in how “advanced” the projects are, but most students feel that they learn quite a lot, often more than in other courses. We’ve had many fun projects over the years: Mitt UiB app, a robot that follows you, a course-collision checker, adventure games, makeup app, app-controlled power supply, assignment tester for INF101, binary file visualisation, betting app, ...
What’s your best advice for other lecturers that want to improve?
– Well... I feel it’s important to show that the subject is relevant and useful for the students; either by letting them discover it themselves, or by taking the time to explain it. Find relevant examples that engage the students, and letting them use their knowledge and skills for something they find interesting.
I also think it’s good to have some variation in themes for the exercises, since students have different backgrounds and interests. In particularly, in maths and natural sciences there’s a tendency that the textbooks are written by people who are more interested in cars that (for example) rabbits, and it’s unfortunate if all examples through several years of study are about things you don’t really relate to that well.
Apart from that, I think it’s a good idea to trust the students a bit more, and give them freedom to explore things on their own or from their own choices. My experience is that students will work very hard on their studies as long as we’re not limiting them. I think perhaps we’re too busy setting absolute learning outcomes where everyone needs to acquire the exact same knowledge and skills, rather than creating wonderful challenges regardless of competence level, so that everyone’s learning as much as possible.
Finally, it’s probably the case that you get the best effect when you adapt to who you are; find your strengths and weaknesses, and exploit both as much as possible, teaching with techniques that match your own style.