16 November 2017

’I'm Pursuing the Research Connection, Which Is Always Difficult in the Early Semesters'

Associate Professor Lasse Kristoffer Bak often uses the blackboard instead of slides to focus the students’ attention and slow down the pace.

SUND is teeming with talented teachers who constantly improve the teaching offered at SUND, and we have spoken to a handful of them about challenges, development and examples of initiatives appreciated by their students.

We have already spoken to Jørgen Olsen from Medicine, Torben Heien Nielsen from Public Health, Julie Fjeldborg from Veterinary Medicine and Lisa Bøge Christensen from Odontology.

This week you can meet Lasse Kristoffer Bak, who teaches cell biology and biochemistry to first-year students of pharmacy. Here the students learn how the cells work and how cell processes can be manipulated by drugs.

What are the challenges of teaching the course? ’The students find the biological topics more difficult than chemistry and mathematics, where there is only one correct answer. Of course, it is also a challenge that they have just completed upper secondary school. Two years ago the course was moved to the first year to give the students a sense of the wider context at an earlier point. But it is a handful to the students, who at the same time have to learn demanding chemistry and mathematics. Their resources are really stretched the first year, so we also strive to teach them how to use their time optimally’.

What have you done to help the students learn everything in time?
’We have introduced study sessions, where our eight classes of 30 first-year students each are divided into two groups who meet to work supported by an older student and an associate professor, who provide feedback on both written assignments and help them understand things they find hard. Attendance is not compulsory, but a lot of students show up. It has been a great success’.

Can you give other examples of teaching methods that have received positive feedback? ‘At lectures I use tools like Todaysmeet.com enabling the students to ask questions anonymously. Because of course it can be difficult to ask a question in front of 200 people. I also make an effort to insert breaks. After 15 minutes many students stop listening, so I insert breaks for reflection, where I do not speak for two minutes. No one speaks. Then we have a Q&A session. I have also stopped always using slides. By using the blackboard you can focus the students’ attention and slow down the pace. You can become so eager to cover a lot of ground that you forget to consider what the students are able to take in’.

Should teachers use less technology when teaching? ‘No. The blackboard just has a special effect. But I also use the opportunities provided by technology. I have produced virtual laboratory exercises – a kind of computer game as a supplement to laboratory exercises. I would like to do more of those, but it is expensive. I have also made videos’.

How do you make the videos? ‘They are short 6-8-minute videos covering the main points of a topic, e.g. calculations in Excel. I use a programme that records the screen and then I speak into the computer microphone. So it is completely homemade’.

What are you preoccupied with in connection with your teaching these days? ‘I'm pursuing the research connection, which is always difficult in the early semesters. Here research examples can make the students worry about the requirements and exam relevance. I have not found the solution yet, but I know it has got something to do with small doses. This has proved successful in connection with the laboratory exercises. Instead of ‘cookbook exercises’ the students are asked to take cancer cells produced in the laboratory and describe transport processes across the cell membrane. We use cell types that we have little knowledge of, and then the students have to design tests to build new knowledge. Here we kill two birds with one stone – they learn the techniques and get a sense of the research’.

Are you working on something new right now? ‘I have just begun asking the students to evaluate themselves via Absalon. They have to fill in a short questionnaire on their time consumption and ability to keep up. It is inspired by a university in England, which used it to lower the drop-out rate. The questionnaire is mandatory, but it does not affect the examination marks. If someone seems to be at risk of failing, I am able to talk to them. But I have not established the threshold or process yet. The course just began after the autumn holiday in week 43’.