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"250 students gave spontaneous applause"

Teacher of the Year remembers the magic lecture

Published Feb 25, 2011

The teacher Hans Havtun has found a balance between structure and commitment. The desire to teach is his driving force. No wonder he finally won the award as the Teacher of the Year at KTH.

"In a way I have always strived to be awarded this prize. It is extremely flattering with this form of appreciation from the students. And when I see who the other teachers are that have received this award over the years, I feel even more proud," he says.

The Student Union's prize as KTH Teacher of the Year has been awarded since the mid-1980s, and Hans Havtun is the 23rd teacher who has been awarded this prize. When he begins to think why he received the prize, his thoughts return to his own time as a student at KTH and to the course he actually teaches at the moment.

That was in the 1990s, and Hans Havtun had two lecturers on the course. The first lecturer conducted very structured classes, which Hans appreciated. But sometimes it was a bit lifeless.

Teacher number two was a typical "entertainer". He opened his first lesson by carrying in a bucket of liquid air, which was then cooled to several hundred degrees below zero. First of all, the teacher stuck his hand in the bucket, then he "poured" the liquid over a book on his desk. Because of the temperature, the liquid air rapidly changed into a gaseous form, and disappeared into a cloud of smoke.

"Together, the two teachers represented the image of the structured and dedicated educator. As a student you acquire both the knowledge to build upon and the motivation to learn more in such a situation," says Hans Havtun.

That type of teacher attitude is something that he has always aspired to achieve.
"I'm trying to adopt the same structure and enthusiasm, it should not be so structured that it gets boring, but nor should it be so much like a performance that it becomes unstructured."

The absolute best moment

Hans Havtun teaches the course Applied Thermodynamics on the programme Mechanical Engineering, Design and Product Development and Industrial Economics. Usually there are around 250 students in front of him in the class room.

"Sure, it's a challenge to capture the interest and attention of as many students as possible. But for me, there is a limit of 60 people. If there are more than 60 people, then there could be any number of people, it does not affect the method of teaching. The ideal of course, is to work with smaller groups, 20-25 students, but we seldom have the resources for that," says Hans Havtun.

The best moment he has had as a teacher occurred a few years ago. He calls it "the magic lecture". That was the day when everything went right. He was in brilliant form, and the students were on their toes throughout the entire lesson. In addition, he taught himself new things about the subject during the lecture, suddenly, several pieces of the puzzle just fell into place.

"It felt like I could have said anything at all to the students and they would still have believed what I said. When the lecture was over, the 250 students stood up and gave me a round of applause. I got the shivers."

But do you really have to put on a show in order to be successful as a teacher?

"In a sense, it is always a show when you are teaching a group of people. But to succeed, it is sufficient that you are genuinely interested in the subject and you want to tell them about it. If you come into the classroom with 100 percent commitment it will more or less take care of itself."

Hans Havtun's colleagues say it is not surprising that he is a success in the lecture hall. He is so gregarious and outgoing.

"But this does not describe me completely. I am a rather introverted person, really. But when I come into the lecture hall, something happens. I assume the role and I think it is such a lot of fun."

"Some never receive the credibility"

But, and this is something Hans Havtun wants to emphasize strongly, to conduct a course is no one-man show. In order for it to work, a successful collaboration is required between many people. In his own course he emphasizes, among other things, the two training assistants, Klas Andersson and Rahmat Khodabandeh, who are in charge of the exercises and computational analyses.

"But there are also many other people and functions behind the success of a course. My mind turns to all of the administrative and technical support: schedulers, caretakers, administrators and computer support. The administrative components never receive any credit for their efforts. But if all the parts don't pull together, it all falls flat," says Hans Havtun.

And he provides a practical tip: do not use PowerPoint. It impedes learning,says Hans Havtun. It may be perceived as effective for the teacher, but often the pace of teaching is too high for the student. He uses the whiteboard diligently instead.

"Students cannot keep up if they must both pay attention to the PowerPoint pages and have to listen to what you are saying. Nobody can, and students become passive in the learning situation. There will be a better balance if you talk to them and write it down 'live', you produce a more natural pace and you can easily stop and respond to the students' reactions," he says.

In addition, we must not forget that teaching is a technical matter, he means.

"Practice makes perfect. And with experience comes confidence in your own abilities. I myself had a pulse of 180 when I stood in front of the students the first few times. But if you feel a commitment to the subject the desire for education will just take over".

Text: Christer Gummeson

Teacher of the Year

The prize "Teacher of the Year" will be awarded by THS (Tekniska Högskolans Studentkår). The prize consists of a trophy in the form of a silver apple, a certificate and a grant from Ericsson amounting to SEK 25 000.

Hans Havtun is an associate professor and works at the Department of Energy Engineering at the School of Industrial Engineering and Management.
From the nomination:

"Hans Havtun is a lecturer which in a seemingly natural way manages to teach with great confidence, in a relaxed manner and by using excellent teaching methods. He is understanding and responds to enquiring students in a good way. The lectures are interspersed with theory and important real-world examples."

"In addition to his qualities as a lecturer, he manages very well with the design of the course and has found an excellent balance between assignments, written tests and examinations. This makes it worthwhile to study continuously during the course because the students are given prompt and good responses to what is done."