“The most important element in my teaching is my commitment to the students,” says Martin Viklund, recently chosen as Teacher of the Year. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

A winning blend of old and new

Published Dec 05, 2014

The Teacher of the Year for 2014 is always prepared to consider new pedagogical tools. But he doesn’t support any total makeover of the teaching; instead he combines new methods with traditional ones.

The blend of traditional and new methods is well-received by his students at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, as well as Viklund's whole-hearted commitment.

Viklund himself is happy and slightly surprised at the award. After all, he teaches in a fairly traditional way, he says and, in recent years, attention has often been focused on the new teaching methods such as  .

“I myself have thought a lot about Peer Instruction. But to redo the course from scratch would take much too long. What’s more, I believe that traditional teaching also has its merits,” explains Viklund.

That is to say, he has put together his own casserole mixture of teaching methods. Viklund is Director of Undergraduate and Masters’ studies at the Department of Applied Physics. Among other activities, he teaches Physics on the Medical Engineering programme at KTH.

His students are served a base of fairly traditional lectures strengthened with elements such as Click Tests as well as copious demonstrations and degree programme examples. Such elements are taken directly from the research work of Viklund or his colleagues.

Dedication is most important

However, the most important ingredient in the Viklund casserole is really his commitment. He is “dedicated to the learning of the students”, according to the justification of the Teacher of the Year award.

“Yes, that’s definitely the case. For me, both teaching and research have always been obvious choices; I think both elements are equally fun. And my basic attitude is that it is the students’ own learning experience that takes centre stage when one is deciding on the setup of courses. What suits these students? What will work with this group?”

Martin Viklund has benefited from ongoing training in pedagogy.

The difference between a good and poor lecture, he thinks, also largely depends on the lecturer’s own commitment. It’s true that he learned next to nothing from most lectures during his own studies. However, those lectures given by really committed teachers were all the more rewarding.

“I don’t really agree with the view that traditional lectures are so ineffective. If I show that I am genuinely interested in my subject I believe that this can rub off on the students.”

Viklund himself carries out research within biomedical physics (applying physics to human biology), specialising in ultrasound physics. However, as Director of Studies, he divides his time fairly evenly between three different tasks: research, teaching and administration.

He ensures that he is fully conversant with pedagogical methodologies, has studied new methods including at workshops and includes what he thinks suits him and his students in his teaching.

The Click Tests, for example, is a tool obtained from Peer Instruction. The first 20 minutes of his lecture is used for revision and a diagnostic test where the students answer the questions with the help of mentometers (student response systems).

Inspired by Montessori

The students thus answer anonymously but the results – how many students have answered correctly and incorrectly respectively – are shown together with the right answer on a screen.

“If the majority of students have answered correctly, there will be feedback for those students who haven’t; their attention is drawn to what they missed. If, however, most answer incorrectly there will be feedback for me – this shows what needs to be revised or, where diagnostic questions are concerned, to be gone over again from the ground up.

However, Viklund’s primary inspiration source is not in fact any of the new methods for teaching at the university but Montessori pedagogy. His own children go to a Montessori school and he has been able to pick up many ideas from this source.

One of these ideas is that the theories should be demonstrated to the greatest possible extent: that is, be made visually striking. Among other things, he has developed a material which, with the aid of laser beams, ensures that the testing of a structure drawn on a blackboard accords with real life conditions.

During the lectures he also often uses a digital visual presenter linked to a large screen in order to show live experiments.

“One can then show, for example, how a decibel meter reacts to different noise in the classroom. It’s a way of activating the right side of the brain, giving the students a pictorial memory as support.”

Teaching the army cooks

Demonstrations are Montessori material for university level, he says. But the investment in demonstration material is also a tradition at the Department of Physics, points out Viklund. In the same way as the labs where the students themselves have to solve problems with limited directions, this implies almost the same working method as in Peer Instruction.

“But there’s only a few who take this view. For this is how we’ve worked for a long time with the teaching of physics at KTH.”

Viklund has been a teacher at high school level; for different age groups in the nine-year compulsory school, and – last but not least – during his military service. He served as a cook and was ordered to train the other cooks called up and who – it turned out – had all been working in restaurants in civilian life. Viklund’s own culinary knowledge, on the other hand, was non-existent as he frankly admits!

“To teach those who know more about a subject than what one knows oneself – this was a really exciting experience.” It formed the base for adopting a humble attitude to teaching; not to see oneself as any kind of master.

Instead, he wants to strengthen the students’ own self-esteem and to convey the idea that it’s not necessary to be the smartest in the world to succeed in the degree programme. And he is keen to use his own experiences as starting point.

“I wasn’t the best, rather a bit of a mediocrity, but I have managed to succeed through my interest  and sheer hard work.”

Ursula Stigzelius

The Teacher of the Year is chosen by KTH’s Student Union, THS. The prize rewards innovative methodology that can function as an inspiration for other teachers.  The prize consists of a travelling trophy in the form of a silver apple, a diploma and a stipend from Ericsson.