Geology professor takes a different path
Bosse Olofsson is a tireless worker and a great motivator. His best teaching method is to reveal the world that lies outside the lecture hall. Recently, for the second time, he received the award of Teacher of the Year.
“This is the finest recognition one could have. A wholly unbelievable distinction,” Olofsson says.
Olofsson began his teaching career at KTH Royal Institute of Technology when he was studying Land Surveying, at the end of the 1970’s. He already had an MSc in Geology from Stockholm University and, since he had been studying Geology, it seemed a natural step to start teaching on the Surveying degree programme courses for new entrants, he says.
And that’s the path he has taken. Today, he is Professor of Environmental Geology and teaches on all the relevant courses of the Master of Science degree programmes, mostly within Geology’s different disciplines.
“It’s the teaching that motivates me to remain at KTH, you know. It gives me so much. I see the students grow and I’m able to be part of society’s change and development,” he says.
Rather hire a bus than a lecture room!
His popularity among students is not in doubt: “For Bo Olofsson, the students come first. His watchword is to inspire and motivate others”, states the Student Union’s citation for the award. Olofsson says this is a good description of his pedagogical ideas. There is no doubt also that his ability to put himself into the students’ own shoes plays a vital part. He attempts, at all times, to remind himself of what it was like when he was studying.
“As a matter of fact, I can’t really teach a student anything. But what I can do is to motivate them to think: Wow, this is really awesome and important! I can inspire them to set in motion a learning process themselves,” he says.
The inspiration he often finds outside the lecture room. This connection to the outside world runs like a unifying thread through his pedagogical activities. Teaching that is not anchored in the questions that preoccupy modern society does not hit its mark, in his opinion.
This is why he leads the fight against shrinking economic resources: to be able to continue taking the students on field trips and study visits. Together, they visit mining areas, waste facilities and energy technology installations. Two days of study visits for all courses is a maxim of his.
“I’d rather hire a bus for a few thousand kronor for a field trip than a lecture room at KTH for a few hundred an hour. One day out in the field can be worth as much as two weeks memorisation. In certain cases it provides the entire foundation for the course content.”
Expert on groundwater
One of the field exercises includes a two-day field trip around Lake Mälaren and Lake Hjälmaren where the students study geological processes and mineral resources. This includes an overnight stay in order to strengthen the social bonding of the group.
Olofsson also brings the outside world into the lecture room via his consulting assignments. For instance, he runs projects within water supply issues and also operates as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s expert in water-related cases in the Land and Environment Courts. The experiences acquired outside KTH provide ongoing professional development – and inspiration – for his teaching role.
“When I formulate practical assignments these happen to be the same tasks that I have worked on as a consultant. After all, there is no correct solution as such for these assignments but the answers, nevertheless, can show different levels of constructive skill. The idea is to stimulate the students’ imagination.”
The structure of Olofsson’s methodology is based on a belief in the students’ own motivation. He does not tie his teaching down to any compulsory course literature, preferring instead to recommend a particular book to the students.
On the other hand, each course he runs has a clear vision. The core of what the students should learn he has formulated in a number of “to be able to” propositions. Sometimes these can amount to some fifty or so in number. All have a strong link to knowledge and skills required for the students’ future professional lives.
You also received the prize of Teacher of the Year some 15 years ago. Have you changed your teaching since that time?
“I’ve included even more of my experiences from outside KTH. My contact network as consultant has increased and this has given me more material to make use of in my teaching.”