To have an open communication about teaching is important to develop as a teacher, says Karin Odelius (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Playful teacher who gets it right

Published Dec 13, 2016

Communication and playfulness are important elements when Karin Odelius teaches. Now the student union has given her the Teacher of the Year award.

Karin Odelius has just come from a morning meeting with some chemistry students when she turns her thoughts to educational matters and the Teacher of the Year award, given to her by the student union THS.

“I am surprised and flattered to have been appointed as Teacher of the Year. I hope it is because I work to engage and motivate the students.”

Karin Odelius is course coordinator and examiner for the master’s course in Macromolecular Materials at the Department of Fibre and polymer technology. It was for this course which she was nominated for the teaching prize. She also runs other courses and in recent years has been one of KTH's pedagogical developers, including having the mission to inspire the teachers' team.

The jury said that she sees teaching as a team effort where it is important to give and receive feedback. Giving feedback is one of the hardest things to do, she says.

“It’s down to the teacher to know when and how to give feedback and not just give out orders.”

Lively discussions

Karin Odelius tries to give quick responses so the students can be motivated to embrace the subject.

“When an assignment is handed in on a Sunday evening, the students get feedback on the Tuesday so we can discuss it on the Wednesday,” she says.

Karin Odelius thinks it’s important to give feedback at the right time.

The discussions generally tend to be lively. Karin Odelius welcomes questions during lectures to ensure that everyone is with her. Afterwards, she asks the students to tell her what they think are the most important points.

“There is a way to know if I’ve not quite hit the mark and need to clarify something the next time, or change my approach for future years. As you can imagine that takes a lot of time, but it is time well invested”, she says.

Many of the lectures in the master’s programme begin at eight in the morning.

“It's not a time when people are at their most alert, so I have invented a game: Guess the plastic. Based on various statements, we discuss the plastics that are most in demand. It may sound silly, but it's a way to get started.”

Learning in different ways

The master’s course only has 20 to 25 students, but there are also ways for providing feedback when the groups are significantly larger. One way is for students to do a ‘self-diagnostic’ quiz online.

“It’s not just finding out about what is right or wrong; there are also comments like ‘This was wrong here so you probably thought this here; think of it here, instead.’”

Karin Odelius has seized on the fact that everyone learns in different ways and are not averse to bringing an ordinary plastic bowl to a lecture.

“Some learn by taking the material, others by seeing pictures or reading the facts. That’s made particularly clear in the course where we learn which materials are suitable for which applications.”

Why is it then that she puts so much emphasis on communication and educational matters?

“I think that it is cool and I learn a lot, too. The students ask me questions that even researchers don’t ask.”

No prestige

Much of the educational development takes place in informal meetings between teachers, she says.

“We can learn an awful lot from each other. I can go and say, ‘Now, I did this, and it did not work.’ If you have developed an open communication about teaching there is no room for questions of prestige.

Have you any examples of how that works?
“My attempt to get classmates correcting each other’s work was quite coolly received in the first year. So in the second year, I tried to explain the purpose better; that we learn by talking about other people's answers. But the educational message did not get across; I got the feeling that they perhaps felt that I was being a bit lazy, so I had to rethink the way I looked at it.”

The jury says that you see teaching as a lifelong learning experience. How do you want to develop now?
“I would like to find more time for reflection, to take the time to get a deeper understanding of things. With master's students we can start a process of reflection through questions like ‘Should we replace all our materials with biodegradable materials?’ It is a major challenge for those who have just started their training to reflect in that way.

Karin Odelius is what she calls ‘a KTH product’. She did her engineering training here, got her doctorate here and was then employed as a researcher here until March 2016, when she became a lecturer. Meanwhile, she has managed to have four children and continued to teach and research.

But getting free time for leisure activities is not a problem.

“There’s a lot of handball, football, innebandy and Scouts. I run between the children's various activities.”

Text: Ann Patmalnieks