Teaching biography and teaching philosophy

I have been teaching at the Faculty of Geosciences and Geography at the University of Göttingen since the winter semester 2014/2015. Most of my courses are part of the international Master’s programme „Hydrogeology and Environmental Geoscience“ (HEG), but also part of the Bachelor’s programm „Geosciences“.
Within the scope of my geoscientific training I have been taught a high range of methodological knowledge and a cross-scale way of thinking. The connection of small-scale processes and structures with macroscopic and global processes has always fascinated me and has become an integral part of my teaching and research activities. During my university education, and in particular my doctoral thesis, I have always consciously exposed myself to „helper disciplines“ (from a geocentric point of view), such as mathematics, physics or computer science. In addition to pure knowledge gain, I have expanded my understanding of learning processes, which I would like to pass on to students.

In my role as a teacher I try to create an interdisciplinary learning environment and achieve a balance between basic knowledge and methodological application. For the long-term development of a student, I consider it to be considerably more efficient to impart basic theoretical knowledge also in some unpopular areas (mathematical basics, computer science/numerics). In my experience, the information density here is higher than in a more qualitatively/descriptively oriented form of teaching, so that students initially find the learning process and learning progress much slower. I therefore try to motivate students to increase their own frustration tolerances and to recognize temporary failure as an indicator of the subsequent learning progress.

Teaching concept, evaluation and commitment

Teaching concepts and teaching methods

When teaching I attach particular importance to the direct application of theoretical basic knowledge and methods. This means for me to move the students from the classical frontal teaching into a controlled but free or self-responsible learning situation. For this purpose I primarily use lecture-accompanying scripts, which contain both theoretical basics, but in particular provide the practical reference to lecture contents with exercises. Especially for very heterogeneous (international) group compositions, more independent work phases (under my supervision but also in the form of homework) offer advantages: (1) Students can work according to their own performance level, (2) in larger groups weaker students can be looked after specifically, (3) problems with a high degree of difficulty promote group dynamics and (4) independently developed solutions (also in the „trial-and-error“ procedure) promote an active, persistent and solution-oriented way of thinking. I consider the latter in particular indispensable in order to maintain the students‘ interest in a topic, but also to convey a certain perseverance in learning and research behaviour, irrespective of the topic.

In classical lectures I always try to provide derivations to the presented equations. While this is more common in many engineering, mathematics or physics courses, I think it makes sense to use a certain part of the lecture for this in the hydrologic/geoscientific field as well. The application of learned mathematical methods usually requires a critical assessment of the validity of boundary conditions and processes, which is not possible without a deeper understanding of the basics of the corresponding methodology.

This applies in particular to numerical modelling, which usually requires a strong abstraction of complex overall systems. The classic statement „All models are wrong but some are useful“ is true in this sense and I try to show students, also in the context of my field course, the range of possible geological structures (fracture systems, fault systems, pore spaces) to create a better feeling for the partly simplified model approaches.

In my courses „Scientific Programming“ and „Simulation of Flow and Transport in Fractured and Karstified Aquifers“ I visit the high-performance computing facilities of the University with the students and let them work directly on the parallel computers with the programs I have developed. This should give the possibility to experience and apply current research topics and methodologies directly and also help to reduce the alleged hurdle.

Evaluation and feedback

The evaluation of my teaching takes place in the classical way as an evaluation at the end of a lecture, but partly also during the teaching process. In the evaluation conducted by the university, I usually point out to the students that they should use the fields for free criticism in particular in order to better address lecture-specific deficits (but also positive aspects). My experience shows that much more information on the potential adaptation of lectures and exercises can be gained from this.

For my lecture „Scientific Programming“ I also use an online voting system of the University of Goettingen (mVote) to receive weekly feedback about the students‘ progress. This is necessary within the framework of this lecture, and depending on group size, in order to keep the clear performance gradients within the group low and to quickly identify potential knowledge gaps. In addition, the students regularly do homework as part of this lecture, which also makes it possible to monitor progress.

The personal feedback of the students and evaluations resulted in some surprising results for me. Contrary to my expectations, my most demanding course „Scientific Programming“, for example, was and is extremely well rated. For me, this initially contrasted with the students‘ feedback during the course, who ask many questions during almost every lecture or exercise and have to struggle with a high degree of frustration tolerance. However, the high density of individual work or direct application of theoretical knowledge seems to generate a constant and sufficient sense of achievement to ultimately develop a positive attitude towards the course.

Commitment to teaching

As a module coordinator for two modules with a total of seven courses (M.HEG.12 Hydrogeology I, M.HEG.310 Groundwater Modeling II), I also function as a contact person beyond my teaching hours, both for teachers and in particular students. Due to the constant internationalization of the teaching environment, new problem areas arise here, which, however, are often not yet available or discussed in the broad environment of the university.

Within the framework of the U4 initiative consisting of four universities (Gent, Belgium; Uppsala, Sweden; Groningen, Netherlands; Goettingen, Germany) I was invited to the workshop „International Perspectives in Teaching & Learning“ in Gent as a representative of the University of Goettingen to identify current challenges in the context of internationalisation and to develop possible solutions to problems.

I successfully completed the certificate program for higher education teaching at Goettingen University Higher Education Didactics in 2017. In particular, the teaching internships by the university didactics staff helped me to optimise my courses and improve the transfer of knowledge.

In order to offer students a wider range of (most efficient) field-related theses, I have been instrumenting the Goettingen karst springs (Weendespring, Gronespring) with the help of study quality resources since 2015. In the sense of a’field laboratory‘ there are many possibilities to carry out interdisciplinary theses, e.g. numerical simulations (saturated/unsaturated hydraulics, mass transport), hydrochemical/isotope chemical analyses, structural geological/geological characterisation including transfer to hydrogeological parameters, as well as soil science studies (soil water balance models, unsaturated flow processes).

Prospects for teaching

In my teaching, there is often a contrast between application-related topics and research-relevant questions. Both are important for the future professional orientation of students, even if the majority do not pursue a career in research. This requires me, despite my enthusiasm for my work in research, to primarily orientate my teaching according to the requirements of the labour market. Occasionally, both can be combined. For example, the teaching and understanding of microscopic processes in the field of groundwater flow (research) also enables a better understanding of large-scale flow dynamics (application). The identification of such cross-references is a challenge from a didactic point of view and I would like to expand this even further in the coming semesters.

During my time as a lecturer I was able to identify the independent work, for example in the form of written exercises or computer applications, as an essential core aspect of a good course based on feedback from students. I would also like to integrate this into my future teaching through short fluid mechanics laboratory experiments.