Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mesoscale Observing Network class: The Helsinki Testbed

One of the tasks I was given when hired here at FMI and the University of Helsinki was to teach a class about the Helsinki Testbed. One of my priorities when I first arrived was to learn more about this mesoscale observing network. Without the help of Jani Poutiainen at FMI, I would not have been able to pull this course off. He has been an incredible help in the last three-plus months I have been here, and he has been very patient with me in helping me learn the skills to use the data.

Of the lectures in the class, about 35% of them were mine, the remaining were other experts in the Helsinki area on the Testbed. A course syllabus and the lectures can be found here.

Friday night I took the students and other lecturers out to the pub. It was good attendance--I didn't realize that it would be like that. More proof (no pun intended) the Finns like to drink.

One thing I need to work on is how to get people interacting in class. Finns are quiet, and don't speak up much. People tell me that obedience is drilled into them at an early age. This isn't surprising because Finns will wait for the Don't-Walk light to change, even late at night on an empty street. Any tips from you Finns out there on how to get good conversation going in class would be welcome. Ex-ExPats?

Feedback from the class was positive. They didn't like the fact it was compressed into one week and that improper planning on behalf of the department meant that we had to keep switching lecture rooms. (I think one reason they didn't like changing rooms is that it forced them to mix up seating each time, so they couldn't necessarily sit where they were comfortable sitting.) Which is a good thing. ;-)

Everyone was satisfied or very satisfied with the course and nearly everyone said it encouraged critical thinking, so I valued their opinions in this regard. I even got some comments like the course was a "great match with our needs" and "a new fresh approach". One person even commented that "there could be more kinds of untraditional classes in the course program. It is really refreshing to make class projects, you can learn a lot about them." Some called my lectures "inspiring." :-)

The class projects will be presented at the end of March in a public seminar series. I am anxious to see what people come up with. Preliminary project presentations on Friday look great! This is going to be big fun!


At 6:42 PM, Blogger Aulikki said...

I am very much afraid that you will be disappointed if you want such interaction in a class that you have been used to in the USA. Especially with the people interested in natural sciences, which you are mainly dealing with. The only possibility that I have experienced to make up lively conversation is that most of the people involved know each other and the lecturer well beforehand. This might be one of the things that you will learn with time: although there are seemingly lots of similarities between the US and Finnish people, their nature is however different in some respects. So, please don't feel unsuccesfull if the conversations do not appear - it is just us Finns.

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Ex-Expats said...

Indeed. And, why do you want to change your students ? Why should they say something ? Perhaps, instead, you should learn to tolerate the silence ?

In our university, lectures were lectures, sometimes 200 people listening to one guy speaking. We thought we respected him by letting him say the things he intended to say during his 45 minutes, without interrupting. We asked only if he was very unclear, and not always even then.

In addition to lectures we had "laskarit". (=Calculus exercises, whish were sometimes much more than calculus). There, in small groups lead by an older student or a junior member of the staff, we solved problems set by the lecturer, got explanations, and occasionally had interaction.

And we had our self-organized "prepare for laskarit" sessions, which was not always plain copying.
But included a lot of conversations.

But as Aulikki says, helps if people know each other and the lecturer beforehand. Having some drinks with them is just the right move. In the book they say you should go always for a drink but leave after two, to let the students to speak behind your back.

Tuff job to be a teacher.

ps. you are not supposed to buy drinks for you students, naughty them if they told you so. And they cannot buy you, that would count as corruption.


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