“What’s difficult is what’s fun”
Susann Boij, Associate Professor and Head of the Aeronautical Engineering Programme at the School of Engineering Sciences has been awarded the KTH Pedagogical Prize for 2019. She has been given the award for her ability to create inspiring and dynamic learning environments and for her way of providing criticism that stimulates critical thinking in students and colleagues.
Susann Boij on being awarded the KTH Pedagogical Prize for 2019:
“I was both surprised and incredibly pleased when I heard the news. It feels fantastic to receive this award. I feel that I have grown and it's given me a real shot in the arm for my everyday work.”
The importance of clear goals
She is especially pleased about the wording of the prize citation that talks about her wonderful ability to provide criticism:
“I am not hung up on prestige or afraid of conflict. In both my role as a teacher and head of programme, It's about leading people. When you have worked out what the goal of something should be, it's then also easy to see and communicate what we can be satisfied with and what needs to be further worked on. It’s important to work on your clarity. This can look different in different contexts,” says Boij.
No matter what it is that is to be done, you first need to think about the goal, to see “the big picture”. That's a necessity to avoid getting bogged down in the actual work itself and the details too early. The path to the goal is often a process. You don't always know in advance how you should get there. Boij likens herself to a process manager. She views tackling a problem and finding the solution along the way, together with students or colleagues, as an exciting challenge.
Working with students
“The goal of teaching is naturally that the students achieve the course goals and in so doing, pass their exams and graduate. Another goal is that they should have fun along the way. My task as a teacher is to make my students feel at home, i.e. that they should not have to worry about the wrong things, and so be able to focus on the task itself,” says Boij adding:
“If I formulate information before an exam, it should be expressed in a way that it can be understood. Students should not trip up because the question is formulated in an unclear way.”
Teachers must provide the same quality of teaching as they themselves expect of the students’ results,” Boij stresses. “You are in an exposed position as a teacher and students have every right to expect the same high quality from us as we expect from them.”
“Teaching and communicating what I have learnt myself is so much fun. There is an incredible potential within the students. I tell them that their best resource is themselves. Closely followed by their fellow students,” she adds.
At the concluding course meeting, Boij usually asks for suggestions for just one thing that should be changed in the course. The students and teachers are often in agreement on the ideas that are put forward. By gradually making minor, but specific and achievable improvements, the course is continuously developed.
Experience exchange between colleagues
The teacher meetings that Boij is responsible for as head of programme, are also a form of learning environment. The teachers share their experiences with each other and are given the opportunity to use incidents in their working lives as a sounding board with colleagues. This encourages a kind of educational camaraderie that is both valuable and much needed at KTH.
“My goal is to be even braver. This is a challenge to get to grips with, and working with what needs to be developed, and to work less with what already works well in the study programme. But, we are all here because we think what's difficult is fun,” Boij says on a final note.