With a feeling for the tiny details
Ninni Carlsund Levin, Associate Professor in Numerical Analysis, is passionate about a student’s light bulb moments. When something they have been struggling with suddenly becomes crystal clear. She also knows that this happens in different ways, as everyone learns things differently. Which is why she has supported diversity in digital courses and exams during the pandemic. And why Carlsund Levin has been awarded the KTH Pedagogical Prize for 2021.
“It is both surprising and pleasing for me. It feels great to be appreciated for my work,” she says.
To give students the best possible opportunities to succeed, Carlsund Levin thinks you ought to offer them different ways to learn and demonstrate what they have learnt. Some students are better at expressing themselves verbally, others doing this in writing or demonstrating and presenting something. She is therefore keen to include various different elements in her courses, something she has also remained steadfast about with online teaching.
“In this respect, I have tried to keep teaching as normal as possible – with lectures, exercises, lab work and presentations. But a great deal of innovative thinking and many hours of preparatory work have gone into putting together suitable equipment,” she says.
She has aimed to make her courses as vibrant as possible to engage her students, including via the use of breakout rooms and polls, where she can ask questions digitally. The students have liked the latter the best.
“It is a clear way to see if they are keeping up with the course work, and for me to know how it is being received. These past two years have been about trying all sorts of new things, where some things have worked better than others. We will continue to use what has been good.”
Easier with personal contact
Carlsund Levin makes no bones about how difficult it is to invigilate Zoom exams, which she feels makes students feel more nervous.
“The rules say that students are to be in a silent room all by themselves during an exam. And then a three-year old brother or sister suddenly marches into the room. Or the battery in their computer runs out. Students then panic and worry they will fail the exam. I have tried to reduce such anxiety by making a note of incidents like this, to find out what happened.”
Personal contact is a recurring theme in her teaching, and has been easier to maintain during the pandemic with Zoom conversations. In a similar way, being able to switch between Zoom groups during help sessions, has worked well.
She now offers in person lectures that students can choose to participate in via Zoom. When students are divided into groups, there is always one exercise group via Zoom.
“However, participating online is a kind of second class participation, that I only recommend if you are ill or cannot attend in person for some other reason. It is more rewarding to be there in person, even if it is hard to put your finger on exactly why.”
A couple of years ago, Carlsund Levin was an educational developer at the School of Engineering Sciences. Today, she participates in meetings with educational developers from the other KTH Schools in her free time. She has numerous ideas for improvements, such as when it comes to the newly renovated lecture halls.
“I am not that happy about the way they have rearranged the seating in certain rooms, with the blackboard on one of the side walls. The thinking is this will enable students to sit closer to the blackboard, but it also means that the students that sit farthest away have to twist their heads round towards the board all through the lecture, which is not ergonomic.”
In the words of the award jury, she adopts a critical approach and always keeps educational development in mind. You can clearly see that Ninni Carlsund Levin sees the tiny details that other people overlook.
Text: Nicky Rosenberg