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Kieran Holland

Enthusiasm: A teacher must convey the fun and excitement in learning, which comes naturally to someone who is passionate about the subject. With all the distractions in a teaching environment, students need to be engaged in the subject, not passively accepting a torrent of information. An enthusiastic teacher makes a huge difference by grabbing the students' attention and provoking them to start questioning and thinking.

Skills: Most physics students will continue their studies by specializing in other subjects. One way to engage them in physics is to emphasize the importance of the skills they learn in physics classes. For example, a laboratory course should teach how to analyze, how to separate the important from the less relevant variables, how to spot inconsistencies and interpret results. The same skills are required by a biologist, an engineer or a psychologist. Often, students think the purpose of physics is to come up with a number, and lose sight of understanding the underlying behavior. By concentrating on the general applicability of basic ideas, physics becomes more relevant to their future lives.

Research: Students often study physics with the perception of an old dead subject. By explaining how physics research develops and new questions continuously arise, students can be surprised to find physics dynamic and exciting. In an upper division course on classical physics, I spend a week teaching students how to use modern computational methods to explore chaotic dynamics. By giving students a glimpse into active research, they start to understand the open-ended nature of scientific inquiry and might even be inspired to become researchers themselves. Today's students will become tomorrow's decision-makers and educating them about the importance of fundamental research can only be beneficial for the future of science.

Clarity: Course material and teaching organization need to be well-prepared in advance. Students are very quick to pick up on poor preparation or a lack of clear thinking. I use the online Blackboard system extensively for the running of my classes, so students know where to find problem sets, homework solutions, announcements, assigned reading and their grades. In the larger classes, I use a digital projector combined with whiteboard lecturing to vary the style of class as appropriate. Good preparation and administration reduces confusion and wasted time and adds to the quality of every minute in the classroom.

Trust: Students need to be able to trust the teacher so they won't be afraid to make mistakes and learn. It's much safer for a student to be silent, avoid taking risks and looking foolish. This means making yourself accessible outside of the classroom, where students are less intimidated and trust can develop. Classroom discussions also need to be guided in a way that allows students to test ideas and not just ''get the right answer''. I strongly encourage students to work together in smaller groups, where they naturally teach each other. I try to be absolutely fair and consistent in all ways that I teach my courses, from my grading policy to dealing with any student's exceptional circumstances.


Kieran Halland
Associate Professor 
Physics
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