Research and teaching go hand in hand. And while research output is best judged by the scientific community, e.g. in peer-reviews or rankings, the quality of teaching is best evaluated by students. Our students are the ones voting when it comes to the annual KLU Teacher Award. This year, Alexander Himme, Associate Professor of Management Accounting, won over the students as internal teacher. The prize for the best external teacher went to Dr. Jakob Heinen. Both received the prize at the graduation ceremony on September 11.
You have won this year's prizes for the best teaching. When you received your prize at the graduation, what went through your mind?
Jakob Heinen: Being aware of the tough competition at KLU, I was really happy to receive this important recognition from our students. This is a great motivation to continue contributing to KLU’s excellent education experience.
Alexander Himme: I felt proud and flattered at the same time, exactly like I did when I was awarded in 2016 and 2018.
What would you say is typical for your teaching style? Is it linked to the subjects you are teaching?
Alexander Himme: Often people think that accounting is some kind of black box which is used in the back rooms of companies. One key success factor is that I show students that accounting is all around us; it is the language of business. In addition, I remember my old time as a student and where I felt that accounting as a whole or parts of it were not well presented in the classroom. I always try to make it better than what I experienced myself as a student.
Jakob Heinen: The supply chain strategy of a company is the backbone of a company’s operations. My aim is to raise the awareness that even small decisions have an impact on all functional areas. This enables the students and I to connect the dots to other great courses at KLU (like Alex’ classes on accounting). We are surprised over and over again how supply chain management offers so many interfaces like few other functions of a company.
You have been teaching for very different lengths of time. What is your experience? Do extraordinary teaching skills derive from encyclopedic knowledge or is it all about making your own experiences?
Alexander Himme: I have been teaching now for over ten years in very different set-ups including both small and large classes, classes for fundamentals as well as specialists, and classes at different program levels. And one really has to practice and to try things out. There is no “one-size-fits-all approach.” A key issue is to adapt your teaching style to the audience. For example, with bachelor’s students who have never heard of accounting before, I constantly refer to the personal “accounting” equation. With master’s students I focus much more on the managerial implications of certain accounting rules.
Jakob Heinen: For me, it was my premiere and first year to teach entire courses in our bachelor’s and master’s programs, so I could not draw on much knowledge. I quickly learned that it was important to receive feedback throughout each course and then translate that into action. Out of my own experience, I know that feedback and input from students are often collected but rarely used to change the course. Every course takes us on a new journey and, while I am always there to provide a map for guidance, I try my best to give the students as much control as possible in creating an environment where they collaborate and explore their own routes and destinations.
Was there a key experience in your life regarding the question of what makes for good teaching?
Alexander Himme: I once had an instructor in statistics. He was amazing. Every concept he linked to a real-life phenomenon, a newspaper article, a game, etc. Every session was so full of surprises and aha moments, whereas before I thought this subject would just be about calculations and formulas. I follow the same approach. Often students think that accounting is a boring and dull subject, and then they are surprised by how exciting it can be.
Jakob Heinen: Once during an internship, a mentor provided me with feedback that her greatest contribution was not to ensure that I successfully completed tasks and acquired knowledge but to shape my ability to critically question existing boundaries and to develop confidence in taking risks. I can only agree! It is difficult for me to foresee the requirements and technical capabilities KLU graduates will need in their future careers. Yet, I can empower them to take on responsibility and command supply chains in increasingly complex and dynamic operations.