And the Teaching Award goes to…!

Thomas Strothotte presents award to Sandra Transchel

Teaching is what makes a university real for students: it is how they interact with professors. And once a year, the KLU presents the teaching award to its best educator. We met this year’s award winner, Professor Sandra Transchel, for an interview.

Sandra, you won the teaching award at the KLU this year. Congratulations! What went through your mind when you heard you were the awardee?

Thank you very much. I am very honored to be the recipient of this year’s KLU Teaching Award.  What went through my mind at that time?...Well, many things actually. It was an exciting day, not just for our graduates but also for us as an institution: first, the grand opening ceremony with the mayor of Hamburg and Mr. and Mrs. Kühne, and then the graduation ceremony for our 2013 graduates. At that moment, I was just happy that all the effort I put into improving my courses had gone in the right direction.

For those who are not familiar with this award, what does the teaching award stand for? And who is the jury?

In addition to high-quality research, KLU is seeking to be recognized for its excellent teaching. To achieve this goal, the university uses a variety of quality management tools. They include course evaluations by students. At the end of each course, all of the students have the opportunity to evaluate it with respect to various criteria by filling out a questionnaire. The output gives us valuable feedback for enhancing the quality of teaching and the learning experience in general. To encourage the faculty to continuously improve their teaching concepts and to reward excellence in teaching, KLU has established the teaching award. Since this award rewards teaching, who could be better qualified to be the jury than the students themselves? The results of the individual course questionnaires provide the first indicator of good teaching performance. Later, the Teaching Award committee, consisting of students and the two KLU deans, selects the award recipient.

What are the skills that are evaluated?

Several attributes are evaluated. I can mainly divide them into course-related and instructor-related issues. The course-related issues primarily evaluate the structure and the content of the course. Some of the courses are more interesting than others by their nature, which may make them easier to sell to the students.

With regard to instructor skills, they are asked to give feedback on the instructor’s expertise in the particular field, his/her ability to motivate students, and whether the instructor shows interest in the students’ learning process. Of course, as an international institution, English skills also play a very important role at KLU. For me, it is always important to encourage the students’ critical thinking about what they are doing and the resulting implications.

In general I would say “Good preparation is half of the battle.”

What is your personal approach to teaching? Is there anything that is unique about your teaching style?

My personal approach, basically the one I would say fits my classes best, tends to be a multi-method approach. What I mean is that I combine several teaching techniques in the classroom. I integrate the rather “old German” approach of conveying theoretical concepts in logistics and supply chain management via  frontal instruction with more interactive approaches, in which the students analyze the concepts in case studies and develop decision-support tools through spreadsheet modeling. In addition, I always try to integrate a company project into my course. Last academic year, my logistics systems class elaborated a case study in cooperation with the Hamburg Logistics Institute (HLI) on RFID technology in retail logistics.

Concerning your second question, I have a background in mathematics, and for a mathematician the word “unique” has a very special meaning. Roughly, it would mean there is nobody else with the same teaching concept, so I doubt the truth of this. I learned a lot during my time in the US, which historically uses more interactive teaching methods than the German system. From my perspective, one success factor in the classroom is to find a good balance between theory-based learning focusing on concepts and methods and interactive project-based learning.

What do you like about teaching?

For me, teaching is a channel for sharing my enthusiasm for learning and understanding new things. It is always exciting to see when students "see the light:" when they finally understand a concept, theories, or methods they have been struggling with.

Did you always teach this way or was it a process? Would you say that it needs teaching experience to be a good teacher?

No, I didn't. It took me a couple of years to develop my own style. I was exposed to many different teaching approaches by various US colleagues, but it is not possible to copy them. In the long run, you have to develop your own style.

I am pretty sure that it takes experience to be a good teacher. It is not enough to be able to present well. You need to learn how to properly structure a class with respect to frontal teaching, exercises, case discussion, and other aspects. This is something you can very often learn from students’ feedback. Ultimately you have to find a good balance of hardcore teaching, exercises, and, of course, a little entertainment.

Are you passionate about teaching?

Well, yes. Even though it is not always easy if the other side of the classroom does not feel the same way about a topic.

Is there room for improvement? Even though you are the awardee for teaching?

There is always room for improvement. For the classes in which the students are satisfied, there are, of course, just minor things I would change. However, every time I teach a new course, I have to rethink all my concepts. This year, for example, I am teaching a course in mathematics to our new bachelor's students for the first time. It is a completely different ballpark from teaching a logistics course in the master's program.

More information about Sandra Transchel.