Best lecturer of the year 2018-2019

News - 03 July 2019 - Webredactie 3ME

All students from the 3mE faculty have had the opportunity to vote for the best lecturer of the academic year 2018-2019. This award enables them to pay tribute to lecturers and show their appreciation for the unique and creative way in which they teach their classes. The 3mE faculty holds these nominations in high esteem: indeed, good lecturers are vital to the quality of 3mE’s academic programmes.

The student associations at 3mE – Variscopic, Froude and Leeghwater – have based their awards for best lecturers in each programme on the questionnaire results. As icing on the cake, they have also chosen the best lecturer of the entire 3mE faculty. After all of the faculties have selected their best lecturers, there will also be a nomination round for ‘Best lecturer at TU Delft in 2019’.

Farbod Alijani best 3mE lecturer

No one attending Farbod Alijani’s classes in the Department of Precision and Microsystems Engineering (PME) is ever at risk of being bored for a single minute. Even though Alijani’s programme requires students to make demanding calculations, his students always tackle them with enthusiasm because he is so adept at bringing the material to life.

The first thing that stands out in the students’ evaluations of Farbod Alijani is his passion for the subjects in the Mechanical Engineering master programme (the Biomechanical Engineering, High-Tech Engineering and Opto-Mechatronics tracks). ‘When he starts talking, then you are always motivated to pay attention because he is so enthusiastic,’ one of his students writes. ‘He does everything by heart, none of this boring scribbling that you have to read off a piece of paper. He explains everything in great detail, until you understand it.’ Even though his pace is challenging at times, as a student you always want to join in. ‘Because he explains everything in such an animated way.’ Another student writes: ‘His enthusiasm and pleasure in dynamics simply fill the room.’ ‘He talks about his subject matter with such passion, and he knows how to convey that to us.’

Passion

Alijani beams when he hears what the students have written about him. ‘It makes me happy to hear that they appreciate my passion for the subject and my way of teaching,’ he says. Where exactly does this passion come from? ‘Actually I have always been extremely fond of teaching,’ Alijani says. He was already teaching in his country of birth, Iran. He was especially drawn to the interaction with the students. That is why he also started to teach right after moving to Canada. That was stressful and took some getting used to at first. ‘In Iran I did everything in Farsi, and suddenly I had to do everything in English. That was difficult in the beginning.’ But at a certain point he got the hang of it, and one day he received a request from a Canadian colleague’s students: could Alijani come to their class to teach, because they preferred him? Afterwards he was applauded. ‘That really felt like a reward. It gave me immense pleasure.’

His secret recipe for a good class: identify with the students. Every time he does something, he tries to put himself in his students’ shoes. ‘Imagine, it is Monday and they all went out this weekend and are therefore still tired. How can I make sure that I keep their attention during class and get them to participate enthusiastically?’

Common ground

To get their attention, he might use a slinky, for example, to show them that you can make it move in many different ways. Or he may treat his students to a video showing several metronomes that all start to move at different times. They tick away at a different tempo for a while, until at a certain point they all move in unison. ‘You could choose to explain this using fairly complex mathematical calculations. But that does not work so well if students have been partying the night before. You have to introduce it “smoothly”, explain it with the help of a video, for example. Students will understand the material much better that way, and they find it more interesting as well.’

He also looks for a subject with which the students have some common ground, such as a bicycle or a car. People at the PME department where Alijani works deal with extremely small nanoparticles, and it is tricky to kindle enthusiasm about this to students from different disciplines. ‘But everyone in the Netherlands has a bike, so that is a useful example for explaining the theory. And they can immediately test it in real life, on their own bikes.’

Involvement

Alijani did not have the good fortune of having a huge role model when it comes to teaching. When he was being taught, there were no professors who identified with their students as he does. ‘My teacher wrote all kinds of formulas on the blackboard in a hurry, and I had to do my utmost to take quick notes. But it did make me think: later on I am going to do that much differently. If you want students to properly understand a concept, then you have to be able to apply it to a problem in the real world and really involve them.’

He learns a great deal from his students as well. ‘I encourage them to ask me questions, because that, in turn, gets me thinking.’ For example, there was a student who came up with an idea for a running robot, something Alijani had absolutely no experience with himself. As a result, he had to think about the theory as well, together with his student. ‘It was great to see how involved he was. Not only does it increase the students’ knowledge, but mine too.’ The robot is not running yet, it is still crawling, Alijani laughs. ‘But it will run in the future, I am sure of that!’

/* */