“Our job is to inspire people to do good things when they move on in their future career”

 

“Our job is to inspire people to do good things when they move on in their future career”

During the TU Delft Education on 4 November Tom Burdyny, lecturer at the faculty of Applied Sciences, was awarded as Best Lecturer of TU Delft 2021. What makes him so appreciated by his students? Let’s dive further into getting to know Tom!
Everything Tom does as an individual has an origin and this reflects beautifully in his intentionally created teaching environment. Having a conversation with him, you can feel his love for empowering people to understand, engaging people to learn, and for aligning varying perspectives to merge the realities of different people. These characteristics and his remarkably reflective nature make him a unique and highly appreciated lecturer.

Making his impact on society as a lecturer

“From my own experience I’ve seen how a lecturer can amplify or spark someone’s love for a particular subject. I’m then conscious that how I teach a class may then influence how my students interact with that subject matter for the rest of their lives. That’s why it is really motivating for me to do what I think is a good job and to have people make a positive association with the course material.” According to Tom, lecturers play an important role in the lives of students as well as the future of society. Tom exquisitely elaborates: “Our job, as lecturers and professors, is to inspire students to do good things when they move on in their future career. I believe that I am doing positive things through my research group, but I am conscious that through teaching I also have the opportunity to convince 200 people to care about a topic. These 200 people will have much more impact than I would by doing it alone. So if I can spark the interest of 1000 people over time to pursue careers related to renewable energy and sustainability, then that has a pretty big impact.”

The person behind the lecturer

Unexpectedly, Tom mentions he feels he is an introvert and elaborates on the impact lecturing has on him. “When I am in a classroom setting, I feel like I am putting myself into an extroverted mode in order to engage with the class and best communicate the course material. I’m not particularly comfortable in this state, but I feel it gives me and the students energy and it creates a positive and memorable learning environment. Seeing that positive end result helps me to get motivated to stand in front of the class. After a day of lecturing though I can feel the emotional toll of this and I generally need to follow it up with a quieter solo activity.”

Tom is a highly reflective person and he’s been experimenting with teaching since he was 12 years old by starting peer tutoring at school. During his masters studies, he won the ‘Best Teaching Assistant Award’ through experimentation, analysis, and keen observation of how students responded to different teaching styles. “I learned to love teaching. During my masters, my co-TA and I started experimenting with tutorials to investigate what makes students actually come to these tutorials. By applying what we had learned, the attendance spiked from 20% to 80%. I have always been very reflective on why some people have trouble explaining concepts to other people, while some people do so effortlessly. When I see that there is a miscommunication between people even though they are talking about the same thing, I often analyse how and why that happened.” He brings these lessons-learned and qualities to his teaching practices.

Lecturers generally have more responsibilities than just teaching. Lecturing is often a small part of their jobs. "I love teaching, I love being in a classroom, I love thinking about a course, I love interacting with my students, but I also love my research which is the largest part of my time. So, when I’m teaching I fully pour myself into the course and the students. If my available time runs out, I then point students to the TA’s or to the material.”

Teaching philosophies

There are several teaching philosophies Tom lives by. Some of these principles he “stole” from his own educational heroes and he is happy to implement today in his own teaching.

“First of all, every student learns differently. When you are teaching someone something or sharing knowledge, that knowledge has to fit within the other person’s existing view of the world. And everyone views the world a little differently.” Tom does this by presenting the exact same concept in three to four different ways. Moreover, he maintains clear handwriting so students don’t spend time to try and interpret his handwriting and pay attention to what the concept is.

Secondly, drawing from his own experience, Tom shares: “I remember there were a lot of courses in my bachelors where it wasn’t until after the midterm that I actually understood what the course was about.  So, I always try to start every course with an extremely clear course structure and show how every lecture kind of links to the learning objectives and to the main concept we’re talking about.”

Finally, Tom spends energy and effort to create a healthy and engaging learning environment for his students. As an introvert, he falls back to his own experiences as a student. “If you have a classroom that’s engaging and where people are comfortable saying things, then they will also say, either in class or after class, ‘I don’t get this’. If you don’t have an environment where students feel comfortable saying that, then they’ll never tell you. Most of the time it is a pretty simple clarification.” Additionally, by creating an environment where students are in a position they ‘don’t lose’ face or feel bad when they make mistakes, he offers a safe and healthy work environment where students can gain confidence in their abilities and stay engaged.

Final words

“I feel good when people are learning and are doing well,” Tom Burdyny declares with a warm smile when asked about why he wants to do a good job as a lecturer. “Taking the time to contemplate what students might need and offering that to them takes a certain amount of energy and effort, so you have to want to be a good lecturer and you have to want to do a good job.”

He has been experimenting in teaching settings most of his life and suggests to just try something experimental in teaching, try something new, something you have never done before, and see how students react. He continues: “If it fails you can adapt and move forward. Don’t be afraid to try something new. I might try a flipped classroom week. Maybe more important is to have fun and having a good time while doing it. Try and keep things fresh and engaging for yourself as well! The students respond to that energy with their own.”

Tom Burdyny is a lecturer who dares to be vulnerable and is highly motivated to be the lecturer his students need in order to offer a valuable learning experience and make an impact on society by educating empathetic and confident engineers who want to do good in the world!

 

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