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Regular version of the site

‘As Teachers, We're Enthusiasts of Our Subjects, and Want to Help’

International faculty members share their thoughts about teaching

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

Jean-Francois Mehdi, Nicola Kozicharow, and Mark Taylor talk about what is important for them in teaching, what challenges they have faced, particularly when teaching online, and what advice they can give students.

Jean-Francois Mehdi Jabir, Assistant Professor at the Department of Statistics and Data Analysis, Faculty of Economic Sciences

The most important part of my teaching is to introduce students to subjects valued by the academic, business, and industrial worlds. The particular themes of my teaching–namely, probability theory and stochastic analysis–stand at the crossroads of diverse disciplines. While pure and applied mathematics emerged as fundamental disciplines, the development of the fields of probability and stochastic analysis has often accompanied meaningful advances in economics, finance, physics, as well as computer science. Introducing students to these fields requires presenting abstract concepts and tools concurrently with their practical interests in the most accessible way possible.

I see teaching as a way to transmit knowledge acquired by years of studies and practices, and to encourage the emergence of new talents in generations of students who will use, widen and possibly share with others this knowledge in their future careers. 

While a lack of energy or lack of attention from the audience after hours of lectures are natural worries that may happen, hopefully on very rare occasions, my main concern while teaching a particular subject is to be able to reach the audience taking into account its different elements. Each student has a specific education background and a learning curve, and it often happens that using a specific explanation, a specific figure or just a particular example illuminates a topic previously obscure to some students while others will be more receptive to a different explanation.

Finding this delicate balance between producing a collective and individual understanding is the main concern when I approach a teaching.

After reflecting on the paths of former students–including myself–in diverse parts of the world, I would simply tell the students: ‘Learn a lot’. 

Nicola Kozicharow, Assistant Professor at the School of History, Faculty of Humanities. Best teacher 2020-2021

The most important thing for me is to create a learning environment that both supports and challenges students. This involves always maintaining an active dialogue with students and fostering their development as individual scholars. I hope that in expanding their intellectual horizons they can enter the next stage of their lives with confidence in their abilities and a sense of drive and ambition, no matter what career path they choose. I hope to instill the significance of studying cultures of the past in a way that stays with them beyond HSE.

It’s crucial for me that students experience how history (and art history in particular) can open up unexpected areas of knowledge and new ideas, challenge assumptions, and offer avenues to enliven and expand how they see the world.   

What I find challenging is a lack of communication. This inevitably happens while teaching online when WiFi connections are poor and being able to ‘read the room’ is difficult. But I think the best thing to do is to meet this issue head-on by being prepared and allowing for different kinds of dialogue (chat, surveys, break-out rooms, etc.). 

As for advice I could give, I would say to take advantage of the university experience, which flies by so quickly.

Having the freedom to exercise their curiosity, ask critical questions, develop new skills, take intellectual risks, and learn from their teachers, who are experts in their fields, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

For our history of art students, the delight of having a museum as our classroom is also something I would want them to savour and appreciate.

Mark Taylor, Assistant Professor at the School of Philological Studies, :Faculty of Humanities

I would say, whatever the goals of a course, I want my lessons to be engaging. The best state of mind for learning comes along with a lecture or seminar being entertaining. I believe that the most valuable thing I can do as a teacher is to equip students with the critical and analytical tools I've developed. It's important to provide an informed perspective, but even more important to pass on how I came to that perspective.

I want to facilitate students' own explorations, rather than setting myself up as someone they must depend on for information.

When I start to worry about things going wrong in the classroom, I try to put myself in the place of the students. If something happens which is beyond the teacher's control - like, say, a power cut - any student will understand the situation needs figuring out, and won't mind the teacher taking a few moments to adapt.

The main thing, as a teacher, is to have made all reasonable preparations before a class, like double-checking your notes are in order, double-checking that your Powerpoint works, and so on. It's quite reasonable, I think, for students to be less patient if the problem is something the teacher could have avoided’.

I would advise students to be proactive in conveying their needs to the teacher.

When you express your needs, your teacher can do more to meet them. If you found something hard to follow, or if there was a point you hoped would be covered which was not addressed, then ask question your teacher about it - or maybe write to them after class. As teachers, we're enthusiasts of our subjects, and want to help.

December 02, 2021