Burak Özbağcı’s Teaching Experience at KU

I believe that lecturing in some way resembles being on stage or being in a TV show. This is why I try to make every class unique and engaging. I also look the students in the eye to figure out whether they follow the course or not. Upon decoding their behaviors, I sometimes slow my pace down and end up covering fewer topics than I intended. The most important thing is being apt to communicate with people who sit there in the class (and with the ones who sit there because they have to).

BURAK ÖZBAĞCI College of Sciences, Department of Mathematics Koç University Outstanding Teaching Award, 2013

Since 2002, I have taught 19 different courses in 54 sections at Koç University, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. I have lectured both in small classes with 8-10 students and large classes with 80-90 students. I wrote these in order to share my experiences.

THE FIRST WEEK

1) I place a lot of importance on the first lecture and I prepare well for it. I try to earn students’ respect and attract their attention when I first meet them. Students will definitely feel how eager and prepared I am to teach that course in the first lecture. The atmosphere I create in the first few lectures determines the tone of the course for the rest of the term.

2) At the beginning of each semester, before going to the first lecture, I check the student list. I memorize at least a couple of students’ names by looking at their pictures. With large classes, for the first few weeks I take the class list with pictures with me to the classroom and try to learn students’ names. Students become happy when they are called by their names.

3) I introduce myself in the first lecture and talk about my own education along with my experiences both in the USA and at Koç University. I tell my students that the courses taught at Koç University are at the same level as the courses taught in major universities in the USA, and emphasize that they will be receiving an education at an international level.

4) In the first lecture, I talk about the syllabus and how their performance will be graded in the course. I usually post a copy of the syllabus on the course website at the beginning of the semester and keep it there until the semester is over. I find it totally acceptable that the students care about their grades and ask questions about particular points on the syllabus.

PREPARATION TO THE CLASS

5) I always prepare before each class. This preparation phase can be 20-30 minutes for a Calculus course that I taught many times before or 1-2 hours for a course I will teach for the first time. I specify the most important sentence/theme/ theorem that I will be explaining in that lecture and spend some time thinking about how to best deliver the lecture centered on this one idea. I usually focus on only one idea per lecture because it is important for me to explain this idea to the students completely.

SOME HABITS

6) I always go to the classroom in a decent, clean, and simple outfit. Usually, I arrive in the classroom a few minutes early and chat with the students. I always take lecture notes for the topic I will be explaining with me, no matter how knowledgeable/comfortable I am with the topic.In Calculus courses, instead of solving random questions, I solve questions that I have solved before and whose solution I know well beforehand. I always carry colored markers with me to the classroom and I pay attention to writing in big, legible letters on the board.

7) I allow the students to stop me at any time they want during the lectures. I never find their questions silly and always give a sincere answer. While I am not writing on the board, I make sure I am facing the students. I use body language to indicate that I am open to questions. Usually, I give them a moment to take notes of what is written on the board before I proceed to write on the next board.

8) I contact my students every week at least once through an e-mail message. I let them know what I have covered in the lectures during the week. If I am going to begin to teach an important topic, I advise them to definitely attend the lecture. I announce the exam dates and the topics that are on the exam via e-mail.

9) I always reply to student e-mails.

10) Unless there is an emergency, I wait for students in my office during my office hours. If a student cannot visit me during my office hours, I allow him or her to come at another time by making an appointment. I let every student see his/her exam paper and explain his/her mistakes.

CLASS PARTICIPATION AND DIALOGUE

11) I put great emphasis on class participation and communication in the classroom. Sometimes I put the students in groups and ask them to solve some questions in order to encourage in-group discussion. I believe that giving students a chance to discuss course material is an effective way for knowledge to be transformed into long term memory. Sometimes I invite students to come to the front and write a solution of a problem on the board before asking others in the class what they think about that solution. I make sure that all students, not only the most successful, get the chance to step onto the stage and be a part of the class discussions.

WEBSITE

12) I prepare a website for every course that I teach. I upload the syllabus, office hours, and assignment questions (in addition to the questions that the TAs are going to solve during the PS) to the website and update all the needed information weekly. After each exam, I also make sure that the website has the exam questions and the detailed solutions to those questions. I ask a previous student from the course to write down the exam solution with Latex, this gives me an opportunity to get in touch with previous students too.

COMMUNICATION WITH ASSISTANTS

13) I ask my TAs to show me their solutions to the assigned HW problems before they present these solutions in PS. I talk with TAs every week to assess what parts of the course the students have difficulty with.  I occasionally attend PS sessions myself to observe the TAs and provide them with some advice about their performance. I make sure that each and every TA understands that their pass/fail grades at the end of the semester are based on their own performance.

ENJOYING LECTURING

14) I greatly enjoy lecturing on Mathematics. I believe that lecturing with enthusiasm and joy also helps students to feel motivated about the material. Even though I might have lectured about the same topic several times before, knowing that the students are going to hear or learn about that topic for the first time and realizing that I can directly contribute to students’ comprehension of the material gives me great satisfaction. Having students pass my course with good grades and knowing that I help them with their goal of getting their university degrees make me pleased.One of my aims as a Mathematics professor is to persuade uninterested students who perhaps do not like Mathematics or who are anxious about it into changing their views about the course by leading them into thinking that Mathematics is not difficult after all, and that one can excel in it with a little effort.I believe that lecturing in some way resembles being on stage. This is why I try to make every class unique and engaging. I also make eye-contact with the students to figure out whether they follow the lecture or not. Upon decoding their behaviors, I sometimes slow my pace down and end up covering fewer topics than I intended for a particular lecture. The most important thing is being apt to communicate with all the students in the classroom, regardless of the fact that some of them might be enjoying the lecture while others sit there because they have to.I believe the main issue is not only to have comprehensive content knowledge as a professor, but also to be able to simplify the content and make it engaging for the students.