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WATE 2016 commendee: Elke Thönnes (Statistics)

Elke ThönnesHighly commended in WATE 2016, Elke is looking forward to more student contributions to her teaching, and to further opportunities for professional development.

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

Teaching always came naturally to me. I started in my early teens helping my dyslexic younger brother and have been teaching in some form or other ever since.

What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?

Alan Schoenfeld’s paper Learning to think mathematically: Problem solving, metacognition, and sense making in mathematics has been influential for my teaching and for the teaching training that I deliver to our PhD students. It is easy to get carried away in the beauty of mathematics, but when teaching it we need to remember and ensure to communicate the process of mathematical thinking that established practitioners will have internalised. The paper also highlights the need to teach students how to monitor their own thinking and learning.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Not everything has to be perfect. Minor mistakes can be great learning opportunities.

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?

Aside from asking them to read Schoenfeld’s paper, I would say:

  • consider the students’ perspective;
  • preparation is key;
  • relax and have fun.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

With experience comes the freedom to be a little more experimental! Try something new every time you teach a module.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

I have been using Moodle for a few years now. It is quite a complex and not always intuitive system, but it does give students a 'digital home'.

What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?

This year I had a couple of first year students helping me to produce some screencasts as part of a WIHEA funded Digichamps project. I am looking forward to more opportunities for students to contribute in this manner.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

In a research intensive environment like ours, it is easy to forget that effective teaching takes considerable time and energy. But being recognized like this makes all the effort worthwhile.

For me teaching is a journey and there is always room for improvement, so the award provides welcome funds for further teaching-related professional development.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?

Observing a student’s journey at university and seeing them develop and succeed despite the various challenges along the way.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

External pressures and regulation. We deeply care about our teaching and so need to maintain the freedom and resources to continue to deliver excellent teaching.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

I always admire the resilience of our students, they are under so much more pressure than we were.

Also, nowadays students have an amazing openness and aptitude for technology. When I first started using technology to enhance my teaching I was worried that I would need to provide students with a lot of support on how to use it. But they usually manage to familiarize themselves with it very quickly and, in fact, teach me a thing or two.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

speech bubbles showing Elke's recipe

Deep subject knowledge, communication skills, empathy, patience, energy, courage, enthusiasm, openness, organisational skills, creativity and playfulness.


Know someone like Elke? Nominate them for a WATE award!