National teaching prize for DTU researcher

The students do quizzes and produce drawings about energy conversion as part of Luise Theil Kuhn’s classes, which are always varied, flexible, challenging, and engaging.

“If they can draw it, they’ve got it.” This is one of Luise Theil Kuhn’s maxims when teaching her students at DTU. She is an associate professor, PhD, head of studies, and head of section at DTU Energy.

And now she is also one of the seven recipients of a new DKK 500,000 prize for teaching—Undervisingsprisen. It will be presented by the Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen on 30 September at an event attended by HRH Crown Princess Mary.

“I think it’s wonderful that good teaching receives some of the spotlight in the same way as good research—it has a huge impact on society that we educate good engineers. And my most important product is in fact each year educating 150 bright engineers,” says Luise Theil Kuhn.

She feels proud and happy to be receiving the teaching prize—and it makes her feel even more motivated to pursue new approaches to teaching.

Marble runs and energy conversion

Luise Theil Kuhn strives to make her teaching varied, flexible, challenging, and engaging. She admits that she is not a huge fan of lectures. Rather, it’s the interaction with the students that she feels is important.

She teaches physics on an introductory course for students on the General Engineering programme, and she also teaches students on a small, specialist course on the BSc programme which is directly related to her own subject area: material characterization within energy conversion and energy storage.

Although the two courses are very different, Luise Theil Kuhn applies the same principles in her teaching. When she teaches energy and energy conservation, she performs, for example, demo experiments with different-shaped marble runs. She then talks to the students about how the movement of the marble along the run ties in with how energy is preserved along the way. The students often expect the marbles to behave differently, and it is a good way of kick-starting a discussion about how to apply the concept of energy conservation, and how to understand it.

“The starting point for the discussion is the whole energy problem with global energy consumption and different energy resources. We also talk about fossil energy resources versus sustainable energy resources, and how we need to be able to store solar energy, for example, so that we can use it when the sun isn’t shining,” says Luise Theil Kuhn.

She always tries to put her teaching in a modern context and to make it relevant. Not least because many of the students will be working with promoting the green transition once they graduate.

OK to get answers wrong

Another approach involves asking students to draw. Often they are not used to sitting with a pencil and paper, as they usually program in front of a computer. However, Luise Theil Kuhn likes keeping things simple and illustrative. According to her, it is only once you understand the concepts that you can start talking about which models are needed to solve the problem.

She also includes quizzes in her teaching. These can take the form of multiple choice questions. Or illustrated questions, where you need to say which drawing represents the right model.

“The students are free to answer incorrectly. Often, it’s the wrong answers which are the most interesting. They provide a springboard to discussing what has been misunderstood. Or there may be more than one correct answer. Then it’s interesting to discuss how the different answers are right, each in their respective ways.”

Respect for the students

On the whole, Luise Theil Kuhn has a lot of respect for her students. She listens and spends time providing feedback and answering questions. Often, it is the students’ questions that can take the teaching to a new level. This also means that she is quite flexible, and that she refrains from planning her classes down to the last detail:

“The students need to feel that they can safely ask stupid questions. I wasn’t born into an academic family, and I’ve used my teachers a great deal because there was no one else for me to turn to with my questions. They probably thought I was extremely irritating. But I want to be available for all the students who also have nowhere else to go with their questions.”

In addition to teaching, Luise Theil Kuhn is the driving force behind several new initiatives such as the Bachelor programme General Engineering, and she has also introduced a scheme at DTU Energy where teachers provide peer-to-peer feedback to each other.

“The Undervisningsprisen is a fantastic recognition of Luise Theil Kuhn and the impressive work she does for her students and DTU. In addition to being an outstanding teacher, she has been the anchorperson at developing our BSc programme General Engineering, which in the space of only a few years has become one of DTU’s most successful programmes. We can be incredibly proud of her. Luise is one of many dedicated teachers at DTU who are helping us to realize our strategic goal of offering Europe’s best engineering degree programmes.”

Philip Binning, Dean of Graduate Studies and International Affairs

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