Press pause to make sure you understand

Online lectures in the Department of Mathematics

2020/04/21 by

Professor Robert Haller-Dintelmann is giving his lectures on “Higher Mathematics II” completely online for the first time. Recording lectures at home in his office was not a practical solution for him because, more than in almost any other field of study, the blackboard plays such an important role in mathematics. The professor at TU Darmstadt is thus currently giving his lectures for the summer semester in front of a camera to an empty lecture theatre.

It is certainly a little strange to stand in front of an empty auditorium and look out onto the empty rows of seats instead of into the faces of his students. Professor Robert Haller-Dintelmann has often recorded his lectures live in previous semesters but never in a situation like this one. One effect of giving a lecture without an audience: “I had already finished ten minutes earlier than normal, presumably because I hadn’t been asked any questions”, he says and laughs. Under normal circumstances, he can see from the reaction of his audience whether he needs to explain a mathematical approach again or maybe in a slightly different way. He is now missing this type of feedback – and also the students. “I will, however, try to start holding regular online consultation sessions”, promises the mathematician. “Questions are important and valuable, both for me and also the students.”

Prof. Dr. Robert Haller-Dintelmann
Prof. Dr. Robert Haller-Dintelmann


The lecture by Professor Robert Haller-Dintelmann is available online on the OpenLearnWare platform.

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Professor Haller-Dintelmann had already gained some experience of recording lectures in the past when the arrival of the first G8 dual age groups resulted in overcrowded lecture theatres. Posting the lecture on the web for students to listen to again “was a stopgap solution back then but also very useful”, he says. Everyone is able to listen to the material again at their own tempo based on their own level of understanding and work through it once more. “The best and most valuable thing about a recording is the ability to press pause”, says the professor. You can pause, rewind and listen again at any time. Or you can quickly run through the lectures to gain an overview when preparing for a written examination. “It has been well received by students and I have heard a lot of positive feedback”, says Haller-Dintelmann.

In the summer semester, his lectures on “Higher Mathematics II” are being taken by around 50 students who are, for example, studying for a bachelor degree in applied geosciences or computer science in sport or are prospective vocational college teachers in the field of metals technology. They are compulsory lectures for students that “require mathematics for their degree but only a small amount”, explains the professor. “Nevertheless, the lectures are not easy”, he emphasises. He believes that the ability to write out mathematical formulae and solutions on the blackboard is an essential part of transferring knowledge. “The blackboard is a fantastic tool for presenting mathematics.” And it is also the most important reason for why he is now holding his lectures in an empty lecture theatre, while a student assistant from the Center for Educational Development and Technology (HDA) at the university records everything live. A tablet does not provide enough space. “I can’t fit much content on one page of a tablet. And you don’t have to scroll up and down on the blackboard because everything can be seen at one glance and the information stays on the blackboard for a number of minutes.”

“It has been well received by students and I have heard a lot of positive feedback.”

In order to maintain contact with his students, the professor will regularly offer online consultation sessions after his lectures. “After discussing the best format with students, this will probably be via Skype or Zoom”, he says. He believes that it would simply be “too laborious” to receive questions and feedback in writing. He aims to use the “Moodle” learning platform at TU Darmstadt to collect feedback and identify the subjects that his students want to discuss in advance with the aid of a voting tool. The consultation session itself should allow as many of the 50 students as possible to participate at the same time – in the form of a video conference such as via Zoom.

The mathematics professor is more conservative in one area: electronic written examinations. He will hold oral examinations online but is sceptical about written examinations. Multiple choice is not really an option in mathematics. “The method used to find the solution is often more important to us than the result.”