Photo: Trine Berg, Berg Film

Passionate lecturer with an eye for the individual

Health technology
Bastian Epp is passionate about eliciting that special look a student gets when they understand the nature of something complex. And he’ll go to great lengths to achieve that. That is why he has been named Lecturer of the Year 2021.

For Bastian Epp, teaching is basically about sparking the inner motivation of the individual student.

“The goal is to open the channel through which they soak up knowledge unconsciously, like a child concentrating on stacking bricks. Once that motivation is activated, the only way is forward. The mechanism is the same whether you study or do research,” he says.

To that end, he always strives to avoid the traditional ‘teaching’ approach where he tells the students how things work. He would much rather ask questions to help them reach the right conclusion on their own. He compares it to holding his daughter’s hand when she was learning to walk.

This could sound like an impossible task on the bachelor course on signals and linear systems, as there are always at least 50 international participants from different study programmes and with very different backgrounds, both professionally and personally.  And this year, the course even had to be taught online. But Bastian Epp has the will and the ability to help every single student, and that has led to a virtually non-existent drop-out rate for his course.

In Polyteknisk Forening’s (PF student association) motivation for granting him the Lecturer of the Year 2021 award, it says: “Bastian sets aside time on the course to enter into close dialogue with everyone, which has resulted in students feeling both seen and heard as well as included in the teaching itself.”

Online teaching has its advantages

In Bastian Epp’s opinion, two-hour lectures are not feasible when the students are not physically present, but instead are forced to attend from their dorm rooms where they spend most of their time being frustrated and lonely. That is also why his principle of turning teaching on its head and going through the theory on video has made even more sense this year.

He has made three or four ten-minute videos for each lesson with specific questions for the students to reflect on in advance. Then, when they meet online for the lesson itself, he spends a few minutes talking to them about everyday stuff. The next half hour is spent contextualizing the videos before dividing the participants into eight-person teams that he will ‘visit’ one at a time as they continue working on their own.

And this is where the online format becomes an advantage—in these smaller groups, the students are more likely to speak up if there’s something they do not understand, and Bastian is able to discern what’s at stake for the individual students.

“It’s a great help to actually see the students’ names on the screen, and I always ask them to turn on their camera. It feels a bit more intimate, a bit more like meeting in person, and if I notice that a student isn’t doing great, I can talk directly to him or her and ask about any issues. That way I get the opportunity to attend to each individual. And that, in turn, facilitates more learning,” Bastian says.

Signal processing and human insight

Bastian Epp is a physicist and works with signal processing. He tries to understand and describe our auditory sense in mathematical and physics terms—i.e., how the mechanics in the ear in collaboration with the brain manage to translate sound waves into something understandable. He joined DTU in 2011 and has been running the course ‘Signals and linear systems in discreet time’ since 2012.

“As a researcher, my best experiences usually follow when I understand something fully—when the penny drops and I get how everything is connected.  That’s exactly what I love to see in my students. I get goosebumps just talking about it. You feel enthusiastic and even grateful when they say: ‘Yes, I understand this—I didn’t just learn it, I also learned to understand it’. That’s what gives me energy,” he explains.

And that energy is clearly getting through to the students. For example, one of them wrote in his recommendation:

“Of the different lecturers I’ve had during the epidemic, Bastian is the one who has handled the situation best. His dedication to making sure no one is left behind is absolutely fantastic, and despite the fact that we were about 60 course participants in total, he remembered the individual students from one lesson to the next. The only bad thing I can say is that I haven’t met him in real life.” 

Bastian is of course pleased to hear that, but he would like to add that the students are the ones who should be commended for their effort during this difficult time.

“They deserve recognition for their impressive ability to constantly adapt.”