Finalist of the category: Outstanding academic
„It's not my job to teach maths, but to teach maths to students.“
A university professor should actively carry out scientific research as they guide students on the path of knowledge. For this reason, they should know this path well, with all its specifications, pitfalls, rules and allure. These are the thoughts of the head of the Department of Applied Mathematics at the Faculty of Mining, Ecology, Management and Geotechnology of the Technical University in Košice, doc. RNDr. Jana Pocsova, PhD.
As part of her scientific research she focuses on two different areas, the common denominator of which is mathematics. One is related to theoretical issues related to what is called data mining and its practical use in the analysis and processing of the so-called big data. The second area is research in the field of university didactics, in which she focuses on ways and possibilities of introducing modern methods into teaching at the university.
According to her, the university professor has to constantly improve in looking at the world through the lens of science. Otherwise, teaching at a university could only slip into a formal presentation of already familiar relationships and patterns without context, need and continuity, which she perceives as insufficient for the academic environment.
"As a professor, I assume that it is not my job to teach mathematics, but to teach mathematics to students. The most difficult thing for me is to reverse students' negative attitude towards mathematics, which in many cases is deeply rooted. It is a consequence of their previous experience with learning mathematics, which has a negative effect on their further relationship with this subject. Therefore, I am always very happy if we manage to improve this relationship and a student leaves with a more positive relationship to mathematics and with the feeling that they were able to overcome the seemingly unbreakable constraint, "explains Jana Pócsová.
Students do not come to technical universities to study mathematics as such. However, mathematics is an integral part of their studies and in many cases their further professional development. It plays the role of a common universal language for other professional subjects, so according to Jana Pócsová, it is crucial that students know how to communicate properly in this language and use it in solving engineering problems. She considers it important that students acquire the right skills in formulating their ideas by asking questions and finding answers to these questions using mathematics.
"Projects in which students combine mathematical methods, software tools and presentation technologies have proved particularly useful. At modern universities, all subjects should be taught in a progressive way, which inextricably includes the adequate use of information technology and advanced teaching methods, such as flipped learning, active learning and the like, which respect the specifications, needs and, last but not least, expectations of the current generation of students.\’\’ Jana Pócsová points out.
Most students do not have a well-established system of mathematical knowledge and skills. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed with an unchanged number of teaching hours. In addition, the predicament in which university education has found itself due to the coronavirus pandemic increases the need to modernize teaching and the use of information and communication technologies. The introduction of new didactic methods is a reaction to this situation. On the one hand, there is the current generation of students accustomed to using modern technical tools quickly and efficiently, and on the other hand, there is a significant lack of properly prepared electronic teaching materials to ensure distance learning and student assessment. The active learning method involves students in the teaching process using their sense of modern technology, team communication, competitiveness with an emphasis on results that can be used in real life. As Jana Pócsová adds, all the developed materials and methodologies they have developed are freely available and can be used by any technical university.
"For me, science is a tool for discovering the world and its laws. It allows me to ask questions accurately and work on other questions while looking for answers. I like the inexhaustibility of science, its infinity, "says Jana Pócsová. She got into scientific research like many before her, during her studies, slowly, gradually, from her elementary school. "When I go back to my school days in my thoughts, mathematics fascinated me the most with its inner logic and the beauty of its structure, entertained me with geometric shapes, riddles, fulfilled me with the strength of its constructions and excited me with the opportunity to work out the only correct solution in various ways."