Donna Testerman, a professor at EPFL’s Institute of Mathematics, is this year’s recipient of the Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching

At 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings, in the quiet of the day, Testerman likes to occur and work on arithmetic problems. “You want a calm placing to do math, due to the fact you have to be very focused.” Being a proper mathematician, this professor, who teaches at EPFL’s School of Basic Sciences, is disciplined even even though she can every so often digress. “In class, I’ll every now and then go off-topic, due to the fact I can’t withstand a properly story.”


This is no longer stunning for anyone who desired to learn about literature, artwork records and theater, before her engineer father satisfied her to change to math. “He instructed me, ‘An training is expensive, you want to analyze some thing that you can do later on,’ and so I performed a Bachelor’s diploma in math and theater.” A double principal like this used to be feasible in Virginia, the place she grew up – after all, arithmetic is a kind of artwork form. “Sometimes I inform my students, ‘Look at this theorem, isn't always it beautiful? It deserves a spherical of applause.’”

Testerman, who research the idea of algebraic groups, has usually had a ardour for math; she loves exploring its intricacies and sharing her expertise with others. Although she claims that her educating technique – which includes simply a blackboard and a piece of chalk – is “very traditional,” her engagement with her college students is outstanding. This experience of involvement, alongside with the reality that she created a MOOC in linear algebra in 2015 and the nice of her instructing in general, have earned her this year’s Credit Suisse Award for Best Teaching.

To do mathematics

“You can instruct a route like a book, however that used to be in no way my style. Books don’t inform you how to arrive at an idea. The real cost of a path is the sharing of intuition.” Since 2004, Testerman has taught linear and Lie algebras to EPFL Bachelor’s and Master’s students, with the identical degree of enthusiasm that she has for assisting college students understand. Her trip and power made her the perfect character to plan a MOOC model of the linear algebra direction she teaches to future first-year engineers. But the on line course, which consists of some one hundred videos, every 10-15 minutes long, covers even greater ground. Available on the edX gaining knowledge of platform, it has already been taken by means of tens of heaps of college students from round the world. At EPFL, different professors additionally use it for their courses, which include Simone Deparis who teaches linear algebra the use of a flipped lecture room format. “Developing the route used to be painstaking and time-consuming,” says Testerman, “but I had the guide of a extraordinarily expert team.”

Sometimes I inform my students, ‘Look at this theorem, is not it beautiful? It deserves a spherical of applause.

Donna Testerman
Professor Testerman is no longer easy-going – her training are complicated and fast-paced. But she’s decided to supply her college students with the entirety they want to ignore the course. That’s why she holds workplace hours the place college students can drop in and ask questions. “During a one-on-one meeting, I can furnish examples that are tailor-made to their troubles and perceive areas the place I want to enhance my teaching.”

Testerman’s intention is to have college students resolve issues the usage of their personal person approach. For this reason, she offers her first-year college students assignments accompanied via certain solutions, however in later years she affords little or no assistance. "To apprehend mathematics, you have to do it; college students have to comply with their very own line of reasoning."

Testerman, who earned a PhD from the University of Oregon at the age of 25, is aware of what it ability to “wrestle with problems.” Physics used to be a massive undertaking for her at some stage in her studies, and her lookup now requires that she ask herself "a lot of questions.” “I apprehend what college students are going through, and I suppose that doing lookup alongside educating is valuable. Personally, if I don’t do it, I locate I get bored.”

A wonderful challenge

After leaving the US to be a part of her husband in Switzerland, Testerman used to be provided a role at the University of Warwick in England. “We lived in Geneva and had an au pair for our two children, then aged two and four. I would depart Tuesday morning at 5am and return Friday evening. I estimated that, factoring in time between semesters, I would be in a position to spend two-thirds of my time at home. I did it for two years, however it was once no longer a long-term solution.”

She stepped down from her function at the University of Warwick, and then spent 5 years instructing at HES-SO Valais-Wallis earlier than the possibility arose to be part of the University of Lausanne and EPFL when the School of Basic Sciences was once being set up. “Returning to lookup after 5 years used to be a excellent challenge.” This Alpine enthusiast, who enjoys a guided mountain run as soon as a year, took up the venture with gusto. And even though lookup ability a first-rate deal to her, education college students and searching after their well-being is of equal importance. “It’s integral to create an surroundings the place college students interact. I strive to take into account their first names, even in the giant courses, and I ask them for their birthdays. If it coincides with a type day, I provide them chocolate and we all sing Happy Birthday.” A quick wreck and a candy treat, and then it’s lower back to tackling new math problems.


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