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Michael Axelsson Receives Pedagogical Award


Michael Axelsson, professor at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, has been awarded the Faculty of Science’s 2017 Pedagogical Award.

Michael Axelsson

He was awarded the prize for his long-standing efforts as a pioneer, trendsetter and driving force for IT-based teaching in biology at the University of Gothenburg

You have worked with educational development for a long time. How do you view your educational efforts?
“I’ve been interested in information technology and its role in education ever since I began at the university. Over the years, however, I have become increasingly critical, and I think that a new technology needs to be carefully studied to see how it adds value for teachers and students. But it is not always easy to predict or discover the effects of different types of IT-based educational tools. A number of years ago, I had the privilege of leading the Swedish part of a Wallenberg Global Learning Network project called BioHOPE. We were a bunch of Swedish researchers who worked with researchers at Stanford trying to find out how the interactive teaching materials we developed worked in student groups. It was very exciting and instructive. Things we thought would be simple proved difficult to understand for the students and vice versa. Technology is developing very quickly, and I believe that there is often no scientific basis for the introduction of new technologies. Some of the things I initiated in teaching over the years may well be questioned today, but at the time, they sounded good.

What are you working on right now in terms of educational development?
“I’m working on a few different projects, but at the moment I’m focused on research at Palmer Station in Antarctica. One of the projects I am working with is the department’s Active Learning Classroom or ALC room. The first version of the room was ready at the beginning of the 2016 autumn semester. During the autumn, some modifications were made based on our experience from using the room. I have set up a wiki where I put up information about ALC pedagogy, and I have invited others who also work with this so that we can share experiences with each other within the university. During the autumn, I have had a number of meetings with the department’s teachers to explain the technical features of the room and we have also discussed ALC pedagogy. I also have responsibility for the installation of a recording room in the Zoology Building, which is part of the PIL unit’s INU project. The recording room will allow us to record and edit lectures and other teaching materials a bit more professionally. Among other things, we will be able to use the material for ALC teaching. Something I’m looking forward to is using the Lightboard, an exciting technology that makes it possible to use the ‘board’ without having to turn your back to the audience when drawing, writing and at the same time explaining things.

A somewhat different project I’m currently involved in is a visualisation project within the framework of the microsurgery training, which I coordinate. The question here is whether you can use VR technology to recreate a three-dimensional image from an operating microscope. This would solve some ergonomic problems in clinical work but also make it possible to use operating microscopes/stereo microscopes when you are unable to look through the eyepiece, for example when you need to use a fume cupboard. It would also be useful for educational purposes. The technology has already been tested for regular surgery but we do not know if it works for microsurgery. Linked to this is a smaller project to study how the relatively new USB microscopes now available on the market can be used in education from preschool up to university level. Why do smaller children have trouble looking into a regular stereo microscope and can a USB microscope be a solution? They are cheaper than regular microscopes and can be connected to tablets or phones, which means that you can bring the USB microscope when doing field work. In the exhibition “Mikro skåpet”, which I developed together with Gunnar Sporrong at AstroSweden for the Science Festival’s school programme last year, we used both a regular stereo microscope and a USB microscope. It became clear that at least the younger ages would rather use the USB microscope and thought it was more fun than the traditional stereo microscope.

How does it feel to be appointed laureate of the Faculty’s 2017 Pedagogical Award?
“I’m very honoured but I also see it as a challenge. There is so much to do – technology is constantly opening up new opportunities and developments come fast. But again, technology itself does not solve all problems. There must be an educational added value and an idea behind the use of new technology. It is a challenge in itself to try to find out how new technologies affect the learning process.

Motivation for the award:

Michael Axelsson was awarded the Faculty of Science’s Pedagogical Award for his long-standing efforts as a pioneer, trendsetter and driving force for IT-based teaching in biology at the University of Gothenburg.

Since 1998, Michael has developed his own, the entire department’s and later the faculty’s and university’s understanding of IT-based education. Michael uses a wide-ranging of interactive IT-based teaching and, early on, he began using recorded material in his instruction. Michael has also built up an ALC room at the department and is pushing to spread its use with colleagues.

The Faculty of Science’s Pedagogical Award is awarded annually to focus attention on good efforts within education. The award, which consists of a SEK 100,000 operational contribution, will be awarded on Faculty Day on 15 November.