Dr Chris Tisdell is a lecturer from the UNSW School of Mathematics and Statistics (and a respected DJ with an enviable career). He is embracing social media by using YouTube to deliver lectures to his students. Since being approached by YouTube to become an official ‘Partner in Education’, Dr Tisdell has used UNSW’s YouTube channel to broadcast maths lectures across the globe.
A recent survey of engineering maths students revealed that 92% of students who watched the videos thought they were a valuable learning resource. Incredible results from a novel approach – I spoke with Chris to find out more.
Chris, you started the YouTube channel about a year ago – how did you first identify this as an opportunity to deliver lectures?
I first became aware of a colleague, Associate Professor Norman Wildberger, who was using YouTube to share his general knowledge of trigonometry. My idea was to record my live lectures and tutorials, using YouTube to freely share a complete collection of video learning resources for students taking mathematics courses here at UNSW.
Was UNSW understanding of your foray into social media? What was the initial reaction when you suggested the idea?
UNSW is one of the leading universities in this kind of technology and thus have been extremely supportive of my initiatives. For example, UNSW was the first Australian university to join the YouTube EDU movement, where universities share their video lectures with the world . In addition, UNSWTV was created two years ago and is UNSW’s in-house video-sharing initiative .
You teach mathematics to students across a variety of disciplines (industrial design, engineering, environmental engineering, life sciences and biology). How has YouTube as a delivery channel improved your connection with your students?
The YouTube environment has fostered really interesting connections with my students. For example, I can interact with students who post comments related to my videos, and I can view their YouTube webpages and learn a little bit about them and their interests. Comments on YouTube can be virtually anonymous and so viewers do not hesitate to provide instant feedback on my learning materials.
Have you had feedback from students regarding your You Tube lectures? Overall have the virtual lectures been successful?
Students have been very encouraging of my YouTube initiative, both here at UNSW and also around the world. Recent surveys from a large second-year engineering mathematics subject reveal that 70% of students viewed at least one of my videos and 92% of those student viewers believe that the videos are a valuable learning resource. Encouraging comments from around the globe are posted on my YouTube webpage almost every day.
Fellow staff are also beginning to record their lectures and post them on YouTube. Next year we plan to compare the assessment scores of students who have viewed the online videos with those who have not. This could measure how successful the videos are as a learning resource.
How do you prepare for a virtual lecture? What is the process of creating the topic and producing the video?
When I first started recording live lectures, I used to ‘storyboard’ everything in advance, although I do not do this anymore as I am a bit more experienced now. I present the lecture to a live audience and an ELMO P30S document camera records the material as a video file. Sometimes I have a second camera in the lecture that records me as I move around (usually operated by one of my PhD students). The recorded files are then edited and uploaded to YouTube as soon as possible after the lecture.
I read that you like mathematics because you have a ‘drive to deduce things with precision and exactness’. Do you like DJing for the same reason? In which way do the two complement each other?
I have seen quite a few connections between DJing and lecturing and some of the skills required in each. In both domains you are in front of large crowds, you are the centre of attention and you need to keep people engaged and entertained. In both environments you need to be able to read the audience, predicting their behaviour and thoughts.
You performed DJ sets with many big names like Fatboy Slim, Roger Sanchez, Robert Miles and Pete Heller to name a few. Do they understand (or share) your passion for mathematics?
I was proud to learn that UK producer James Holden has a degree in mathematics from Oxford!
Was there a single defining moment that propelled you into a mathematics career or did you always know this direction was for you?
I knew that I wanted to learn more mathematics when I was in Year 10 at high school and this strongly developed over years 11 and 12. I also felt I had a natural ability for helping people to understand things and so lecturing seemed to be a natural avenue for me. I also come from a long line of family academics and so this probably had an influence on me from a young age.
Has there been a key influence in your math career, someone who nurtured your passion for the subject and who mentored you and encouraged your growth?
My parents always encouraged me to pursue my interests and this has been invaluable. There is a growing group of colleagues here at UNSW who are using YouTube to share their lectures and we all encourage each other!
What would you say to someone who is considering mathematics a career? Do you wish to share any advice?
Mathematics is used in many interesting fields and a career as a mathematician is extremely rewarding, challenging and satisfying. In fact, the career of mathematician is almost always in the top 10 careers each year, as rated by Jobs Almanac. There is a wonderful freedom and creativity in studying and teaching mathematics. My advice is to study as much mathematics as you can at school.
Watch one of Chris’ lessons here:
Or head to his YouTube channel here: