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‘Most students are convinced that statistics is not for them. I am here to convince them otherwise’

'Frans Rodenburg is an excellent teacher who is able to convey difficult information,' say his students. In his statistics classes, he wants to make students enthusiastic for his beloved subject. 'Most students are convinced that statistics is not for them. I am here to convince them otherwise.' Rodenburg has been nominated for the faculty award for Teacher of the Year.

What does this nomination mean to you?

‘To me this nomination means all the overtime, all the evenings and weekends spent refining course material were worth it. Teaching was always more than a job to me. I don’t know why, but I am just really passionate about explaining statistics. I want to take away others’ fear and doubts about mathematics and programming.’

What makes teaching fun to you?

‘Most people are convinced statistics is not for them. I am here to convince them otherwise. Occasionally succeeding is immensely satisfying. With all the challenges the world faces, we desperately need you. Don’t let your fear of math deprive us of your valuable potential!’


Van Rodenburg used to teach many different subjects. He recently decided to narrow it down to only statistical courses. ‘This is my passion, and if it makes me happy, the course probably also benefits. I teach programming, statistics, machine learning, study design and data visualisation.’

Can you give an example of a special teaching moment?

‘Occasionally students really don’t enjoy statistics, sometimes even to the point of tears. When those same students keep returning with more questions every day of the course, slowly growing more confident and eventually end up passing the exam on the first try, that makes me feel very accomplished and proud. My courses are not easy, that would be a disservice to you. But I will try as best I can to help you understand.

A more specific moment I enjoyed was when we went to a programming challenge named The Capture the Flag Solutions. The team kept reassuring me they were "not doing it to win, they just wanted to learn from it." And they won. So, I guess they succeeded in learning from it!’

How do you get the best out of all students?

‘Make it abundantly clear that there is no "basic question." Students are learning in one course what has been discovered over many decades, or even centuries. It’s perfectly normal if students don’t get it right away. Neither did we teachers, when we were students.

And encouraging students to show up. If you ask me something in person, I don’t just notice the question, but also the way a student tries to put it to words. That tells me a lot more about the student’s understanding of the subject matter than a question alone. I need this information to gauge the level of understanding and give an appropriate answer. One that not just answers the question, but hopefully leaves you walking away understanding the whole course a bit better.’

What makes a good teacher? Do you have you a tip for all teachers?

‘A good teacher is anyone passionate about the subject they teach. I have taken courses myself which I found very difficult, but the enthusiasm of the teacher is always contagious. And I dont want to settle for ‘good’. I think there is always room for improvement. I don’t think that requires a change in character, just way more time to develop explanatory figures, animations or videos. Students don’t spend hours staring at a book anymore.

The attention span of the next generations is the greatest challenge we’re facing as teachers. Breaking up your lectures into parts where you talk and parts where you need input from your students is something I find helpful. The best advice I have received was from Daan Romein from the ICLON: When you ask a question to the audience, they tend to be quiet and hope someone else answers. If instead you tell them to take a minute or two and talk to each other, they now magically want to answer your question.’

Jury process

Our students play a key role in this election: student members of the educational committees nominate their favourite teacher. The chairs of our study associations and the assessor from the Faculty Board form the jury and decide who will be awarded the Faculty Award for Teaching.

All facultary prizes will be will be awarded at the Leiden Science New Year's reception on 9 January. 

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