Lecturer in the Spotlight: Leo Dorst

'My best lectures may well be when I can show how to recover after making a mistake.'

26 May 2016

Leo Dorst teaches a first-year linear algebra course for the Bachelor's programmes in Artificial Intelligence and Computing Science, as well as a second-year image processing course for the Bachelor's in Artificial Intelligence. He also teaches robotics and the mathematics of machine learning for the Master's in Artificial Intelligence.

Leo Dorst's courses relate mainly to the mathematical elements of artificial intelligence, which can be a bit difficult for students to grasp. 'With this type of mathematics, which includes linear algebra, you create the necessary bridge to precisely describe to the computer what you already know intuitively. At times, this can catch students somewhat by surprise, but I try to convince them that it is useful, and that it improves their programming.'

Natural-born storyteller

Being a natural-born storyteller helps. 'I'm a third-generation teacher. My grandmother, mother, father and brother – all teachers... In my family, it’s very normal to explain things to each other.' Dorst feels energised when explaining an interesting topic in an inspiring way. 'In the Teacher’s Qualification programme, they tell you that students should be more worn out than the lecturer... I’ve got no problem there!'

Not all mathematics teachers would agree, but Dorst finds regular opportunities to joke about linear algebra. 'I enjoy teaching it and once I get talking, I can't help but crack the occasional joke along the way. It's also a great way to hold students’ attention.'


Self-confidence of a professional

As is customary in mathematics courses, Dorst uses the blackboard. And although he gets himself quite dirty ('I am usually covered in chalk'), he mostly sees the benefits: 'The board allows you to grow a concept. It happens naturally and only as fast as you can write – and read. That way you know that everything you've written down's been covered.'

And though he sometimes gets stuck in his own notations, that just adds to the fun. 'My best lectures may well be when I can show how to recover after making a mistake.' He likes that about linear algebra: you can check your own work. 'The routine of checking your work, of ensuring you're still on the right track and haven't taken a wrong turn, is actually much more important than factual knowledge. So I try to teach my students that, because that ultimately gives you the self-confidence of a professional.'


Though unconventional and seemingly paradoxical, Dorst also tries to boost self-confidence in his exams, which are notoriously difficult. 'I always include something new, in which students work through a series of steps that touch upon what they know, but ultimately asks them to  answer a question about something entirely new, related to an application, for instance. That makes it unpredictable, but I hope that students come away from the exam thinking ‘wow, I didn't know I could do that already.’’

Published by  Faculty of Science