Lectures Online

The coronavirus pandemic changed the life of many of us, often in unforeseeable ways. In my case, being an academic teacher, one facet has been that beside working in home office for the past few months, I also do my teaching now in form of video lectures. My first experience was, somehow unexpected, that giving online-lectures turned out to be considerable more time-consuming than lecturing on the blackboard. In particular, I did not anticipate the mental barrier to speak to an invisible audience. The absence of the usual instantaneous feedback made for a rather unfamiliar experience and as a consequence I found myself preparing my lectures in advance in much more detail than I was used before.

On the positive side, now I have my lectures in-video format and in addition I have an updated script, which is not so bad either. Thus, I decided to make the most of it and to post some of my lectures on YouTube. The first course I made publicly available is my lecture on Theoretical Community Ecology (unfortunately only in German). In this course I present the most important theoretic models of species competition and biodiversity, in a way that I think it is not often shown. My aim also is to keep the lectures non-technical and to present the underlying ideas rather than the mathematical details. The lectures are available on this playlist.

I am well aware the someone may find my lecturing style old-fashioned. Usually I give my lectures at the blackboard. I strongly believe that this allows me to develop mathematical models and ecological theories in a more authentic way than presenting polished power-point slides. Thereby I put a lot of emphasis on the visual and geometrical representation, rather than the mathematical formalism. I am a great believer in the sketch, the hand-written graph showing the dependency between two variables, which on purpose is not perfect but in some sense represents the imperfect representation of the world that is going on in the mind of a mathematical modeler.

To mimic the blackboard in the videos, I write the lecture on a sheet of paper and use a visualizer to film this from the top down. This, hopefully, gives the listener a close-up experience of the step-by-step development of some mathematical theories. On the negative side, this means that listeners have to suffer my bad handwriting, some unnecessary stuttering, and probably far to many repetitions (not speaking about the occasional typo). And this includes me, the lecturer, when I listen to my own lecture. From my own experience I can attest that it is painful to watch your own lecture. Probably that's one more new facet, where coronavirus has changed something in my life: I now am confronted with the mediocre aspects of my own teaching. Hopefully this experience will help me to improve in the future, but otherwise that's simply the way it is.

Bernd Blasius
Professor for Mathematical Modelling

I am interested in the theoretical description of complex living systems at the interface of theoretical ecology and applied mathematics