Maria Boyce during av lecture. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne
Dialogue and repetition
Thursday afternoon, Room A36. Maria Boyce is chatting with economics students as they arrive. “How’s the group assignment going? The weather’s terrible today. Do you know if anyone else is coming now?... OK, let’s start.”
The lecture is about tax law, but the first hour of the three-hour period is mostly a repetition of previous material. Taxable income is measured against tax-deductible outlay in a dialogue between Maria and group of around 15 students. “Can shares be classified as inventory items in any context?” “Well, the way you ask the question means that the answer must be ‘Yes’.”
“Clever!”, exclaims the lecturer in commercial and business law and is excited by an unexpectedly appropriate answer.
Maria Boyce was recently voted best teacher by the 450 students across the five years of the Commercial and Business Law programme. This is the fifth time in six years that she has received this award. The citation: “A teacher who maintains an excellent quality in her teaching and is incredibly committed to the students. She inspires the students to develop within the subject area she teaches, and has an unequalled passion for her work.”
Thursday afternoon, room A36. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne
Touched, happy and proud
The course evaluations witness the same. Before the courses, 10-20% of participants answer that they have considerable interest in tax law – after, the number has risen to 80-90%.
“I’m both touched and happy, and extremely proud. This is confirmation that my work, commitment and teaching methods are appreciated”, she says about the prize.
“I gain energy from contact with the students... the dialogue, our conversations. It’s just great fun to meet young people who are dedicated, curious and interested. All that’s needed is to create favourable conditions. And it’s breathtaking when students understand the implications of an idea, or find a solution to a problem.”
Maria Boyce has always taught to a greater or lesser degree since graduating from LiU in 2000. She was for several years departmental head and director of studies, while another period was spent mainly running her own business. Six years ago, however, she came back to full-time teaching. Tax law is an interesting mixture of law, politics and economics, but many people consider it often to be rather “boring” (Maria’s description).
The challenge for the teacher is to create excitement and curiosity for the subject, and inspire the students to become active and participate.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to put a book into a student’s hands and say: ‘Read this!’. This creates passively acquired knowledge. Instead, I work a lot with exercises and cases, and I try to use many different components in the teaching. This means that the students must become involved and work actively.”
The whiteboard comes to use during the lecture. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne
Other key elements in Maria’s role as teacher are commitment, expertise and interest.
Commitment can be expressed by giving feedback, supporting and encouraging students, and answering email in the evenings and weekends. It also means that she is prepared to put in more hours than she expects from the students.
“I try to make my requirements and expectations clear. It’s a common cause of problems, not just in education – the parties have different expectations, or the expectations are not fulfilled. I organise the courses such that the students are to work 40 hours a week, neither more nor less.
"And at the same time, I’m prepared to work at least the same amount to support the students.”
Maria Boyce points out that one aspect of extensive expertise in the subject doesn’t mean just talking about regulations but also about their application and purpose, and the consequences of their application. She often uses experiences from the time she worked running her own company, outside of the university.
And what about interest? Well, the students notice when the teacher cares about both their learning process and their well-being. And then it’s easier to set requirements.
"You can never count on a prize like this", says Maria Boyce. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne
More and more rewarding
"I’m available. If the students need help, they get it. I know that most of them feel this way."
"Another factor is that we work with continuous assessment during the complete course. This means that I can find out about students who are at risk of falling behind. And I offer extra support, if anyone wants it.”
Is there anything about your teaching that you want to improve?
“Indeed. I would like to use the digital facilities available in Lisam more. It’s useful if there is variation between different components, but I haven’t really found out how to use Lisam in a good way. Otherwise I don’t use any special technical aids, just whiteboard and pen.”
Maria Boyce is finding her work as teacher to be evermore fun and satisfying as the years pass.
“You experience continuity in a new way, and you get more deeply involved when teaching full-time, as I do now. It’s stimulating to construct courses, and I have become more aware of how to organise learning and what works for many students. And its due to the students that this is a fantastic job.”