The Kepler Awards: What is Good Educational Content

Dr. Mario Ullrich was presented with Kepler teaching award. We spoke with him about what makes his courses special.

Mario Ullrich; Credit: JKU
Mario Ullrich; Credit: JKU

University Assistant Dr. Mario Ullrich (Institute of Analysis) was presented with the Kepler Student Award Digitale Lehre - Kepler Award for Excellence in Digital Teaching for his course "Mathematics for Artificial Intelligence 1-3".

What does "Mathematics for Artificial Intelligence 1-3" focus on?
Mario Ullrich: The course lays the indispensable foundations to support the "Artificial Intelligence" degree program at the JKU. In addition to introducing mathematical language, we discuss important techniques and theoretical statements that build the foundation on which modern methods of data processing and compression are based.

What makes teaching this subject so special?
Mario Ullrich: To begin with, I found the opportunity to redesign the entire, brand new AI program together with the "Institute for Machine Learning" and the "School of Education" to be an exciting, new experience. But even after four years, the large number of students - and the need for the corresponding digital tools – continues to be a challenge for everyone involved, especially for me.

Out of the current 420 or so students enrolled in "Math for AI 1", there are always 10-20 gifted students in my course who discover a strong interest in mathematics and ultimately take advantage of continual courses I offer. Some of our students go on to write outstanding theses while some continue their education and enroll in graduate degree programs in math or, in one case, there was a student accepted to the Master’s degree program in Data Science at the prestigious ETH in Zürich. This is a prime example of successful (interdisciplinary) education at the JKU.

What does this award mean to you?
Mario Ullrich: "Service education" in mathematics, meaning teaching math for students in different majors, can sometimes be underappreciated as it is often regarded as particularly difficult and superfluous. That makes it all the more rewarding that student representatives for the AI program nominated me for this award. As a math professor, it would be hard to get a higher recognition.

What do you think constitutes perfect teaching?
Mario Ullrich: Given the course size, this question cannot be answered quickly and easily, if at all. In any case, good instruction has to be tailored to the students’ prior educational background and their needs, even if they are currently unable to assess this themselves. As mathematics requires a great deal of personal effort and practice, it is important to draw on a good combination of being supportive but also making it challenging. It takes time and plenty of discussions as well as a certain amount of flexibility.