“I try to turn my classes into interactive discussions”
Dimitrios Lignos, head of EPFL’s Resilient Steel Structures Laboratory (RESSLab), has been named this year’s best teacher in the civil engineering section. He favors an interaction-based approach to teaching.
“I try to turn my classes into interactive discussions, rather than simply delivering the material to my students without challenging them critically,” explains Lignos. This method appears to be effective, since he’s been named this year’s best teacher in the civil engineering section. During the first three weeks of each new semester, he puts effort to remember his students’ names, which really helps break the ice. “I think they appreciate this effort – it makes them feel more comfortable around me, which in turn encourages interaction.”
The winning formula? Keep improving.
Lignos is always looking for ways to improve as a teacher. “Since I started teaching in 2010 at McGill University and since 2016 at EPFL, I’ve taken on a new class every year,” he says. “I teach a variety of topics, and I’m always trying to improve for the good of my students – all this helps me to develop as a teacher and a researcher.” For Lignos, the most rewarding part of teaching is seeing that his students have fully understood and grasped the course concepts.
When we asked Lignos how receiving this award made him feel, he said he was both delighted and extremely honored. He received a similar distinction during his time at McGill University in Canada, winning the Outstanding Teaching Award for the civil engineering faculty in 2011. “This year is the second time I’ve won an award like this, so maybe it’s just a coincidence,” he jokes. “It further motivates me to provide courses of the highest quality and to steadily improve the civil engineering program at EPFL.”
Giving classes online long before the pandemic
Since he began teaching, Lignos has always recorded his lectures and made the videos available for his students. “I know that they sometimes need to review the material again,” he says. “It’s important to revisit the material with a fresh mind, especially after a two- to three-hour class. During the pandemic, I just carried on as usual. The students really appreciated that – they felt, based on their feedbacks, that the classes were well organized and well taught. I think the online classes turned out to be an effective teaching method. However, courses in presence are always best.”
Overcoming the challenges of sustainability
“Education is the key to overcoming challenges in any domain,” says Lignos. “One of the biggest challenges in civil engineering is how to implement sustainability.” A lot of work is being done to mitigate the effects of climate change on existing infrastructure and to increase this infrastructure’s lifespan by carrying out the appropriate maintenance work. “In our lab, we’re developing new simulation models and concepts for sustainable design of composite-steel concrete structures. Our specific focus is on mitigating the earthquake effects on structures,” explains Lignos. “We need to be able to provide secure, environmentally friendly infrastructure, and designs should consider the entire life cycle of a project. We should address these challenges more effectively in our classes so that future generations of civil engineers are equipped with proper theoretical ground to address these challenges.”
Before joining EPFL in 2016, Lignos was an associate professor at McGill. He has a Bachelor’s degree from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece, as well as a Master’s degree and PhD from Stanford University in the US. He also worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford and at Kyoto University in Japan.