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Bringing mathematics alive -- Prof. Lin Ya´nan

XMUICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2009-12-18
In 2008, Professor Lin Ya´nan, Dean of Xiamen University School of Mathematical Sciences, was awarded the 4th National Distinguished Teacher in Higher Education Award. However, he remains modest, saying "I´m merely a member of the devoted Xiamen University teaching staff, my honour belongs to the entire team."

Scientific research is the counterpart to teaching

Prof. Lin loves his job profoundly. He is the driving force behind the construction of a "National Excellent Course" in Advanced Algebra and has been teaching undergraduate foundation courses for years. To Prof. Lin a deep understanding of a course is the most fundamental requirement for improving teaching quality. As an expert in algebra, he has built his basic philosophy of teaching from his understanding of taught content and textbooks, and applied it to his practice of teaching. Many of his students have the profoundest respect for him, saying "I am so proud to have you as my teacher," "It´s an honour to be one of your students." One of Prof. Lin´s papers concerning teaching methodology was published in the 4th issue of China University Teaching, and two others formed part of the collected papers from the 3rd and 4th national forums on the design of college courses in mathematics.

Prof. Lin, an expert who has been granted a special allowance from the State Council, has always believed that scientific research is the counterpart of teaching. His speciality is in the theory of algebraic representation, a branch of elementary mathematics. He received his doctoral degree in mathematics in October 1994, with a "mit auszeichnung", i.e. outstanding, evaluation of his thesis. After graduation, he returned to China, and since then he has led several research projects at both national and provincial levels and published more than ten papers in major academic journals and magazines. In 2005, Prof. Lin published a paper on the representation of derived categories of finite dimensional algebras and affine lie algebras, which attracted intense attention among international mathematicians. At one of their seminars, mathematicians in Bielefeld, Germany held seven discussions on the achievements of the paper, and mathematicians in the UK and France, Crawley-Boevey and Benhard Keller quoted his paper in their 45-minute presentation at the 2006 International Congress o f Mathematicians (ICM) respectively. K. Saite, the former director of the Kyoto University Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences was very interested in the paper and invited Prof. Lin for a three-month visit to Japan during which he was to give an in-depth introduction to his research. In 2001, Prof. Lin was awarded the second prize in that year´s Fujian Science and Technology Research Achievement Award for an independent research project, and in 2006 he received the first class Natural Science Research Award of the Ministry of Education for a collaborative project.

He brings mathematics to life

Mention mathematics and people commonly think of boring figures and complex formulae and calculations. However, Prof. Lin always gives his lectures with fervour and passion, using clever and amusing examples and explanations, appealing and inspiring to his students. "He brings mathematics to life," they say. One of his students once wrote in an email, "Since my first year in college, I´ve been devoted to mathematics, thanks to the influence of Prof. Lin."

Prof. Lin believes in"student-centered" teaching, or as he puts it, every teaching method and innovation must satisfy the students, and be aimed at the improvement of their understanding and ability to study. He believes that a good teacher should give his students a friendly push, imposing strict criteria for them to meet, while giving them patient academic guidance at the same time. Besides his three classhour workload, he spends another class-hour every week answering students´ questions, which is supposed to be the job of his teaching assistant. He sometimes even misses his meals as a result. He frequently visits the students´ dormitories, meeting the students, listening to their practical needs and collecting teaching advice. Outside class, he is a relaxed and friendly person with whom his students feel they can share everything. Students often go to him when they feel depressed, as he always offers kind relief.

Excellent teaching resources should be open and shared

To make his students´ studies easier, Prof. Lin and his teaching team have designed a website for their excellent course Advanced Algebra as a way of exploring a broader platform for learning and to promote the sharing of information. The course curriculum is rich in content, and the website is freely accessible with a range of downloadable materials. It helps students improve their understanding of advanced algebra and inspires their interest in learning. Furthermore, the website facilitates the academic exchanges with other universities in China.

To Prof. Lin, excellent teaching resources should be open and shared. He proposed, and later organised, a series of seminars in Fujian Province on advanced algebra course construction. These seminars have been held on one day every semester since 2003. On each occasion, a given chapter of the course is discussed, with particular attention to the mathematical ideas represented and their demonstration in teaching activities. To date, the seminar has been held 11 times, which has covered the full circle of course preparation and discussion. The seminar has attracted nearly 640 teachers from 31 colleges and universities in Fujian Province, with experienced senior teachers giving advice and guidance to their younger colleagues. The seminar has been very well received by the higher institutes of the province. At each seminar, Prof. Lin is the first to speak and share his experiences.

What I have done is not sufficient; there´s more that I can do

For years, Prof. Lin has never rested on his laurels, and continuously strives to make new progress.

As team leader, he helped the Xiamen University Advanced Algebra course win the "National Excellent Course Award" in 2007, and the Xiamen University algebra teaching team was awarded *Provincial Excellent Teaching Team* in the same year.

As project host, he applied for the establishment of the Talent Cultivation and Scientific Research Base for the National Basic Disciplines of Science in Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. The Base has been approved and has started enrolling students. His paper entitled To Bring Out the Demonstration Function of Excellent Courses, to Improve the Teaching Quality of Advanced Algebra in Fujian won the top prize in the "2009 Fujian Province Excellent Teaching Achievement Award."

As doctoral student supervisor, he has guided to success 5 doctors, 24 masters, and is now supervising a new cohort of master´s and doctoral students.

As Dean of the Xiamen University School of Mathematical Science, he as well as other senior officials of the College have put forward ideas and proposals regarding the improvement of teaching quality and kept a close eye on their implementation.

In 2003, he was among the first group of teachers to receive the "Xiamen University Excellent Teacher" and *Fujian Excellent Teacher in Higher Education*Awards, and in 2008, he was awarded the title of "National Distinguished Teacher".

"That honour is not merely an encouragement; rather it is more like a spur. What I have done is not sufficient, I need to work harder," says Prof. Lin.

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