GSI Workshop for EECS and Engineering IDS
Workshop Leader: Andrew Begel
UC Berkeley : 223 Dwinelle
August 25, 2000 @ 10:15am to 12:00pm and 1:00pm - 2:30pm
This is the online version of the notes for a workshop for the Fall 2000 Teaching and Orientation Conference for Graduate Student Instructors in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Engineering IDS.
This latest version of this document will be at
Introduction to the morning
- GSI = TA
- GSR = RA
- Berkeley Time = 10 minutes after the hour
- Welcome, my background
- Andy Begel (pronunciation guide: Bay-gull, Bee-ge'll, Beagle)
- GSId twice before (CS61a, CS164)
- MIT Undergraduate ('96, '97)
- Programming Languages
- Why are we all here?
- GSIs are critical to undergraduate education
- The University wants GSIs to succeed
Activity! (Activities are fun!)
Each GSI will come up to the front of the room and introduce him or herself to the rest of the group, in the style of a GSI's first introduction to their students at their first section. Maximum 1 minute per person.
GSIs will stand up and position themselves along a continuum whose boundaries are given below, one at a time:
- Experience Teaching: A lot / A little
- Desire to Teach: Raring to go / Being forced to TA
- Career: Research / Industry
- Favorite Computer: Macintosh / Windows / Unix
What makes a good GSI?
GSIs can think back to their favorite GSIs or professors and give examples of how they were good or made their classroom better than the others. We'll write the examples on the board as reference points for the activities to come.
- Willing to answer any questions.
- Willing to search for answers they don't know.
- Real people
- Very knowledge and experienced
- Knows when to take it offline
Conversely, we can also discuss what makes a bad GSI. What does a GSI have to do to make students stay away?
- Answering questions you don't know
- Doesn't like to receive questions
- Doesn't listen to the students
Something that was controversal: Putting students on the spot. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad.
Fears and Preparations Exercise
- Break into small groups of 4-5 GSIs
- Each group should introduce themselves to one another again, briefly
- Each group is given an index card.
- On one side, write down two things that they are planning to do to prepare to teach before the semester begins.
- On the other side, write down three things that they are most afraid will happen in the classrooms
- Reconvene, summarize lists, draw connections
- Go over other fears and ask for suggestions from the groups
Not knowing the answer
Admit to the students that you don't know the answer and go home and look it up. Send an email to the students the next day with the answer or bring it to the next section.
Not knowing the system
You'll pick this up pretty fast. When in doubt, ask your students. They've probably been at Berkeley longer than you.
Practice teaching in front of your friends, the other TAs or in front of the mirror. After the first section or two, this will start to subside as you get more comfortable knowing your students.
Seeming rude/Might intimidate students
This is a big one to watch out for. You can easily put off your students and they'll go somewhere else for a TA. Ways to notice you're doing it: ask for anonymous feedback from the students throughout the term, video tape your section and watch it later, have another TA come to your section and give you feedback.
Lack of enthusiasm for the class or computer science
Hmm, this one's tough. If it's because you're tired, get some sleep the night before a section. Else, pretend to like the material, or find personal links that might make it more interesting to you. Students can easily pick up on a lack of enthuiasm and quickly will be jaded about the material as well, even though it may be undeserved.
Can't find time to do research
Time Management! See the time management section later on.
Preflight and test all of your code before giving it out to your students.
They might hate me, the lecture, or the class
They won't hate you if you show that you care about them. They might legitimately hate the lecture, the class, or the way you run section. In this case, try to engage the student through alternative means: office hours, personal one on one instruction, extra projects. Find out why they don't like it and make constructive changes.
What if one student answers everything?
Offline, ask that student to perhaps tone down their participation a bit. Also, ask all students to raise their hands before responding so you can pick on students who don't talk as much.
- Stay a week ahead
- Solicit questions ahead of time
- Ask other TAs and profs for help
- Practice lecturing
- Be awake for class
- Make personal connections to the material
- Declare boundaries when you are TAing and when you are not. Make sure your students respect them.
- Think of stupid jokes to use in class
- Videotape your sections so you can figure out what to do differently next time.
- Develop a lesson plan. Your elementary school teachers did it -- you can do it too.
- Listen to your students!
- Corollary: Learn their names -- it comes in handy later on.
- Practice makes perfect
- Make your students do all the hard work
- An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of flimflam
- Determine your availability
- Know your resources
- You are not *average*. (You are a graduate student in one of the best universities in the country. Many of your students won't get this far).
What are your responsibilities?
- Interacting with your students
- In person: section (1-2x per week), lecture (1-3x per week),
lab (1-2x per week), office hours (2-3 hours per week)
- Electronically: email, newsgroups, WWW, instant messenger
- Helping them out with projects
- Helping them deal with their project partners
- Achieving a balance between answering questions and fostering self-reliance.
- Interacting with the professor
- Weekly meetings to review material to cover in section
- Reviewing the syllabus for the course
- Asking questions about the material
- Learning about their expectations (and yours)
- Giving lecture feedback (tact is important)
- Relaying student feedback
- Determining how important are grades
- Discuss plagiarism policies
- Never argue with professor in public (especially not in lecture)
- Never insult the professor to your students
- Preparing for section
- How many hours do you need?
- Where do you get ideas?
- Talk with the professor
- The other GSIs in the course
- The book
- Points that lecture missed or did badly
- You took this class in college -- use your old notes!
- Questions from Office Hours/Email
- Old tests
- Prepare an outline
- Practice to your roommate or to another GSI before section.
- Don't waste time in your first section of the day because you haven't practiced an explanation.
- Running a section
- Write down an outline of things to do that day
- Write down future events of concern to students (tests, due dates)
- How to cover all of your topics
- Sticking to the outline (or not)
- Go with the flow
- Socratic method
- Asking questions to your class
- Answering students' questions
- Discuss applications, not just theory. Usually the professors gives them more theory than they want. It's up to you to give them a little grounding in reality.
- Bring props
- Handouts, handouts, handouts
- When to do administrivia -- in the middle.
- When to give back tests -- at the beginning (otherwise you'll watch them squirm for an hour)
- Teach to the middle, not the top nor the bottom
- How to use the board
- Look at the students, not at the board
- Erase up and down, not side to side (physical demonstration)
- Write bigger than you think you need to
- Use colors! (make sure students can seem them)
- Pay attention to your students (look for glazed eyes)
- Monitor the energy flow of your students
- Play games!
- Human Cons Cell Jeopardy (CS61a)
- Lost on the Moon
- Compiler Jeopardy!
- Tailor examples to very little writing, lots of interaction/explanation. If you need to spend a lot of time writing it, put it on a handout.
- Use the computer in your classroom for demos/presentations.
Tact and Sensitivity Discussion
You are an authority figure whose words have significant impact on your students. If a students asks a "dumb" question, remind yourself that this student would not ask this question unless they did not understand the material, which should make you worry about the effectiveness of the course.
In this exercise, we'll come up with a list of words that could potentially be damaging psychologically to your students. As we come up with each, we'll discuss a situation in which it might arise and brainstorm tactful ways to resolve it.
- Just (as in, it's just a problem about x)
- Wrong (it's ok to say the answer is wrong, but avoid the connotation that the person is somehow wrong)
- Watch the way you say things
- Don't put your students (even if you know them really well. other students may not understand).
This word was more controversial than the others. For example, "you should have gone to lecture". Well, maybe they should have and they would understand more than they seem to be displaying in class, but maybe the lecture/lecturer sucks and they'd rather turn to you to help out. This led into a discussion about the balance of learning at the hands of the lecturer, the TA and self-reliant learning.
- Running a Lab
- In CS, this can be boring.
- Watch over your class and ask each group questions proactively.
- Notice students who are in trouble and slow-going.
- NEVER drive the computer/equipment for a student (unless it's to fix something that is totally irrelevant to the class that the student will never ever need to know or see again.)
- Office Hours
- In your office or somewhere else?
- Scaling to the number of students
- Few students: personal instruction, one on one
- More students: mini-recitation-style
- Many students (like before a test): move to a bigger room, essentially do a recitation (but find out what they want to hear about (usually everything.
- Scheduling: Do them when students can make, not when is convenient for you.
- Other forms of communication
- Be available for your students
- Answer promptly or write back saying you need more time.
- Keep of list of class email addresses
- Instant Messenger
- Web pages
- Grading: assignments, tests, projects
- Making up homework
- Making up test questions
- Project maintenance
- Debugging exams and homework
- Hanging out with other TAs
- Going to lecture (and not sleeping)
- Dealing with problem students
- Holding review sessions for tests
- Making up review sheets and sample problems for students to solve (usually helpful but optional)
Recognizing the differences among students
- The four kinds of students
- Not so smart
- Totally lost
- Differences between lower division and upper division
- Lower Division
- Students don't know very much
- So, it's really easy to answer their questions!
- Upper Division
- Students don't know as much as you'd expect
- Background tends to be missing compared with your own school
- Students ask more directed and pointed questions
- Lots and lots of project classes
Time management activity
Let's discuss the availability issue. In groups of 4-5 GSIs discuss these modes of communications with your students: section, office hours, labs, email, newsgroups, instant messenger, web page announcements, and phone. Write down how many hours per week each mode would take up, and predict how much of each per week it will take to be overwhelming. Is it different for different modes? Why?
Also, try to think about GSI Burnout. Berkeley's terms are 15-16 weeks long. There are very few vacations. It's real easy to suffer burnout towards the end of the term. But this is when your students need you most! Let's discuss ways to rejuvenate yourself at the end of the term.
- How are you doing?
- Tape your section and go over it with other TAs or prof
- Have another TA or prof visit your section and give you feedback
- Keep track of how many students come to section and how they do
- What could you be doing better?
- Does class time fly by or drag on?
- Keep a journal or teacher's portfolio of everything you use for class
- Read over all your lesson plans and emails
- Review how things went in the first section so you can make adjustments your second section.
Your first section
- Your introduction
- Their introductions
- Intro to the course
- Talk about how you want to run section
- Get their info on index cards
- Email address
- Web page
- Project partners (if relevant)
- Schedule office hours
- Ask the students about their expectations of the course
- Make a class home page
- In CS: Brian Harvey, Mike Clancy, Dan Garcia
- Other TAs
- Your research advisor
- EECS 301/302
- GSI Teaching and Resource Center (301 Sproul)
- Barbara Davis: Tools for Teaching
- In CS: Michael David-Sasson (firstname.lastname@example.org). He schedules the rooms. You can move your class to Soda if you talk to him before the term begins!
Everyone should think about creative ways to hold class. Remember, not every class has to be a traditional lecture-style section.
To give you guys a little flavor of teaching, each GSI will spend 5 minutes after lunch giving a practice teaching talk. Your task is to teach the rest of us about any topic that you like. If you like, you may teach us a small concept about computer science or electrical engineering, but be aware that not everyone in the room has the background that you have (or would like them to have). If you're having trouble thinking of a good topic, perhaps teach us some form of physical activity, or how to play a game or solve a puzzle. Teach us an interesting dance step, how to play a children's game like duck duck goose (or if you're from Minnesota, duck duck gray duck). Engaging your "class" is essential.
We will follow up each talk with some constructive criticism.
- Write down the outline of what you plan to say.
- Keep talking while you're writing on the board. Make sure you face the students and not the board while doing this.
- Don't erase your examples too quickly. Use an empty board if you can, before erasing one you've just written on.
- Watch out for abbreviations that you don't explain
- Ask questions to your students
- Draw figures to illustrate your examples
- If you're going to draw, learn how to draw legibly
- Write down new terms
- Ask if people can see where you're writing
- Be aware of how much you can do in a set amount of time. You can't go over.
- Be consistent in your notation
- Restate inaudible questions/answers.
- Draw on your real life experience
- Draw and write bigger than you think you need to.
- Use your body in your examples if you can.
- Watch your body language -- where you keep your hands, arms, head.
- Ask leading questions to get the class to respond
- Make sure to label your pictures
- Don't give too much information, especially if it's not relevant to the main point. You can always expound on the subject in office hours.
- Bridge knowledge between two different disciplines. It shows relationships that students may not have realized.
- If you ask a student to do something, wait for them to finish before moving on.
- Practice your explanations before you begin teaching
- Watch out for generic descriptions (this corner, that circuit). Be specific so that people don't have to be looking at you to follow.
- If you ask students to work on something, walk around to observe and comment on their work individually.
- Accept corrections from students if you've messed something up.
- Watch out for confusing examples. Try to abort them as soon as you see glazed eyes.
- Insert pauses into your speaking. It might just give a student a chance to ask a question.
- Speak loudly.