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

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.

Continuum Activity!

GSIs will stand up and position themselves along a continuum whose boundaries are given below, one at a time:

  1. Experience Teaching: A lot / A little
  2. Desire to Teach: Raring to go / Being forced to TA
  3. Career: Research / Industry
  4. 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.

Conversely, we can also discuss what makes a bad GSI. What does a GSI have to do to make students stay away?

Something that was controversal: Putting students on the spot. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad.

Fears and Preparations Exercise


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Stage fright

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Can't find time to do research

    Time Management! See the time management section later on.

  7. Tech failure

    Preflight and test all of your code before giving it out to your students.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.


  1. Stay a week ahead
  2. Solicit questions ahead of time
  3. Ask other TAs and profs for help
  4. Practice lecturing
  5. Be awake for class
  6. Make personal connections to the material
  7. Declare boundaries when you are TAing and when you are not. Make sure your students respect them.
  8. Think of stupid jokes to use in class
  9. Videotape your sections so you can figure out what to do differently next time.
  10. Develop a lesson plan. Your elementary school teachers did it -- you can do it too.

GSI Essentials

What are your responsibilities?

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.

More Responsibilities

Recognizing the differences among students

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.


Your first section

Department Resources

Creativity Exercise

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.

Constructive Feedback