OGSI Ceremony
2019 Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Peg Skorpinski

On May 7, 2019, more than 200 GSIs were recognized for their exemplary teaching at the annual Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor (OGSI) Award Ceremony presented by the Graduate Division’s GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

Each OGSI is nominated by their departments according to criteria such as overall effectiveness as an instructor, capacity to promote critical thinking, and utilization of pedagogically effective approaches. In addition to being acknowledged with a formal ceremony, OGSIs are invited to submit essays for a second award offered by the GSI Center, the Teaching Effectiveness Award. Each one-page essay addresses a problem the GSI had in teaching, the pedagogical solution the GSI devised to address the problem, and the means by which they assessed the effectiveness of the solution. This year, 16 essays were selected for the award. Here we highlight two:

Frances Ramos, Education

“Facilitating Dialogue and Learning Across Language and Cultural Differences in American Cultures Courses”

Courses that fulfill Berkeley’s American Cultures (AC) requirement critically explore the “contributions, experiences, and challenges of peoples historically marginalized in our curriculum.” Yet Frances realized that a number of students in her AC class did not feel comfortable participating in class, often due to their marginalized positionalities. In order to provide diverse modes of participation, to elicit thoughts from all students, and to prevent any single individual from dominating the discussion, Frances created a gallery walk activity in which she posted questions, quotes, or images around the room. She first asked students to walk around and write answers or reflections on them; next, she asked them to cycle through again to review their classmates’ responses to the prompts, setting up a class-wide dialogue about the activity. Frances found that her students commonly named this activity as a favorite learning experience in mid-semester and final evaluations. Moreover, they began to modify the activity in creative ways, including taking pictures of the poster papers in order to identify common themes and present the work back to the class.

Anamika Chowdhury, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

“Learning Why and Not Just How?”

Anamika realized that many of her students were failing because they didn’t grasp the fundamentals of chemical engineering. Because her course involved advanced math, many students mistook the mathematical problems for the end-goal rather than understanding them as a vehicle to comprehending the underlying physical phenomena. To help her students build intuitions and conceptual knowledge, Anamika introduced a ten-minute discussion section at the end of each class in which she asked students to identify and explain common transport processes, such as what happens when you dip a bag of tea into water or when you catch the smell of someone’s perfume. Anamika then asked the students to reason and deliberate among themselves, interjecting only when necessary; later, she would post a summary of the discussion and answers on the class bCourses site. In addition, Anamika worked with her fellow GSIs to create a survey for students to use throughout the term to identify topics they were struggling with. The anonymous survey allowed students to be honest about the gaps in their knowledge and created a platform for ongoing interactions between the students and GSIs.

As in past years, this year’s winning essays will be published on the GSI Center’s website, so that the teaching strategies can be adapted for use by other GSIs. Linda von Hoene, Assistant Dean for Professional Development and Director of the GSI Teaching & Resource Center comments on the impact of these essays on GSI teaching development: “The Teaching Effectiveness Award encourages GSIs to approach their teaching with the same type of problem-solving mindset that makes them successful researchers. They identify a significant impediment to learning and create an activity that gets at the heart of the problem. They then use their evaluation skills to determine whether the intervention had the desired outcome vis-a-vis student learning. This problem-based approach puts learning at the center, and also strengthens the professional skills that our graduate students will need in future careers.”

Congratulations to all of 2019 Teaching Effectiveness Award recipients:

  • Nicholas Anderman (Geography)
  • Erin Bennett (Comparative Literature)
  • Anamika Chowdhury (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)
  • Ravit Dotan (Philosophy)
  • Kate Driscoll (Italian Studies)
  • Lise Gaston (English)
  • Mariel Goddu (Psychology)
  • Nicholaus Gutierrez (Rhetoric)
  • Audrey Haynes (Integrative Biology)
  • Nitin Kohli (School of Information)
  • Kevin Lin (Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences)
  • Rachael Olliff Yang (Integrative Biology)
  • Frances Ramos (Education)
  • Victor Reyes-Umana (Plant and Microbial Biology)
  • Clarissa Towle (Materials Science and Engineering)
  • Adam Uliana (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering)

Muna Danish is a graduate student in Journalism at UC Berkeley, and a Professional Development Liaison (PDL) with the Graduate Division.