2016 Outstanding GSI Award Recipients
2016 Outstanding GSI Award Recipients

Teaching in Berkeley’s academic departments as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) is an invaluable professional development opportunity. Being recognized as one of the University’s finest is an outstanding achievement.

On May 3, 2016, 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 and a $250 stipend, 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, 14 essays were selected for the award. Here we highlight two:

  • Noticing a disconnect between lectures and the application of that knowledge in labs, Riva Bruenn (Plant and Microbial Biology) developed a strategy to improve student learning by using games to keep students focused and motivated. For her pre-lab lectures, she left diagram labels blank (Mad-Libs style) and had students suggest fills. In discussion section, she had students in teams draw (Pictionary-style) or physically act out (Charades-style) morphological concepts. The game approach succeeded in increasing student energy and participation, and gave memorable touch-points for remembering concepts and being able to apply them.
  • Eduardo Escobar of Near Eastern Studies addressed challenges in translating ancient texts faced by students in his Cuneiform class by having students collaboratively generate a “live” translation and research process. With a large HD display showing fragmentary cuneiform sources from photographs and drawings, Eduardo’s students took turns providing translations of short passages, based on their research, in the bCourses “Collaborations” tool (a Google Doc). At the same time, other students added footnotes to annotate the translator’s work with a range of philological comments, including semantic disagreements and textual variants. This very live dialogue encouraged active participation and made learning technical philological skills a less daunting social activity.

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.

“Whether or not a GSI wins the TEA award, those who write the essays are contributing to their professional development by identifying significant problems encountered in teaching and learning, designing activities to address those problems, and assessing whether student learning was affected by the activities,” according to Linda von Hoene, Assistant Dean for Professional Development and Director of the GSI Teaching & Resource Center. “This type of reflection is the hallmark of outstanding teachers. And the beauty is, these skills of problem solving and assessment are transferable to other professions as well.”

2016 Teaching Effectiveness Award Recipients
2016 Teaching Effectiveness Award Recipients

Students who receive the Teaching Effectiveness Award are also invited to apply for a third award, the Teagle Foundation Award for Excellence in Enhancing Student Learning. This award takes professional development in teaching one step further by immersing GSIs in the research on how students learn and connecting their teaching activities to a wider body of scholarly work.

Teaching Effectiveness Award and the Teagle award recipients were honored at a May 11, 2016 award ceremony.

Please join us in congratulating all of this year’s award recipients.

— Graduate Division staff