On May 1, 2018, 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, 12 essays were selected for the award. Here we highlight two:
Abigail Stepnitz, Jurisprudence & Social Policy
Writing the “other” answer: Teaching students to craft evidence-based arguments
In a Legal Studies class, Abigail sought to help students develop the ability to craft compelling evidence-based arguments. To accomplish this, she followed a counterintuitive strategy. Abigail asked students to write arguments in support of positions with which they did not personally agree. This helped students see argument building as an analytic exercise instead of an opportunity to express their already held beliefs and moral intuitions. It prompted them to search for alternative viewpoints and evidence. This, in turn, helped them craft more compelling arguments about views they did agree with. As a result of this exercise, their essays displayed superior argument-building skills and an increased engagement with the class texts. Students also expressed newly found confidence in building rigorous arguments.
Varsha Desai, Chemistry
Why am I doing what I am doing?
Experiments in chemistry laboratories involve complex protocols students have to follow sequentially in order to obtain valid results. A common problem in this context is that students passively follow the protocol without understanding it at a deeper level. This usually leads to small mistakes that have a domino effect, essentially rendering their results inconclusive. To ensure a deeper and more active engagement with protocols, Varsha took a three-step “what, why, how” approach that prompted students to ask themselves ‘what am I doing?’ ‘why am I doing it’? And ‘how can I explain my results?’ First, Varsha asked students to summarize the procedure involved in the protocol focusing on the central steps in each part of the process. This resulted in a decrease in trivial errors and an increase in the speed at which experiments were conducted. Second, she discussed the reasons for performing each step, focusing on conveying important concepts. This helped students discriminate between the parts of the protocol that are critical and the parts where there was room for error. This helped students slow down when they needed to perform important steps and move more quickly through other parts that did not require much precision. Finally, when students obtained undesired results, Varsha asked them to reflect on what went wrong by building on the understanding they developed in the previous two steps. This led to clear insights about where the problems lie rather than confusion or generic answers about human error.
As in past years, this year’s winning essays have been 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 Teaching Effectiveness 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 Graduate 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.”