The UC Berkeley Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching has presented five Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times Awards(link is external) to instructors in the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society in recognition of their innovative work to keep students engaged while learning remotely during the pandemic.
One award was given to Lecturer Cari Kaufman of the Statistics Department and a group award went to Data Science Undergraduate Studies (DSUS) graduate student instructors Philippe Boileau, Anna Nguyen, Suraj Rampure and Allen Shen. In the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), Assistant Teaching Prof. Gireeja Ranade and Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) Ritika Shrivastava, Jay Monga, and Maxson Yang also received awards.
Statistics, DSUS, and EECS are part of the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society (CDSS), which leverages Berkeley’s preeminence in research and excellence across disciplines to propel data science discovery, education, and impact. In all, nine of the 59 instructors receiving awards are part of CDSS.
“We received almost 500 nominations for this award, signifying how our campus community embraced the instructional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensured that our students remained engaged and supported,” wrote Glynda Hull, Chair of the Committee on Teaching.
Rethinking Statistics 2
Kaufman, who joined the Berkeley faculty in 2008, teaches Stat 2, an introductory course about statistical reasoning that typically draws more than 300 students.
“I’ve taught it for seven semesters, and I deeply love helping students--especially math-phobic ones!--explore a new, more precise way of thinking about learning from data,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman and her team moved the class to a Zoom format for the Spring 2020 semester and were planning to continue in the same vein for the Fall 2020 semester.
“Like many of my colleagues, I resisted fully embracing online learning, and I disliked the idea of pre-recording lecture videos,” Kaufman said. “However, as the pandemic wore on, and my own ‘Zoom fatigue’ became more and more obvious to me, I began to wonder about this stance.”
Her decision to change her approach came after she sat down to watch one of her own 80-minute lectures, but could only make it through 15 minutes. She credits Berkeley’s Semester in the Cloud(link is external) program with helping her think outside the classroom in adapting to remote learning.
“The Semester in the Cloud program gave me the time and resources to re-envision the core ideas of this course and rebuild it from the bottom up,” Kaufman said. “Interacting with students during this time has also deepened my awareness of student hardship in its myriad forms and prompted me to revise course policies to prioritize flexibility and empathy.”
Statistics Chair and Professor Sandring Dudoit announced Kaufman’s award to staff by writing “I am so glad that the University has recognized Cari’s outstanding contributions to our teaching mission, her innovative pedagogy, and her commitment to the well-being of our students. Congratulations and thank you for all you are doing, Cari! We are fortunate to have you as a colleague.”
Flipping the Data Classroom Model
Philippe Boileau, Anna Nguyen, Suraj Rampure and Allen Shen have spent several years teaching, learning, and developing courses within CDSS. In Summer 2020, they taught a combined 800 students as course instructors for Data 8 and Data 100.
“Teaching Data Science was one of the most influential experiences of my undergraduate career, so when I was given the opportunity to instruct I saw it as a way to give back to a program that I had gotten so much from,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen and Boileau led Data 8, an introductory course on data science; Rampure and Shen led Data 100, a lower-division course on the principles and techniques of data science.
“As it was the first time the course was offered remotely... we surveyed students regularly to get their perspective on our changes,” Rampure said. “Students were transparent about what worked and didn’t and felt like their voice was heard, which we think played a role in the success of the offering.”
The DSUS graduate student instructors followed the Flipped Classroom model, supplementing asynchronous lecture material with live review sessions. Instead of traditional exams, they opted for more flexible assessments to better accommodate students during the stressful circumstances.
“We had an incredible group of students this summer who were willing to engage with course material and extend what they learned to projects both in and out of the classroom,” said Nguyen. “I really looked forward to lecturing because of the students, and they played just as large of a role in the success of the summer session as we did.”
The graduate students look forward to applying their experiences as instructors to their future work. “Next year, we will be Ph.D. students or teaching faculty at peer institutions, and we plan on continuing our work in teaching and developing data science courses,” they wrote. “Regardless of our respective paths, we have no doubt that Summer 2020 was a pivotal experience for our careers.”
Extraordinary in EECS
EECS alumna and Assistant Teaching Prof. Gireeja Ranade and Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) Ritika Shrivastava, Jay Monga, and Maxson Yang also won awards for their extraordinary efforts.
Ranade was recognized for her work with EECS16AB Designing Information Devices and Systems I and II and EECS 127/227A Optimization Models in Engineering. One of the first things she and her staff of student instructors did was help students form study groups, a process disrupted by the shutdown.
“We know in the past that Black and Latinx students, as well as female students of all races in engineering, have faced challenges finding the study group support that many others take for granted,” Ranade said. “We developed an automated, scalable and inclusive study group formation process to counteract some of the social challenges faced by students from underrepresented groups.”
Ranade credited the effort’s success to the hard work of many students and undergraduate student instructors (UGSIs), in particular Gloria Tumushabe, Sumer Kohli and Neelesh Ramachandran, supported by Austin Patel and the head uGSIs Amanda Jackson, Anika Ramachandran, Moses Won and Dahlia Saba.
“In addition, we built several innovations into the class structure for EECS 16A to support these groups and adapt the class to the online environment through programs like remote homework parties over Discord and group-based discussion sections that focused on social interaction, etc,” Ranade wrote, again citing the support of the uGSI/GSI team. “The lab GSIs worked exceptionally hard to port all lab materials to work with remote instruction; in addition to mailing all students lab kits and making it possible to do labs remotely, they also developed simulation-based labs that could be done entirely in software.”
This work was done by Raghav Gupta, Panos Zarkos, Seiya Ono, Leyla Kabuli, Meghana Bharadwaj, Vidish Gupta, Jianshu Chi, Lily Bhattacharjee, Kristina Monakhova and others.
“The most important thing I tried to do during the semester was to be there as a support for my amazing staff of GSIs and uGSIs, who are the backbone of the class,” Ranade said.
In addition, along with two student groups, the Society of Women Engineers (with main coordinator Teresa Yang) and the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society (main coordinator Sean Roh), Ranade started CalMentors,(link is external) a program for Berkeley undergrads to provide remote, small-group tutoring to K-12 students during the challenges of remote learning.
“Teresa and Sean, as well as all the student volunteers, put in tremendous work to make this program a success,” Ranade said. “It just speaks to how amazing our students are.”
Shrivastava, a fall GSI for EECS C106A/206A Introduction to Robotics, promoted student engagement using tools such as interactive presentations, developed new materials, and used methods that promote inclusiveness despite technological differences.
“Online learning can be dreary but, being supportive of students and coming to class with an upbeat manner can make the course more enjoyable,” wrote Shrivastava,who also made a point of welcoming students with a smile.
Jay Monga, also a fall GSI and lab teaching assistant for EECS 106A/206A, helped students with their lab-focused robotics class by creating a video walkthrough of a mandatory set-up procedure. Monga contributed to slides demonstrating lab procedures and assignments and a recorded presentation to promote asynchronous instruction. He and two other teaching assistants designed a more accessible lab that better reflected student interests and met learning goals. In addition, Monga created a Discord server to promote a more conversational virtual learning environment.
“Students appreciated this work and I received a teaching effectiveness rating above department average,” Monga wrote.
Yang, who was a summer GSI for CS 10 The Beauty and Joy of Computing, released a comprehensive student survey to guide course policy and focused on reducing common stressors like deadlines, implementing weekly check-ins, and creating ways to improve the students' virtual experience, such as by using memes.