The University Record, June 11, 1996

Experienced GSIs suggest program

Faculty at the "Colleagues" conference were not the only people on campus pondering pedagogy three weeks ago. Professors responsible for the departmental Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) training programs---many to be launched next fall---also were conferring at a conference sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.

In the past, many graduate student instructors in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts took a generic, one-credit course in teaching sponsored by the College that didn't prepare them for the pedogogical idiosyncrasies of their fields. The departmental programs are expected to be more focused and helpful, according to Beverly Black, program director at CRLT.

Associate Prof. Theresa L. Tinkle of the English department, Associate Prof. Robert Megginson of the mathematics department and Helene Neu, lecturer in Romance languages, described their departments' GSI training programs.

In addition, experienced GSIs Eileen Yu of chemistry, Lourdes Gutierrez of anthropology and Eric E. Brock of chemical engineering spoke about what they felt new GSIs really need to know.

The suggestions included:


Include graduate students in the planning stages of the training program, encourage them to network with each other and establish pedagogical reading groups.


Establish clear guidelines for GSI behavior toward undergraduates; stress integrity and make sure they understand sexual harassment issues.


Prepare GSIs for how to handle grade disputes, cheating, plagiarism, writing problems and students who come to them with personal problems.


Integrate pedagogical techniques into the departmental graduate student curriculum.


Conduct classroom observations of GSIs and require them to develop teaching portfolios.


Put GSIs in the role of students so they remember how it feels to be a beginner. For instance, Romance languages puts new GSIs into a "shock language program" where they struggle briefly to learn Turkish.


Hold workshops where GSIs teach each other for five minutes, hear a critique and then teach the same material again, so they learn from their mistakes and end on a positive note.


Make sure GSIs know how to access and use all teaching equipment.


Model the first teaching day for GSIs so they have handouts and methods ready to go.


Bring in "The Teacher from Hell" to instruct GSIs and show them what to avoid.

Megginson noted that the training can actually be fun. "The GSIs and faculty get to know each other and actually bond with each other. The programs with heavy faculty involvement and time investment also send the message that teaching really does matter at U-M."

Constance E. Cook, CRLT director, stressed that good GSI training programs will help the GSIs when they hit the job market.

"Contrary to the past, search committees now ask about teaching experience. 'How much teaching have you done? How were your student evaluations? Could we see your syllabi?' Training for good teaching as a GSI will help the future professoriate find jobs," she said.