Spring 2020 Report

For the spring semester of 2020 my focus has been on developing my teaching skills by acting as a teaching assistant and creating/running the labs for ITCS 4156: Intro to Machine Learning. I have been working closely with Dr. Lee by helping develop and run the course labs. In addition, I have continued attending the teaching seminars to build on my teaching abilities, which will hopefully prepare me for teaching my own class. In parallel with these activities, I have been attending teaching workshops. Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak these workshops have been conducted online and, unironically, have been focused on how to teach online courses. Lastly, I have continued work on my website and teaching portfolio when time has permitted.

Teaching ITCS 4156: Intro to Machine Learning

As I mentioned before, my primary focus has being a teaching assistant for the ITCS 4156 undergraduate course taught by Dr. Lee. This course is taught once a week for two and a half hours. The first hour and a half is dedicated to lecturing, while the remaining hour is dedicated to a lab based on the given lectured. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak halfway through the semester this course was moved online. However, the transition was rather seamless thanks to voice and screen sharing software.

Every week this semester I have helped Dr. Lee create the labs. I believe this has totaled to around 12 labs. These labs take algorithms and ideas taught in the lecture and then practically apply them. All labs are formatted as Jupyter Notebooks and are written in Python. Within these labs students must complete to-dos where they fill in missing code segments, convert pseudo code to actual code, or convert equations into code. In addition, I ran the lab sections. This entailed me introducing the lab and briefly walking through the lab so the students had a general idea of what they were doing. After which, myself, Dr. Lee and the other TAs proctored the lab (in-person or virtually) and answered any questions the students had as they completed it.

I have also been maintaining aspects of the canvas page and communications with students. Regarding the canvas page, I have been creating assignments, and managing the files. On top of this, I have been actively engaging with students on Piazza and Discord to answer questions about assignments or labs.

Teaching Seminar

Every Tuesday since January I have been attending a graduate teaching seminar (ITSC 8665). This semester the seminar has covered a variety of different topics such as the following: preparing learning modules, getting used to public speaking, online vs in-person teaching, boosting classroom attendance, and developing teaching philosophies. Unlike last semester, the seminar this semester has been student driven. Meaning, students have been researching and then teaching a given module with the guidance of a senior faculty member.

My group’s module for this semester was on developing teaching philosophies. The goal of this module was to give the other students a brief understanding of what a teaching philosophy or teaching statement is and why it is important.

However, I believe the most important aspect of this module was helping gradate students to begin thinking about their own teaching philosophies. Regardless of what someone thinks, everyone has a teaching philosophy. We have spent 15+ years of our lives in schools where we are constantly interacting with teaching/learning. Thus, everyone has a teaching philosophy, it’s simply a matter of consciously uncovering it. In order to help students uncover their teaching philosophy, we had each student look back on their lives and examine how their beliefs about teaching got to where they are now. In other words, we had students consciously search their experiences with teaching for beliefs that they found effective or engaging.

Teaching Workshops

As it was for the prior semesters I have been attending teaching workshops on campus. Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak these workshops have been conducted online and focused on online teaching. Below I have given summaries of each of the two workshops I attended this semester.

KeepTeaching: End-of-Semester Alternate Assessments
This workshop was focused on providing alternative assessments for online courses. Really, most of these ideas presented could be used as substitutes for in-person courses as well. Instead of typical final exams, this seminar looked into how to breakdown a final exam into smaller parts to span over the entire semester or over a period of time near the end of the semester. In addition, it looked at completely replacing exams with writing assignments, projects, and labs. Of course, which type of assessment you choose typically depends on the type of class you are teaching. In essence, the workshop reinforced the difficulty of giving traditional exams in an online setting.

Why are traditional exams difficult to conduct online? The workshop went into how traditional exams given online typically use Lockdown browser. However, the workshop recommended against using Lockdown browser because it’s highly stressful to use due to access and privacy cocerns. Access meaning that some students may not have the appropriate hardware (e.g. web cam) or operating systems to run the Lockdown. With regards to privacy these online exam monitoring programs collect data from your computer about your actions. I shouldn’t need to say anymore on the why this might be a privacy concern.

Overall the workshop didn’t state anything new or innovating. It simply reinforced the idea that maybe traditional exams aren’t the best method for assessing one’s learning all the time.

KeepTeaching: Mapping Student Workload for Online Activities and Assessments
This workshop was focused on a technique called activity mapping. The goal of activity mapping is to visually map out your course work load. Activity mapping allows professors to visualize the minimum (best case scenario) and maximum (worst case scenario) amount time it will take a student to complete the work for a given week. This is can also be done for the professor as well, to assess the minimum and maximum amount of time it will take to create the class work.

The visualization works by taking the planned work for the week and breaking it into five main categories: instructor communication, information resource, practice, dialogue, and feedback. On top of theses five main categories the time to complete said category should also be include. Once broken up into categories, each item is placed on a given day and time for the week. It is also important to account for categories that might be revisited throughout the week - increasing the time it takes to complete the weekly workload. This method helps visualize the work load you are about to assign to students for a given week.

While I didn’t find this workshop that useful for my current position, I do hope in the future it might be a tool I can utilize.