Teacher Training in Computer Science: What's That?
Last year I was a teaching assistant for two quarters giving me two opportunities to see how well I could share my knowledge with students. Aside from my knowledge of the material, and my ability to relate to many of the undergrads at UCSB (having previously been one myself) I had almost no preparation of how to be a TA. Our CS department requires that all TAs do three things: attend a department TA orientation, attend the campus TA orientation, and take a seminar specifically for training TAs in the CS department.
Both orientations occur the week before school starts, and cover topics such as what UCSB students are like, sexual harassment, time management, and whom to contact if [â€¦]. Our department’s required TA training seminar takes place in fall quarter, thus not prior to when TAs might have to teach, and was strictly presentation based. In none of these three requirements was there any discussion of pedagogy, the study of being a teacher.
I went into my first discussion section with no idea on how to lead an effective discussion section, other than what I personally saw in my undergraduate Computer Science discussion sections, most of which I did not attend. Those that I had attended were not discussion sections, but rather mini-lectures with a question and answer session, thus this was the model I followed. Rather than trying to help students make real world connections with what they were learning, I simply presented material and answered questions they had about assigned projects.
Despite how I now believe I could had a much bigger impact, I was given Outstanding Teaching Assistant awards both quarters I TAed based on my end of quarter reviews by the students, and professor recommendations. I am not attempting to brag here, but rather show that my instruction as a TA is representative of our department’s best TA instruction and that’s sad. It can be so much better.
Undergraduates coming to UCSB for Computer Science, benefit from being taught by some of the brightest minds in the country. However, if you think these professors are much different when it comes to pedagogy than our TAs, you are sadly mistaken. Our professors are not hired based on their teaching ability, but rather their ability to bring in research money through grants.
I’ve confirmed this through discussion with faculty involved in the hiring of new faculty. I asked one of our faculty members, “Suppose two candidates were identical in research experience, but one had more teaching experience. Would that give the candidate an edge?” The response I received was that no two candidates are ever identical in research experience, and that any teaching experience is completely neglected.
In my opinion this is unacceptable. At UCSB undergraduates are paying more than they should to receive a college education. At the very least they should be taught by professors who not only know what they’re teaching, but know how to teach it as effectively as possible. Teaching shouldn’t be a requirement, as many faculty members see it, but rather an opportunity to share knowledge.
Before I conclude, I want to mention that we have some incredible faculty in UCSB’s Computer Science department, many of who are not only excellent researchers, but also excellent instructors. Of those I’ve discussed this with, none of them had any formal teacher training, therefore are solely relying on past experience and observer feedback. Those that are excellent instructors have done incredibly well, but they could do so much better. As can I.