Marsden pilots Teacher-Scholars Program

July 18, 2013

When Pete Marsden was a chemistry graduate student instructor (GSI) in 2006, the College of Chemistry had a small program that placed juniors and seniors in the teaching labs to provide hands-on help with experiments. Marsden appreciated the extra help in his lab sections.

Now a lecturer, Marsden is teaching introductory and organic chemistry lab classes and is piloting the Teacher-Scholars Program, a program aimed at expanding the number of undergrad students assisting GSIs in the teaching labs. Last spring and this summer, approximately 10 teacher-scholars participated in teaching the Chem 1A, 3A, and 3B laboratory courses.

"We offer the teacher-scholars two hours of pass/no pass credit, similar to what they would earn in a DeCal course," says Marsden. "We have no trouble finding interested undergrads—the concept has been very popular among both the teacher-scholars and the students they help."

At UC Berkeley and most research universities, there is just one level of support between faculty members and undergraduate students, the GSI. While this can be adequate for many courses, in labs it helps to have extra hands available to assist the GSIs.

The goal is to carry the success of the spring and summer pilot programs into the fall, when there will be a large enough pool of teacher-scholars so that the program can be evaluated systematically. Sixty students are currently lined up to assist in the Chem 1A, 1AL, 3AL, 3BL, 4A and 112A courses this fall, with more applications expected to arrive before the beginning of the semester.

Says Marsden, "The idea is popular, and we think it works, but can we rigorously show that teacher-scholars in labs improve learning and academic achievement? Stay tuned. If the program does appear to be successful, we can expand it to helping students outside the labs by offering help with problem sets and homework."

The program has been encouraged by Anne Baranger, the college's Director of Undergraduate Chemistry and instructor for Chem 112A this fall. "We are pursuing what is known as evidence-based education," she says. "Here in the college, we train our students to experiment and then carefully evaluate the results. We want to apply those same principles to teaching itself—too often we teach students using very traditional techniques. We need to apply evidence-based approaches to our own teaching methods, and the Teacher-Scholars Program is a good place to start."

Instructor Pete Marsden with teacher-scholars Stephen Gassner and Vincent La.

Instructor Pete Marsden with teacher-scholars Stephen Gassner and Vincent La.