(l to r) Varsha Desai and Assoc. Dean Kim Voss at the award ceremony; image courtesy Peg Skorpinski
Congratulations to Varsha Desai (Ph.D. Chem '18 ) who has received a 2018 Teaching Effectiveness Award for GSIs. The award honors a small number of Berkeley graduate student instructors (GSIs) who devise solutions to teaching or learning problems they have identified in their classes and write them up as a short essay. Desai's essay has been published on the GSI Center website for use by other instructors.
Desai's essay touches on the critical issue of students struggling with lab experiments in chemistry. During her time teaching, she has observed that students, when working on experiments are often either passively following the lab manual, and thus occasionally missing steps, or spending too long doing steps where precision is not actually critical. The result can lead to a domino effect of inconclusive end results and the need to redo the experiment.
According to Desai, "To ensure a more active learning environment in the laboratory, I have taken a three-step 'what, why, how' approach, such that the students ask themselves What am I doing?, Why am I doing this?, and How can I explain my results?" She goes on to outline her approach in the essay that helping students answer these questions can have more successful results. Desai concludes, "Overall, this approach required a sustained effort from both the students and the GSI, but led to a much richer learning process."
The GSI Teaching and Resource Center is in place to assist graduate students at UC Berkeley who can take advantage of a wealth of programs to help them get started building their teaching expertise, and help position themselves for future careers in higher education.