Interaction and Integration: How to Teach Students with Varying Expertise

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Categories: GSI Online LibraryTeaching Effectiveness Award Essays

by Robert Held, Bioengineering

Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2007

In the fall of 2006 I was eager to begin my first teaching experience. I was a GSI for a senior-level medical imaging and signal processing class that was cross-listed between the Bioengineering and EECS departments. The professor teaching the class prepared me well for answering student questions and leading class discussions. However, he was concerned about the students’ varying familiarity with the signal processing and medical fields. Specifically, he was worried about the EECS students being bored and outperforming the BioE students during the signals portion and vice versa during the medical imaging portion. He put me in charge of assessing the situation over the course of the semester. My goals were to gauge the students’ comprehension of the material, provide an assessment of the professor’s effectiveness for the class as a whole, and help everyone understand the concepts more thoroughly.

I adopted a three-tier solution to the issue of uneven experience. Brief quizzes, multimedia presentations, and interactive study sessions were employed. The quizzes were given at the beginning of each discussion section and carried no weight relative to the students’ grades. They contained four or five brief questions based on the concepts recently covered in class. Additionally, the students were asked to rate the pace of the class and write down any comments or suggestions for me. Names were excluded to maintain anonymity. After the quizzes, I would go over all the answers and address any questions. When concepts seemed difficult to grasp during lecture, I would also prepare multimedia presentations to help the students. For instance, we used audio and image files to see in real time the effects of the signal filters covered in class. This provided a more tangible, visually based approach for the students. Finally, prior to exams, I hosted “Jeopardy!” games with questions based on class work to help the students relax and practice their knowledge simultaneously. The students were entertained and challenged at the same time, and the slight competition urged them to speak up more during class.

The quizzes received an immediate, positive reaction. Since they had no effect on grades, the students approached them with confidence and were responsive to my requests for comments and pace ratings. The professor and I assessed the performance on the quizzes and determined which students, if any, were unhappy with the speed of the class. We were pleased to see that student understanding of the material was consistently high and independent of major. Except for a few outliers, everyone also appeared content with the rate of lectures. There was one case when the students felt that a topic was inadequately covered, but they immediately let me know, so the professor and I were able to quickly and efficiently go over the concept again without falling behind schedule. Meanwhile, the multimedia presentations proved to be effective at bolstering knowledge acquired during lecture. For instance, I once heard a student remember the effect of a filter by recalling what it did “to that picture of Mr. Belvedere.” Finally, the “Jeopardy!” sessions received the most positive feedback. Typically, students are anxious prior to an exam. But during our mock game show, everyone was smiling and interacting. Once again, the students’ varying levels of prior experience were not apparent. I saw each person answer at least one question, which showed how well the professor was teaching the class as a whole. Thus the three-tiered teaching approach appeared to be considerably successful. Its success demonstrated that students with diverse backgrounds could be brought to the same level of understanding simply through continual dialogue and a willingness to teach using unconventional methods.