Department of Computer Science
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award
Statement of Mentoring Philosophy

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award is sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

Michael Clancy’s Statement of Mentoring Philosophy

I work with GSIs in a variety of contexts: as coordinator and instructor of our lower-division courses; as CS Faculty GSI Advisor; and as instructor of our courses CS 301 (“Teaching Techniques”) and CS 302 (“Designing CS Education”). I want my GSIs to think constantly about how to improve their teaching. My mentoring philosophy can be summed up in a few aphorisms:

“Question authority.” I try hard to foster a dialog with my GSIs about my teaching-related decisions, for example, my rationale for topic coverage and sequence, course organization, or choice of activities. In responding to probes about the reasons for my decisions, I make my thinking explicit to GSIs. My hope is that they too, when organizing their own courses, will examine their decisions, consider alternatives, and in general not just teach their courses the way they were done twenty times before.

In CS 302, where participants invent their own courses, we focus almost completely on course design decisions. In class discussions, we query each other about content difficulties, choice of homework exercises, exam problems, textbook, and grading policies, and ways to enhance participants’ own mentorship of GSIs.

“Leave no stone unturned.” In CS 301 and as instructor of large lecture courses, I encourage GSIs to experiment with nonstandard ways of running their sections. My CS 301 offerings include an assignment done in groups, where the GSIs design a class activity that minimizes information that they tell the students in favor of information that students are to figure out on their own. In class, we discuss pros and cons of other alternatives to lecture: collaborations, brainstorming, question-driven sessions, lab-like problem solving sessions, and role playing.

The students themselves may be viewed as “stones” to turn. I encourage my GSIs to probe wrong answers to diagnose underlying student misunderstandings. (Much educational research on misconceptions is based on exactly that kind of probing.)

“Know thyself.” A good teacher recognizes personal strengths and weaknesses, and learns from experience. I try to help GSIs do this effectively. In class, they are encouraged to solicit feedback from students. In CS 301, they provide and receive feedback from peers, and keep journals about how section went each week. Ideally, they will learn what they’re good at and where they need improvement, and will be able to choose teaching methods in their own courses that make best use of their strengths.

Finally, I try to communicate my own enjoyment of teaching. I can’t think of any job I’d be happier doing, and I hope some of my enthusiasm is contagious.