When One Teaches, Two Learn (GAANN Report #4)

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

My plan for this Spring 2021 semester included:

♥ Co-teach the ITCS 3162 class (Introduction to Data Mining) in Spring ’21.
♥ As a part of co-teaching: (1) develop activities for the students to get hands-on experience with the data mining process and related tools, (2) provide various lectures and in-class activities, (3) proctor exams, (4) grade exams and projects, and (5) conduct problem sessions outside of class.
♥ Complete my fourth teaching seminar course: ITSC 8665.
♥ Continue developing my personal website and teaching portfolio.
♥ Attend two CTL (Center for Teaching and Learning) Seminars and write a report reflecting on what I have learned.

As a co-instructor and having more responsibilities this semester, it was definitely a stressful but incredibly worthwhile learning experience. Designing activities for this class for the first time made me nervous, as I kept asking myself if it would be good enough, if the students would understand the instructions, and if they would be able to grasp the material. When preparing for small lectures and demos, my confidence constantly wavered. But by the end of the class, due to the amount of times I walked through the various problems with students, I felt like I had also gained a much better understanding of the material itself. In order to help our students succeed, I had to work hard to have a stronger understanding of the material myself first. The students were also all very kind and appreciative, giving me valuable feedback throughout the course.

“When one teaches, two learn.”

– Robert Heinlein

In this report, I will reflect on each of these goals what I learned.

Co-teach ITCS 3162 (Intro to Data Mining)

This was so incredibly nervewracking starting out, especially since everything was online and I couldn’t see anyone’s faces.

As the co-instructor to Dr. Ras’s ITCS 3162 course, I led three of the classes, proctored exams, helped grade, organized the Canvas course, had weekly office hours, and conducted review sessions before each exam for the students.

For each of the classes I led, we had the following learning goals:

  1. Teach students about the general data science pipeline (e.g., collecting data, understanding data, preprocessing, etc.) using both the Orange and Weka tools.
  2. Teach students more about different models and evaluating their models using these tools.
  3. Learn about action rule mining using LISP miner.

For each of these classes, I designed a Canvas activity that would provide instructions, explanations, and then ask follow up questions as it led students through the different processes. After providing a brief lecture and explaining the activity, I then put students into breakout rooms so that they could work on the activities together and ask each other questions. In the first class, I realized that I wasn’t sure how students could “raise their hand” after being in the breakout room, so I had to jump into each room to make sure everyone knew how to call for help. I then continued the rest of class by going between breakout rooms to help answer questions as students worked through the activity.

I enjoyed providing more of a hands-on approach and did my best to also first explain why they were doing the activity in the first place, so that students understood the value of it. I had also added a reflection question at the end of each activity asking students for (1) what they learned (any “aha” moments) and (2) if there was anything confusing or that could be improved with the activity and overall learning experience. Having this question at the end was really helpful for me to gain a better sense of if the activity was providing the overall learning objectives well enough. I also received a lot of good feedback from the students, which I then incorporated into the future activities.

For example, before the first activity, I gave out a background survey to students asking about their previous experiences, why they were taking the course, and what they had hoped to learn (among various other questions). With this, I saw different areas that seemed to be of interested to students (such as health, finances, etc.) and so I tried to include multiple datasets to fit these interests for them to choose from. However, I received feedback that having so many options for datasets actually made it a little difficult for them in groups – if everyone had chosen different datasets, and thus had different challenges due to the data itself, it was more difficult for them to ask other group mates for help. Some students also mentioned that having a longer lecture or demo before the activity would have been helpful (I went a little too fast the first time out of nervousness, and made sure to go slower in the next activity to give more in-depth explanations).

Otherwise, the rest of my responsibilities (e.g., grading, office hours, review sessions, etc.) were similar to that of previous semesters. Providing review sessions and answering student questions (usually the week of an exam) was always really tiring, but it was definitely worth it to see them do well on the exam. A lot of the students also seemed really appreciative and, again, it made it all worth it.

In the future, I’d like to continue to find ways to adapt to student feedback throughout the course. I’d also like to be able to directly connect the course material to students’ bigger goals (e.g., career goals) and help students first understand the “why” behind all the learning objectives.

Teaching Seminar

This was my fourth time taking the teaching seminar course!

This semester, we built off of the work from last semester (the collective wisdom for TA’s handbook) and turned the material into a website. I liked how Dr. Maher opened the class for discussions at various points so that we could make decision as a class (such as making the website instead of just a report-type format).

Being a TA at a University can be challenging. Often the TA is assigned to a course without training or resources to guide their experience. Both being a TA and the learning support a TA provides plays an important role in the student experience. The content of this web site has been prepared by TAs for TAs to provide suggestions, resources, and the wisdom that comes with experience. This content represents the community of TAs in our College of Computing and Informatics at UNC Charlotte.

The Wisdom of Teaching Assistants. From TAs for TAs.

I worked with Trevon to create the section on Understanding Students. It was more enjoyable for me to organize the material in this website format. I particularly enjoyed going through the sections on adapting to students and providing meaningful experiences, and hope to incorporate these ideas in my future teaching.

Personal Website and Teaching Portfolio

For my teaching portfolio, I have updated my teaching experiences section to include information about the course I co-instructed this semester. I have also included PDFs showing the activities I designed for the students. I’m still not entirely happy with how the page itself looks, but it is OK for now and provides the necessary information.

I have also made some small updates to my Service page. I added journal paper reviewer for the Journal of Intelligent Information Systems. I have also added information on student organization officer positions (though I am not sure if this belongs on this page).

Next, I will need to update my “Research” page to include descriptions (and perhaps links to any related papers published or presentations given) under each project listed.

Attend Center for Teaching and Learning Seminars

This semester, I attended two CTL seminars:

  1. Humanizing Your Online Course: Strategies to Promote Learner Interaction in Online Courses
  2. Using Feedback to Improve Teaching & Learning

In the first, we learned about ways to encourage students to interact more in the classroom (including online classes). My reflection on this workshop can be read here.

The second was an asynchronous Canvas course teaching us about how to both give and receive feedback to help improve the students’ overall learning experiences. My reflection on what I learned can be read here.

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