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Leadership Activities

BLP Trainees Lead Workshops at Caltech's 6th Annual Teaching Conference

Each year, Caltech’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach sponsors a Teaching Conference aimed at enhancing the skills and raising the confidence of Caltech’s corps of graduate teaching assistants. Multiple sessions are held throughout the day, led by Caltech colleagues and invited guests. Sessions are designed for beginning TAs all the way through experienced instructors, and include discussions of effective strategies, student motivation, inclusive teaching, careers, and more. On September 26, 2018, four BLP trainees had a chance to demonstrate their leadership by participating as invited speakers and designed workshops for the conference. We are pleased to share their summaries of their experiences!

Kevin Yang: During my career as a high school teacher prior to grad school, I regularly collected 90 tests on one day and returned them, graded, the next. I was able to do this because I spent hours over the summer designing my tests and rubrics around efficient grading so that my students could receive timely feedback. This skill has also served me well as a graduate teaching assistant, as grading and feedback are the primary roles for most teaching assistants at Caltech. In September 2018, I co-taught two sessions on Fair Grading and Efficient Feedback at Caltech's 6th Annual Teaching Conference. My co-teacher, Kelsey Boyle, and I led incoming graduate students and other interested members of the Caltech community through best practices for designing and using grading rubrics and discussed how to set clear expectations and give actionable feedback to students. I really enjoyed being able to use all of my teaching skills while preparing for and teaching the sessions, and hope that I've improved the teaching and learning experience for some TAs and students at Caltech. 

Heidi Klumpe: For the CTLO conference this year, I helped with two sessions: "Writing Better Problem Sets and Exams" and "How TAing can make you a better student." The wonderful thing about preparing an educational experience with CTLO is they provide a lot of guidance and examples for best practices. We used backwards design, where we list the objective of our workshop, stated in terms of what students should be able to do by the end of the workshop, and use that to design active learning activities and to select content. The problem sets workshop was just a showcase of some of the best courses I've taken at Caltech, all of which take different but intentional approaches to problem sets, as well as practical advice for how to write a good problem set efficiently.The "better student" workshop provides a short list of educational theory that can help you structure your personal study habits. This was fun because we added a section on how good lecturing techniques also make good research presentation techniques. Specifically, when you teach a class, you guide your students to think about the topic like experts. You have a similar objective when presenting your research, where you want to make your analysis and findings easy to understand and critique.

Daniel Martin: Each year, Caltech's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) hosts a Teaching Conference that is designed to prepare incoming graduate students for their roles as future educators. Though it is easy to see the immediate benefits of the Conference towards a career in academia, being in the BLP has taught me to see how the skills taught at the Conference extend beyond the classroom. That is because an important aspect of being an effective leader is being a strong mentor. Whether it's giving an effective talk, keeping a meeting on task, or organizing an entire company towards a common goal, leaders understand how to apply the business equivalents of pedagogy. For example, whether they are aware of it or not, leaders display "expert" level knowledge organization. They apply the same principle of "backwards design" to creating products. They run effective meetings with clear "learning objectives", and their company is managed with a strive towards "inclusiveness", "transparent protocols" and "scaffolded goals". And lastly a strong leader is always receptive to frequent "assessments", followed by course correction. On top of this realization, what made this year especially great, was that I had the opportunity to participate in the conference alongside several of my BLP peers as session leaders. It was fulfilling to share this bigger picture with the new graduate class. We received wonderful feedback from those who attended and I look forward to participating again next year!

Josh Brake: The Teaching Conference is a great event that the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach puts on each year. This year, I had the opportunity to help facilitate a session on successful office hours. Most graduate students enter graduate school without much teaching experience, and so serving as a TA and having have office hours, grade, and manage the classroom for the first time can be a daunting task. The goal of this session was to help a first time TA navigate holding office hours and advise them on how to make them most effective for students. It is always fun to get to work with students and share from my own experience as a TA. Often, I find that in reviewing the material to present I learn just as much as the students!