What Can Infinity and Beyond Look Like?
Set of Recommendations For Math MB
Providing Explicit Support:Being a student worker is a difficult task that can get overwhelming very easily, especially if you’re in a new position for the first time. For this reason, many students turn to their professors, leaders, or mentors for advice and support on how to navigate through responsibilities. Although it is clear that CAs can always go to their TFs or the CA Coordinators, I recommend that we work to make this more explicit in the Math MB team. Often times students are too afraid or anxious to ask for help, but if we implement small changes, we might be able to see positive results in our CAs. To make the support that CA Coordinators are able to give to CAs more apparent and explicit, I recommend that we implement more opportunities for CA Coordinators and CAs to interact with each other. This can be done through lunches or through the CA weekly meetings; seeing more of the CA Coordinators at the CA weekly meetings can help litigate the hesitation CAs might feel. Another possibility could be to hold small workshops or advice sessions on certain topics such as procrastination and time management. One current CA commented, “My schedule was packed this semester with classes all in one day, so the only time that worked for me was at 9am. Having my own psets due the morning of class time meant I was usually doing them the night before. All this made it difficult for me to get up so early. Definitely learned from that mistake.” Although the ARC Center at Harvard does provide similar workshops, being able to learn from the CA Coordinators directly could lead to more self-agency and comfort within CAs.
Pedagogy Workshops or Meetings/Info sessions:Some CAs mentioned interest in learning more about pedagogy and education:
“I would be really interested to get into like learning more about like pedagogy and like different ways to tutor students.” - Hallie
“Harvard doesn’t really have a lot of support for students who want to enter the education field. I think that if I wanted support, I would have to find it, but I don’t know where, so I think it would be cool if the Preceptors or the CA Coordinators held an info type session thing about going into education.” - Anonymous
For this area, I recommend that we try to bridge and or create connections between the CAs interested in education or pedagogy and either other professors at Harvard, professors or faculty at HGSE, and or the Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning.
Holding Socials:In order to feel committed, heard, and valuable, having strong connections with team members is crucial in a team. When members have genuine connections with each other, they're able to understand that they each play a role in a shared vision, but also that as team members, everyone is able to support each other. Unfortenatley, although this is alluded in the CA team, some CAs mentioned wanting more of a community within our team:
“I wish that there was like some more Community amongst us… Like a community night or something where I could get to know the other ca's and like we could just talk.” - Hallie
“I really like the idea of having a social outside of CA meetings so that we can get to know each other in an outside of work environment. A team-bonding activity or a fun field trip somewhere could also be a good way for the team to get to know each other better. I also think that this would help the team feel more comfortable asking each other for help because we would know each other better.” - Jackie
Another CA mentioned that sometimes they felt nervous or frightened to talk to other CAs because everyone was already close to each other.
I recommend that as a team every month, we try and schedule out a date to do a bonding activity outside the context of Math. This can be as simple as a picnic at JFK Memorial Park to as elaborate as an outing to an escape room. Some possible ideas:
- Outside Picnic
- Escape Room
- Ice Cream Social
- Game Night
- Movie Night (can be at Harvard or head to an actual Theater)
- Asking CAs if they'd like to hold a themed social. If one CA is passionate about knitting or embroidery, for example, having a small embroidery workshop
Changes to Initial and Continuous Training:Some CAs have commented on the initial training that is given at the start of the semester by the CA Coordinators:
“It did a decent job for me. It gave me an idea of how to grade fairly and to be aware of several approaches to the same problem that could all be correct.” - Anonymous
"We had a mini workshop on how to guide students and answer their questions. We also had some time to pretend to be a CA and guide a couple of other CAs through questions. They also gave us some guidance on how to grade."- Jackie
Although there was a consensus that the initial training was beneficial, CAs added that some ideas that could be added into our initial training plus in our meetings. To better support Math MB CAs so that they feel more prepared in the classroom, I recommend that we think about changing the current structure of the initial and continuous training:
- Instead of having one 3-4 hour training, think of the possibility of holding two trainings. One of the trainings could be over Zoom during the summer where previous CAs can express their experiences, pieces of advice, and answer any questions that students applying to being CAs have. Karla expressed a similar sentiment, “And kind of someone like that you can talk to ask questions kind of get to know more like what it looks like day to day as their job, I think it would be beneficial night honestly would love to do that.” The second training can have a similar structure as our current training where the CA Coordinators touch on grading, what to do in difficult situations, and diversity training.
- For the second training, it would be beneficial if the current CA Coordinators asked what the previous CAs wished they knew or had more support on to then implement in the next coming training session.
- As the semester progresses, CAs still want to be supported and improve. For this, many CAs mentioned that they would like to see less incorrect solutions on the workshops and class lessons. One CA mentioned that "maybe a document with tips of what CAs should emphasize throughout each lesson can be helpful. Sometimes it is hard to see how all the lessons are going to tie together, so including in the document the connections between lessons could be helpful."
- Jackie mentioned that "perhaps it would be nice to start meeting the TFs in your course to start building those relationships early on. I met my TF last semester briefly before the first class, but I didn't really get to know any of the other TFs until later in the semester, and I don’t think I really got to meet most of them," which can be done through increased involvement from the TFs in the CA trainings.
The Creation of a Support Hub for all CAs Across CampusWhile my initial blueprint for action is focused on the CAs in Math MB, through an interview with Adam Beaver, the Director of Pedagogy & Practice at the Derek Bok Center, it came to my attention that there is a wider need for support for CAs. In our Interview, Beaver had noted a few things:
Regarding CA Trainings, he said:
- "... but even that we're still perfecting and we're working now with the Office of Undergraduate Education and the Academic Resource Center to try to figure out how best to keep expanding that training, both in terms of the quality of the training itself and making sure that it addresses all these very different roles that CAs have but also expanding in terms of the number of people who do it because I think the most we've ever had do it is about 40. And a term and in any given term, there are several hundred CAs, so there's clearly a lot of room for improvement. But even just getting the word out to CAs that this training exists and that they're invited to it. And we hope we can do it as hard because, again, there is no like central you know roster there's no central office so we're literally just emailing every professor and preceptor that we think, maybe has a CA in their course and saying, do you have ca's and, if so, could you tell them to come to this training."
- “Other departments we work very closely [is] Computer Science so some of the courses like CS 50 most famously they do have their own in house the training. But the department identified a real need for more kind of equity and inclusion training and that even the CAs I guess we're being trained to kind of like what to do in terms of leading their sections and things that they weren't getting any training thinking about like students identities and being an equitable and inclusive teacher in the classroom and so the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging starting to develop in combination with some people from Computer Science, in particular an equity and inclusion training for the CAs and the box Center assistant director for equity inclusion. And then also our assistant director for science pedagogy work closely with them to develop that two day training for CAs in the CS department. So that's another example where we have done a like a department specific CA training."
- "So one of the things we're always curious about, because again there's no like set role for CAs and in fact we don't even know which courses necessarily have them and so it would be for us to meet with instructors in the department and find out what are the kinds of things that CAs do. One obvious case like how to help people with you know, a problem set or Problem Solving in general, without kind of like taking the pain out of their hands, so to speak, right and then like solving it for them right, so how you kind of coach someone through a problem. So that that would be probably interesting to them, but a lot of the things that we could offer some training and support in like how to manage your classroom… So the first thing we'd want to do is find out what are the numbers of CAs they [departments/courses] have [and what are] the different kinds of jobs that they're doing in these courses.”
- Make courses aware of the support that the Bok Center can provide for specific topics, such as for Inclusion Training, which can be helpful in very divided concentrations. These trainings can be specific to courses and CAs' needs, and don't need to be universal across all departments.
- Gather the useful information: what courses have CAs, how many CAs are there, what are the different roles of these CAs, and what support could they need. By understanding the different roles and responsibilities that CAs have, we can anticipate the support they might need. (This is a possible feat because recently different CAs I know from different courses received an email from the Bok Center with a survey regarding our experiences as CAs).
- Create a Hub with collaboration with the ARC, Bok Center, and Office of Undergraduate Education. First we can start with a shared Google Drive folder or with Dropbox to begin building up support resources and, if successful, can be changed to a separate website or to be part of the Bok Center website for example. This Google Drive below is the one for Math MB. For an initial Drive for CAs in general, specific folders for each course or subject can be added and only given access to CAs in those courses. Within these folders, we can have more folders relating to each role/responsibility the respective CA has and support resources that can range from videos to readings to studies to tips from past CAs.