Inside GSI World

Berkeley Graduate Student Instructors Tell Their Stories

An unusual new video that provides a fresh and candid look into the lives and experiences of graduate student instructors at Berkeley is winning praise on and off campus.

Unlike traditional teaching videos that too often take a didactic or lecture-like approach, "In a Class By Themselves--Graduate Student Instructors Teaching at UC Berkeley," features four Berkeley GSIs sharing their own stories and personal beliefs about teaching as we watch them teach classes, lead discussions and guide laboratory sessions.

The aim of the 25-minute video is to balance distinct personal visions of the difficulties and rewards of being a GSI, said GSI Teaching and Resource Center Director Jacqueline Mintz, who conceived and co-directed the project.

From early on, she said, the Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs urged that the video reflect a Berkeley view on the world of higher education.

As a result, "In a Class By Themselves," takes a close look at the lives of four graduate students instructors: Sarvar Khotavala of geography, Robert Bulman of sociology, Kerry Riley of ethnic studies and Margaret Lin, a recent graduate of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.

With different backgrounds, disciplines and more than a decade of teaching experience among them, the four GSIs provide advice and wisdom for new graduate student instructors.

Through the stories told in the video, the graduate student instructors offer a candid view of their surprises, fears, foibles and successes as teachers and how their teaching duties mesh with their lives as graduate students.

Bulman talks about learning to be a better teacher from an undergraduate student who came to see him in office hours.

International GSI Khotavala points out the value of silence in leading a discussion section. Lin tells how she learned from student evaluations that she needed to see her subject matter from the undergraduate point of view.

Riley talks of the roles that race and ethnicity play in the classroom and how they differ each new semester.

When the video premiered at the GSI Teaching and Resource Center's Fall Orientation and Teaching Conference, it culminated a year and a half of planning, interviewing, shooting and editing.

It was a nervous time for Mintz, as she awaited audience reaction to a piece she had come to know intimately. Adding to the anxiety was the fact Chancellor Tien--himself once a GSI--was in the audience. Much to her surprise and delight, said Mintz, the video elicited laughter and sounds of recognition from the audience of new GSIs anticipating their first day of teaching.

Written evaluations confirmed the video had been a success. Many GSIs wrote that they identified with their colleagues in the video and that they came away feeling proud to be teaching at Berkeley.

The video had its national debut in October at the Fifth National Conference on the Education and Employment of Graduate Teaching Assistants in Denver. Carol and David Baume, educational developers from England, said it had struck a common cord for teachers that extends beyond national boundaries.

Mintz said she wanted the video to show the GSIs in their day-to-day lives as graduate students. So the video joins Khotavala in a cafe with friends, Bulman cooking dinner, Lin giving violin lessons to three 9-year-olds in her home and Riley at his dining room table talking about the reasons he decided to come to graduate school.

For information regarding the video, contact the GSI Teaching and Resource Center at 642-4456.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail