Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times Award

Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times

Image credit:
Keegan Houser

The Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching is pleased to announce 42 individual and team awardees for the UC Berkeley’s Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times award. 

The Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times Award is intended to honor UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and student instructors who in 2020 embraced the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and engaged in or supported excellent teaching. These instructors and staff used innovative methods and worked beyond their traditional roles to ensure that students remained engaged and supported, and were challenged to do meaningful work under extraordinary circumstances

The Committee received almost 500 nominations for this award, signifying how our campus community has embraced the instructional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in support of our students.


Albert Ruhi: Environmental Science, Policy and Management 

I developed a new upper division course on Applied time series analysis for ecology and environmental sciences (ESPM 174A), and instructed it for the first time on Zoom via interactive lectures and computer labs. This course offers a hands-on opportunity for students to learn valuable data analysis skills, apply them to real environmental data sets, and develop a final project based on individual research interests. Instructing this course was challenging because no GSI was assigned. However, I provided thorough mentorship and guided students in developing their manuscripts (instead of a final exam) via labs and well-attended office hours. Engagement was extraordinary, and at least 5 students are moving on to turn their manuscript into a peer-reviewed publication.

Amy McCosh Leonard: Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning

To transition to a remote format for students in multiple time zones with varying levels of internet and technology access I shifted focus to self-paced, written tutorials -- addressing student concerns about slow or unreliable internet connections, language barriers, time differences and Zoom fatigue.

I emphasized regular written communication; set up weekly opportunities for student feedback and used surveys to engage further with students, particularly those that self-reported high levels of stress or concern, regardless of whether or not students were able to attend in-person class session; adapted course material and content based on student feedback; and provided up-front, written grading rubrics. 

Arman Daniel Catterson: Psychology

Teaching during a pandemic has required being responsive to student’s needs, and making radical changes to the class to better empower student voices (e.g., “flip” the class so students can discuss relevant topics and hone their craft in lecture), support students with diverse experiences (e.g., no penalties for late assignments), foster a positive learning environment (e.g., meeting on discord and club penguin), and make the class relevant to student interests and identities (e.g., students apply statistics, research, and programming skills to issues of race, mental health, and a research project topic of their own choice).

Ashley Reaver: Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology

These supporting materials highlight assignments that required significant time investment from students as opposed to multiple choice only knowledge assessments. They required increased engagement, effort, and understanding to execute correctly and relieved the stress of cramming for exams or using Google for instead of studying. 

Benjamin Concepcion: Physics

As a new GSI I have had the privilege of using my abilities to make the current, difficult academic setting bearable for students at UCB. I have worked hard to make an inclusive and safe environment, treating my students as people and considering their emotional, mental, and academic needs. I have labored to foster an environment that is comfortable for those who might otherwise be left behind. It's been my honor to receive myriad positive feedback and know that I have been an element of support towards wellbeing and success in one of the most trying times of our lives. 

Cari Kaufman: Statistics

I teach Stat 2, a 300+ student introductory course about statistical reasoning. I’ve taught it for seven semesters, and I deeply love helping students (especially math-phobic ones!) explore a new, more precise way of thinking about learning from data. Participating in the Semester in the Cloud program gave me the time and resources to re-envision the core ideas of this course and rebuild it from the bottom up. Interacting with students during this time has also deepened my awareness of student hardship in its myriad forms and prompted me to revise course policies to prioritize flexibility and empathy. 

Christopher Herold: Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies

Training actors involves cultivating the student’s empathic and intellectual connection to personal and communal experiences and stories, while simultaneously providing them with the technical abilities necessary to convey these stories through a variety of performative lenses and genres. Traditionally, this process involves intensive in-person interaction, both between teacher and student and among the larger ensemble of performers. The worldwide pandemic which began in 2020 upended traditional models of teaching as it necessitated a change to virtual teaching. Hoping to respond to the requirements of the current historical moment and effective technical training, I reimagined the curriculum for the Advanced Acting Studio course I was teaching in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. Rather than relying upon already-written dramatic texts relating the stories of fictional characters, we instead generated work which was entirely devised by the student-actors, extracted from their current experiences and delivered through the lense of Zoom. The result was The Corona Chronicles: Going Viral, a live performance event consisting of five unique Chronicles developed and delivered in sequence. This work provided young actors/scholars with both a creative mechanism for addressing and expressing their current experiences and a medium through which to continue learning and applying technical expertise.

Desiree Fields: Geography

My Fall 2020 course, “Platform urbanism/Digitized countryside” engaged students in examining how digital platforms are reshaping urban and rural geographies. Care, community, and engagement were central course priorities. To achieve these goals, I experimented liberally with adapting and rethinking in-class activities using digital tools. Riffing on the pods that define our pandemic lives, I created stable student groups to build comfort, familiarity, and opportunities for more intimate, spontaneous, and in-depth discussions. I put students into dialogue with experts through inviting guest speakers for Q+As about their work. Finally, I experimented with new models of assessment to transform classroom power relations.

Devon Sandel: Psychology

In face of remote learning and unprecedented global hardship, I helped redesign Clinical Psychology (Psy 130) with Dr. Sheri Johnson. Key changes made were that we: 1) replaced previous high-stakes multiple-choice exams with a legitimate final project which allowed the students to explore a career path in clinical psychology; 2) planned sections in a way that fostered greater community and friendships between students during this time of isolation; and 3) addressed the current global climate in course discussion, particularly as social isolation and experiences of racism both amplify mental health symptoms. 

Diana Negrin: Geography and Ethnic Studies

How can one approach the study of geography and social movements in the Western Hemisphere through a virtual format? The spring of 2020 provided me with the challenge to not only continue to bring a dynamic lecture format to my students, but also pivot to ensure assignments and supplemental materials that would keep students engaged and feeling heard despite the virtual format. The work my students were inspired to produce is a testament to our collective resilience and to the capacity that education continues to have to inspire and build new ways of addressing pressing social, political and environmental matters. 

Dinah Lensing-Sharp: Comparative Literature

I restructured my R1B course to be as flexible and accessible as possible. I created an asynchronous format in which I posted a lesson plan with readings, activities, and deadlines for each week, which allowed students to do weekly work at their own pace rather than attending Zoom sessions. They annotated and commented on excerpts of course texts; participated in peer reviews of one another’s work in Google Docs; and responded to weekly discussion prompts. Using a labor-based contract grading system, I evaluated students on the basis of the work they completed and their participation in weekly activities.

Emily Weiss: Lawrence Hall of Science and Geography

Communicating Climate Science (Geography 147) students thrived in the virtual version of this active learning course. They improved their understanding of climate science, while developing communication skills to increase the public’s climate literacy. Engaging diverse, non-expert audiences in meaningful discussions requires that students experience and study how people learn; recognize the importance of social, cultural, and worldview belief systems on behavior; and understand climate justice issues. Going virtual entailed creating a collaborative online community and converting hands-on models to online guided interactions demonstrating the processes and interactions of climate change. Students presented to Massachusetts middle schoolers for their final projects. 

Erol Kepkep, Lianna Wong, James Sharkey: Molecular & Cell Biology

We are support staff for the large introductory Biology 1AL laboratory course. To shift to remote instruction, we converted the printed lab manual into a structured online multimedia environment that delivered sequenced resources for each lab module in bCourses. We created collections of images and videos of lab materials and experimental demonstrations, and collected data for student analysis. To support new data analysis learning objectives, we developed Excel and statistics resources and a new enzyme lab module. We established shared Google Drive folders for collaborative development of lab assignments and grading rubrics, to disseminate files, and to solicit instructor feedback. 

Hayden Taylor, Andrew Barkan, Shiela Caguiat, Tom Clark, Ana Preza-Gregg, Scott McCormick, Mike Neufer, and Robert Jenkins: Mechanical Engineering

The transition to remote instruction posed a serious threat to the Mechanical Engineering Department’s ability to effectively teach hands-on engineering. At its core, mechanical engineering is a fundamentally physical subject, and we recognized the need for a set of tools to enable remote instruction of hardware concepts. Our team of engineering faculty, staff, and students spent Summer 2020 designing a cost-effective collection of devices, tools, and online resources that we call the MicroKit, which has been deployed in multiple core ME courses with great success. Initial reviews indicate a substantially positive reception from students and instructors in remote class settings.

Ikhlaq Sidhu: Sutardja Center and Industrial Engineering & Operations Research

Data-X is very applied, advanced project-based course for data science applications that helps students gain critical experience with math, computer science, and innovation. Project-based courses lead to better learning outcomes, and the course is unique in that it combines a technical project with innovation training. To adapt to the remote environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the course was updated to a flipped classroom model, and course content was published online and made freely available. The new teaching model created opportunities for students to work with collaborators around the world, and provided guidance for future innovation curriculum development.

Jay Monga: Computer Science

Adjusting for online instruction is especially challenging for lab focused robotics class. I helped accommodate the switch to simulation by creating a video walkthrough of a mandatory setup procedure. I also contributed to slides to visually present lab assignments, and a recorded presentation to promote asynchronous instruction. I worked with 2 other TAs to design a new accessible lab that well reflected student interests and met learning goals. In addition, I created a Discord server to promote a more conversational virtual learning environment. Students appreciated this work and I received a teaching effectiveness rating above department average.

Ritika Shrivastava: Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences

The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives. As a teacher during the pandemic, education was very different from what I had experienced. As a staff member for EECS/BioE/MechE C106A/206A , I helped work towards those changes. This was done by promoting engagement in the course using tools such as interactive presentations, engaging, using tools that promoted inclusiveness despite technological differences, developing new materials, and welcoming everyone with a smile. Online learning can be dreary but, being supportive of students and coming to class with an upbeat manner can make the course more enjoyable.

Jay Stowsky: Haas School of Business

Working to match the engagement level of a live, physical classroom has involved hours of brainstorming, planning, workshop training, and investments in a host of new technologies. It has been fascinating, and challenging, to conceptualize, organize and operationalize this goal with the faculty, graduate student instructors, and technology teams at Haas. Innovations we implemented include the installation of four state-of-the-art virtual classrooms, technical upgrades to regular classrooms for virtual teaching, regularly scheduled faculty-student engagement sessions, improvements in production quality of digitized asynchronous content, a remote instruction workshop series for faculty, and training on how to use Zoom features more effectively.

Jessica Lutz: School of Public Health, Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Teaching requires humility about the structural barriers students face in accessing education. Student learning is impossible without student well-being: Naming the collective fear, trauma, and uncertainty we are facing has had a greater effect on students than all of my efforts to transform course materials. The personal boundaries we create as instructors do not preclude acknowledging that scary things are happening, that students are not alone in this, and that our world is making learning more difficult right now. This pandemic has brought to light profound disparities in our education system, but these inequities existed long before remote instruction began. We must do everything in our power to prevent remote learning from exacerbating these inequities.

Jhonni Carr: Department of Spanish & Portuguese

Early on in the pandemic we saw how language barriers disproportionately affected certain linguistic communities’ access to knowledge about COVID-19 and preventative measures. When classes went online, I adapted my course with an eye to methods through which we as a class could help local members of our communities. Collaborating with local nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area, I provided students with an alternative for the final project: to volunteer their time and linguistic skills to aid disadvantaged communities. Students created Spanish translations of COVID-related information regarding safety techniques, food security, financial relief, and domestic abuse resources. One student’s Mixtec translation was even played on a local radio station for indigenous, immigrant, and farmworking communities. During a time in which many felt disconnected and immobilized, this meaningful work united students, giving them a sense of hope and control.

Jill Bakehorn, Sociology

I worked hard to transform the challenges of teaching remotely into dynamic spaces of learning for all students, where all students feel supported. This means being human first and foremost and centering student well-being. My pedagogical changes were not about adopting the latest tech-produced app or crafting slickly-produced videos. I focused on connection with my students, allowing students to be vulnerable and being vulnerable with them. I wanted our virtual classroom to feel like a space of community that can foster learning.

Joey Gottbrath, Cody Glen, Chris Parsell, Gary Gin, Adam Hutz, Nicole Panditi, Erik Sandall, Aleta Martinez: Mechanical Engineering, Jacobs Hall

The Jacobs Hall technical team has developed a project support service that allows eligible students, faculty, and staff to submit formatted part files for fabrication and pick-up. The program is intended to support research, academic, and co-curricular projects with technical fabrication support through a standardized request system, virtual design support, and safe parts pick up. We will be offering a variety of fabrication methods, including metal/wood/acrylic laser cutting, 3D printing, and most of the other rapid prototyping processes. Access to the program will be offered campus-wide, with a priority based on tier assignment during busier times. 

Kelli Talaska and Alexander Paulin: Mathematics

At Berkeley, about 80% of undergraduates take at least one course in mathematics, a subject critical to success in multiple majors. Many of these students arrive with a clear sense of what they want to study, only to find themselves underprepared and struggling through gateway mathematics courses. This experience can deter them from pursuing scientific or technical fields, and especially impacts underrepresented students.

To address this, we’ve developed a new program called Pre-Calculus Essentials. It

serves both as an extensive online mathematical resource, available to all UC Berkeley community members, and the foundation for a summer program to better prepare incoming undergraduates. This summer program also has a strong focus on helping students build community and resilience, and we’ve worked to incorporate these principles into our academic year mathematics courses.

Kerri Yoshiyama: Optometry

Kerri Yoshiyama transitioned Berkeley Optometry’s live patient-based clinical program into a virtual platform within 24 hours of SIP.  Her interactive, synchronous program focused on clinical decision making, simulating experiences missed during cancelled rotations.  In spring, Kerri delivered 25+ hours/week of clinical learning, coordinating 50+ faculty/doctors nationwide to conduct remote case discussions, journal club, office hours, and telehealth patient exams with interns/residents. In summer, Kerri added simulated laboratories, developed a synchronous case-based course, and for students requiring accommodations or extra support, a customized one-on-one program. Kerri’s remote curriculum proved so impactful, it now permanently supplements traditional patient-based learning.

Kevin Langhoff: Physics

All good educators recognize the academic impact they have on their students; however, the pandemic has painfully illustrated the immense importance of providing students with moral and emotional support. Specifically, an educator should endeavor to understand the diverse spectrum of challenges each student faces and create a positive and aspiring environment in which students can acquire the confidence to face and surmount those challenges. In the attached summary, I describe the details of how I have tried to accomplish this goal. I believe the ultimate voice on whether my attempts succeeded are the students whose anonymous evaluations are also attached.

Kim Shelton: Classics

Teaching archaeology remotely, challenges included replicating in-person, team/interactive experiences of the classroom while maintaining student engagement. I redesigned courses creating opportunities for remote student engagement, assessment, and collaboration.

In Greek Archaeology, material culture was brought to life virtually through increasing scales of activities; from identifying objects, to discovering object life-cycles, culminating with virtual exhibitions on themes relevant to past and contemporary worlds. In Indiana Jones and the Elgin Marbles (CL24), I replicated in-person experience by creating archaeology “kits” of contemporary objects that were mailed to each student so that they could participate in hands-on discovery, conservation, classification, and narrative construction. 

Kirsten Verster: Integrative Biology

Although not without hiccups, I have developed and implemented virtual pedagogy to create an inclusive, accessible “classroom” environment that allowed my students to prioritize learning during this challenging time. I did this in my capacity as a GSI for a large MCB course, and as a GSI for a new IB course whose labs I designed from scratch. I tried to foster inclusivity by use of icebreakers for students to discuss amongst themselves in Zoom rooms to reduce their feelings of isolations, in addition to practical accessibility improvements like use of closed captioning.

Leslea Hlusko: Integrative Biology

IB35AC Human Biological Variation is my labor of love – teaching 100’s of students every year that biology actually undermines the concept of race and racism. After the pandemic hit, and then the racism in the US reached a boiling point, it was clear that THIS class needed to be available to as many students as possible. As part of the Semester in the Cloud program, with an amazing team from DLS and nine GSIs, we created a magical online class & community that carried all of us, from the students to the instructional team, through a very challenging fall semester. 

Linda von Hoene, Kristen Nelson, Noah Katznelson: GSI Teaching & Resource Center, Graduate Division

The Graduate Remote Instruction (GRI) Innovation Fellowship program, a certificate and training program offered by the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, has played a central role in preparing GSIs for remote teaching and in providing assistance to faculty as they revised their courses for remote instruction in the 2020-21 academic year. 479 graduate students took part in this intensive training to revise a wide range of courses (discussion sections, labs, and studios; Reading & Composition and foreign language courses; and large, multi-section courses), all with the goal of creating effective remote learning experiences that promote equity, inclusion, and belonging. Nearly every department and every student on the campus has benefited from the program.

Maria Josephine Barrios-Leblanc: South and Southeast Asian Studies

Dr. Barrios-Leblanc has demonstrated teaching excellence through: 1) the quick transformation of classes, using previously prepared online materials in all language levels; 2) assistance to other instructors on online strategies; 3) new materials development, compiled in Tagalog Stories for Language Learners, 2021); 4) the development of a virtual study abroad program (Manila); 5) new courses (Philippine Film and Filipino Cuisine Narratives); 6) student production of a Filipino language online journal; 7) the rethinking of student assessment; 8) leadership in "Filipinx community wellness check-ins"; 9) public lectures online; and 10) creative work -- songs on the pandemic, now taught in universities. 

Mary Wildermuth and Dhruv Patel: Plant and Microbial Biology

PMB101L is a capstone discovery-based experimental laboratory course for upper-division plant biology majors. We provide students with the tools and know-how to ask novel questions in plant biology, using state-of-the-art experimental approaches. To adapt to remote teaching, we utilized unpublished datasets and a suite of curated bioinformatic tools to guide students in small groups through the process of generating and ‘testing” their own novel hypothesis. Their hypotheses were impressive and students had the freedom to propose experiments without worry over available resources or equipment. Student interpretation of instructor generated data embodied graduate-level research, highlighting extraordinary learning in extraordinary times.

Maxson Yang: Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences

With the impact of COVID-19 on the learning, my efforts focused heavily on improving student well-being and learning experience. On the onset of COVID-19, I released a comprehensive student survey that guided course policy for the remainder of the spring semester, as well as summer. When designing my summer 2020 class, I focused on reducing common stressors such as deadlines, increasing face-to-face interactions through weekly check-ins, and improving the virtual experience through memes, music, and much more. 

Mike Leong: Student Learning Center

Stat 198 is an adjunct course connected to Stat 134, Probability. Students take a short quiz every session that serves as formative assessment. They correct any mistakes during office hours that are provided by the SLC and Stat 134 staff. We promote active learning and encourage student agency by having students form Study Pods in order to determine which worksheet exercises they want to work on. During the pre-COVID semesters, the average Stat 134 letter grade for students enrolled in Stat 198 is 0.52 higher on a 4.0 scale than those that are not in Stat 198.

Molly Van Houweling, Law

Since March, 2020, I have been actively engaged in easing the transition to remote instruction, with the goal of maintaining the Law School’s educational excellence and ensuring that our classes are engaging, accessible, and inclusive spaces for all of our students. My supporting materials include examples of these efforts: 1) Tips based on surveys of faculty and students, campus guidance, and my own virtual classroom experience; 2) a "Remote Teaching 101" workshop from July; 3) an October workshop on "Inclusive Remote Teaching; 4) an updated "Remote Teaching 101" workshop from December; and 5) a December "Lessons Learned from Fall" workshop.

Patina K. Mendez: Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management

Learning requires externalizing information and integrating new information into existing mental frameworks. During COVID-19 instruction, I developed online visual activities and tools for students to: (1) collaborate during large live lectures in active-learning activities, e.g., think-pair-shares and jigsaws using breakout rooms and google docs, (2) connect concepts from scientific papers into concept maps, (3) plan thesis elements and scientific writing, and (4) work together on undergraduate research in an online, persistent, virtual lab space in gather.town. Most of these activities used LucidChart and the organizational tools were used by students to communicate their ideas visually, written and verbally.

Peter Goodson: Haas School of Business

The COVID-19 pandemic turned our entire educational system into remote learning overnight. We invested hundreds of hours repurposing content and delivery to transform our course offerings to reflect the new reality. We delivered on our lofty goal to offer a “value proposition” that was as good as or better than the in-person model. Our team designed an online classroom experience that is optimized for student engagement; altered curricula with COVID matches to showcase student’s company’s pandemic strategies; published COVID MBA cases (including the first at Berkeley-Haas); established rigorous and equitable inclusion; and created a feedback system to continuously improve. 

Philippe Boileau and Anna Nguyen: Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Suraj Rampure and Allen Shen: Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

We are humbled by our nomination for this prestigious award and are delighted to have our efforts recognized. Instructing Berkeley’s flagship undergraduate data science courses is demanding under typical circumstances and was made all the more challenging by the ongoing pandemic. Despite unfavorable conditions, we maintained instructional excellence in our courses and enhanced student experiences by introducing new applications of course material. To offer our combined 800 students the richest possible experience, we restructured lecture material to prioritize accessibility, designed assessments to enhance student learning, and incorporated real-world examples to promote student engagement.

Tina Chow: Civil and Environmental Engineering

Teaching was already going to be “upside down” by being on Zoom, so why not re-think everything, and do it better? I offered 3 workshops on remote instruction for my faculty colleagues to help them prepare for Fall 2020. I also presented these ideas to GSIs through my pedagogy course. For my technical course, I flipped my class and pre-recorded lectures, then used class time to engage with students. I also changed my grading scheme following “Grading for Equity'' to make it flexible and emphasize learning. This all worked so well that I’m never going back to the old ways!

Additional Awardees:

Daniel Hoffmann, French

Donna Honarpisheh, Comparative Literature

Gireeja Ranade, Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences

Robert Yamasato, Music

Spencer Adams + Pê Feijó, Rhetoric