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March 10, 1997

Winter Convocation provides insight for teaching gateway courses

By Francine Tyler

Phokion Kolaitis, a UCSC professor of computer science, has faced a number of challenges teaching the 85 to 100 students in his Introduction to Computer Science course.

Many of these challenges--attendance problems, lack of appreciation of the subject's core issues, and a wide range of student skills and expectations--are common to gateway classes such as the one Kolaitis teaches.

Gateway courses are required lower-division courses that introduce students to selected majors or disciplines, acting as "gateways" into the major.

At UCSC's third annual Winter Convocation on Teaching, Kolaitis discussed how he's overcome some of the challenges posed by these courses. The convocation, which took place March 4, brought together a panel of five faculty members and a graduate student who have experience teaching gateway courses such as Kolaitis's.

On the panel with Kolaitis were Margo Hendricks, an assistant professor of literature; Shelley Stamp Lindsey, an assistant professor of theater arts; Stephen Wright, an assistant professor of psychology; and Lynn Fujiwara, a graduate student in sociology. Professor of classics John Lynch, chair of the Committee on Teaching, acted as moderator.

"One of the dynamics of a large classroom is the behavior students bring into the classroom when they believe themselves to be invisible--eating, sleeping, leaving, and coming back," said Lindsey, who teaches The Film Experience. "It's a challenge to get them into an active mode from a passive mode."

Lindsey keeps her students' attention by asking them questions, she said. "I've had very good luck with limited forms of discussion."

Hendricks, who teaches Literary Interpretation, uses other techniques to keep her students in line. She requires attendance and gives pop quizzes at different times during class sessions to keep students "off guard," she said.

To appeal to the wide range of students in her class, she designed her reading list with a broad range of works, including both classic and modern writers. She also presents an eclectic mix of assignments, from exams to the writing of short plays.

Another challenge inherent in gateway courses discussed by the panel is the difficulty of motivating faculty to teach them.

The Psychology Department has addressed this problem by adopting team teaching for its gateway course, Introduction to Psychology, said Wright, who teaches the 270-student course with two other faculty members. Each instructor takes charge of the class for one-third of the quarter.

This arrangement allows the course's faculty to lecture on topics close to their subject areas instead of preparing lectures on the wide range of topics presented by the total course, Wright said. It also allows for more interaction between junior and senior faculty members and distributes responsibility for teaching the course over more people.

Additional graduate students are also needed to assist those who teach gateway courses, said graduate student and panelist Fujiwara--a sentiment that was echoed by several others on the panel and in the audience.

"Graduate students have really been key to the kind of education UCSC has been able to provide undergraduates," said Fujiwara.

The Convocation on Teaching was sponsored by the 1996-97 Committee on Teaching; Leo Laporte, the associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education; and the Teaching Support Office.

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