Computer Science Courses Pilot New Training At Harvard

Harvard is piloting a new teaching fellow training focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging in two Computer Science courses this fall.

Harvard is piloting a new teaching fellow training focused on diversity, inclusion, and belonging in two Computer Science courses this fall.

The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning; the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’s Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; and the Computer Science department created the training. It has debuted in Computer Science 121: “Introduction to Theoretical Computer Science” and Computer Science 61: “Systems Programming and Machine Organization.”

The training is composed of two parts, according to Nari G. Johnson ’21, a member of the Harvard Women in Computer Science Advocacy Council and organizer of the program. An asynchronous component on Canvas invites participants to read about diversity, inclusion, and belonging at SEAS. A second component include live discussions, role playing, and personal reflections.

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CS 121 teaching fellows and instructors completed their live synchronous training last week in a session led by SEAS Assistant Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Veronica D. Santana and Bok Center Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion Noelle R. Lopez. The session saw full attendance from the course teaching staff, according to Santana.

Santana and Lopez said they enjoyed working through various scenarios with the CS 121 teaching staff in breakout rooms.

“My favorite one is where a TF or CA is with a student, and the student is just being very quiet. They’ve shown up to the office hour, it’s going on through Zoom,” Santana said. “The person who bravely volunteered to be the CA is just hearing silence from the student who has arrived at their office hour and having to take the lead and, very warmly but still directly and clearly, say, ‘Okay, so what part of the problem are you having an issue with?’”

Another scenario participants grappled with in the program’s asynchronous component involved an undergraduate course assistant receiving text messages late at night from friends in their course asking for help with an assignment.

“I just really liked that scenario because I think it helps surface some of the complex dynamics around friend dynamics and how there can be inequity in community or in exposure to different resources in CS,” Lopez said. “It also invites questions around, as a CA, where do you draw boundaries around what you believe to be fair interactions?”

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Santana and Lopez said they have received positive feedback about the program’s asynchronous component and are in the process of gathering feedback from the CS 121 live session, which they will use to tailor the upcoming CS 61 synchronous session and other future trainings as the inaugural program continues to grow. They are considering the possibility of adding a third Computer Science courses to the program this semester and running another pilot next spring.

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Johnson and Daniela R. Shuman ’23, another member of the Harvard Women in Computer Science Advocacy Council, spearheaded the TF training initiative by submitting a proposal to the Computer Science Diversity Committee last summer. Their submission provided evidence in support of incorporating questions of privilege, diversity, and power into TF training, according to Johnson.

“The proposal outlined why we, as students, believed that inclusive teaching training was necessary in our department, citing evidence such as Q-scores or previous WiCS Advocacy Surveys,” Johnson wrote in an email. “This proposal was a jumping-off point for this year’s training, as the training’s curriculum was informed by the research and goals articulated in the proposal.”

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Johnson added that she believes diversity and inclusion training is particularly important in the Computer Science department because a large proportion of teaching fellows and course assistants are undergraduates.

Shuman wrote in an email that her vision for the initiative involves scaling it to the entire Computer Science department — and potentially the entirety of SEAS.

“Every TF should have access to resources to make their teaching space as inclusive as possible, and we believe this is an effective way to do so,” Shuman wrote.

SEAS Undergraduate Program Coordinator Beth A. Musser, who helped connect the student organizers with the Bok Center and provided feedback during the program’s formation, said she hopes the pilot will ultimately make Computer Science a more welcoming concentration.

“I want students to know that anyone can concentrate in CS. I don’t want an offhand statement that a TF makes to ruin that for someone,” Musser said.

Originally published at the crimson

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