The Alan J. Perlis SCS Student Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

Reflections on Teaching

Kristen S. Gardner
2016 Graduate Student Teaching Award

Students enroll in courses for many different reasons. Some want to develop a deep understanding of a field in which they are conducting research. Others simply think the course sounds interesting. Some sign up because they have to fulfill a requirement. Their backgrounds, too, vary broadly: while some students come into a course already knowing some of the content from earlier courses, others begin without a solid understanding of the prerequisite material.

As a teacher, it is my responsibility to foster a successful learning environmen t for a broad range of students with different backgrounds and different learnin g objectives. My goal is to help students build a skill set that they carry beyond the specific course I am teaching. I want my systems students to develop intuition for the design decisions that are likely to improve system performance. I want my theory students to learn how to construct a rigorous proof. I want all of my students to come away from the course with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for analytical thinking and an improved ability to approach unfamiliar problems. In my lectures, homework assignments, and office hours, I strive to achieve this by guiding students to develop ideas on their own. I ask questions that lead students towards the right approach without giving away the solution, and I encourage them to discuss difficult problems with their peers.

I have been extremely fortunate to have taken courses with exceptional teachers, both as an undergraduate at Amherst College and as a graduate student at CMU, and my own approach to teaching has been shaped by their example. I am particularly grateful to Mor Harchol-Balter, for whom I have worked as a teaching assistant twice, and whose enthusiasm for and dedication to teaching I hope to match. I am honored to be this year's recipient of the Alan J. Perlis Graduate Student Teaching Award and proud to know that I have had such a positive impact on my students.

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