The Peer Teaching Fellows Program

The Peer Teaching Fellows program is a collaborative effort between Duke University, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, and the University of Florida to develop a scalable effective teaching resource for introductory computer science courses: undergraduates employed as peer teaching fellows (PTFs).

Undergraduates are used widely in support of Computer Science (CS) departments’ teaching missions as teaching/learning assistants, section leaders, lab assistants, and tutors. Those undergraduates engaged in teaching have the opportunity to deeply engage with CS concepts and develop key communication and social competencies. As enrollments surge, undergraduates play a more significant role in the experience and outcomes for their peer students in theses courses. While faculty and graduate student instructional support does not necessarily increase with the number of students in our courses, the number of qualified undergraduate teaching assistants for introductory CS courses naturally scales with enrollment.

The goals of this project are to:

  • Develop tools for making undergraduate PTFs more effective.
  • Develop training material based on known best practice in STEM pedagogy.
  • Gather and analyze data about who uses peer teaching resources and to what effect in order to evaluate peer teaching effectiveness and guide further development of tools and training materials.

We believe that with proper recruitment and training based upon the novel research and tools developed in this project, Peer Teaching Fellows can (1) serve as a scalable effective teaching resource that improves student learning in introductory computer science courses and (2) positively impact the climate in those courses to improve retention among women and underrepresented minorities.

The Peer Teaching Fellows Program is made possible by the generous support of Google and its CS Capacity Grant program.

Principal Investigators

Kristy Boyer

University of Florida

Dr. Boyer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering at the University of Florida. She leads the LearnDialogue group, which conducts research on natural language dialogue for teaching and learning computer science. Her full bio can be found here.

Jeff Forbes

Duke University

Dr. Forbes is an Associate Professor of the Practice in the Department of Computer Science at Duke University. He is integrating the use of peer teaching fellows into the course COMPSCI 201 - Data Structures & Algortihms. His full bio can be found here.

Sarah Heckman

North Carolina State University

Dr. Heckman is a Teaching Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs. She is integrating the use of peer teaching fellows into the course CSC216: Programming Concepts - Java. Her full bio can be found here.

Ketan Mayer-Patel

University of North Carolina

Dr. Mayer-Patel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and chairs the department's undergradute curriculum and programs committee. Dr. Mayer-Patel is integrating the use of peer teaching fellows into the course COMP 401: Foundations of Programming and oversees the development and deployment of My Digital Hand. His official bio can be found here.

My Digital Hand

One of the tools that we have developed to support the use of PTFs is an office hour tracking application called My Digital Hand (MDH). We designed MDH to record:

  1. Identifiers of students and peer teachers who participate in each interaction.
  2. The time and duration of each interaction.
  3. Student waiting times during busy periods.
  4. A high-level characterization of the focus of each interaction as provided by the student.
  5. Feedback from both the student and the peer teachers about each interaction's effectiveness.

By using MDH, instructors and institutions can gather data about the use of peer instructors that may be of use for resource allocation and management, understanding how students make use of peer teaching as a resource, and encouraging best practices by peer teachers. MDH is freely available for use by other institutions and more information can be found here: http://mydigitalhand.org.

ASCEND

Ascend is a plug-in to the popular integrated development environment Eclipse, which supports remote collaboration on Java projects. Through the Peer Teaching Fellows program, students connect to teaching fellows through Ascend to receive help on their projects and code from anywhere. Ascend also supports the collection of data on PTF-student collaboration, and enables us to develop empirically grounded best practices for successfully supporting our computer science learners through natural language dialogue.

Publications

  • My Digital Hand: A Tool for Scaling Up One-to-One Peer Teaching in Support of Computer Science Learning
    • Aaron J. Smith, Kristy Elizabeth Boyer, Jeffrey Forbes, Sarah Heckman, and Ketan Mayer-Patel
    • Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '17)
    • https://doi.org/10.1145/3017680.3017800
  • Deconstructing the Discussion Forum: Student Questions and Computer Science Learning
    • Mickey Vellukunnel, Philip Buffum, Kristy Elizabeth Boyer, Jeffrey Forbes, Sarah Heckman, and Ketan Mayer-Patel
    • Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '17)
    • https://doi.org/10.1145/3017680.3017745