Statistics’ Cari Kaufman Honored for Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times

Statistics’ Cari Kaufman Honored for Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times

Photo of Cari KaufmanThe UC Berkeley Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching has presented Statistics Lecturer Cari Kaufman with an Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times Award in recognition of her innovative work to keep students engaged while learning remotely during the pandemic.

Kaufman’s award was one of two presented to instructors in the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society. The other award went to Data Science Undergraduate Studies graduate student instructors Philippe Boileau, Anna Nguyen, Suraj Rampure and Allen Shen. Both Statistics and DSUS are part of the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, which leverages Berkeley’s preeminence in research and excellence across disciplines to propel data science discovery, education, and impact.

The Academic Senate recognized the awardees at its April 29 meeting.

“We received almost 500 nominations for this award, signifying how our campus community embraced the instructional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensured  that our students remained engaged and supported,” wrote Glynda Hull, Chair of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching.

Kaufman, who joined the Berkeley faculty in 2008, teaches Stat 2, an introductory course about statistical reasoning that typically draws more than 300 students.

“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,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman and her team moved the class to a Zoom format for the Spring 2020 semester and were planning to continue in the same vein for the Fall 2020 semester.

“Like many of my colleagues, I resisted fully embracing online learning, and I disliked the idea of pre-recording lecture videos,” Kaufman said. “However, as the pandemic wore on, and my own ‘Zoom fatigue’ became more and more obvious to me, I began to wonder about this stance.”

Her decision to change her approach came after she sat down to watch one of her own 80-minute lectures, but could only make it through 15 minutes.

“The style that had worked very well in-person, and at least moderately well for those who were attending live on Zoom, became almost unbearable for me to watch after the fact,” she said. “Despite receiving very positive course evaluations in Spring of 2020, this experience left me feeling humbled and ready to try a new approach. 

She was selected to participate in Berkeley’s Semester in the Cloud program and credits it with helping her think outside the classroom in adapting to remote learning. She restructured her existing material into modules and eliminated a lot of detail that wasn’t central to primary ideas she wanted the students to learn. This allowed her to break the lectures and other materials into smaller, more easily digestible chunks.

“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,” Kaufman said. “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.”

But even when students and faculty return to classrooms, Kaufman said she plans to keep some of her new approaches.

“Teaching during this challenging time has driven home for me the idea that our academic culture has done harm to students by dismissing attempts to help them overcome barriers as ‘hand-holding’ or ‘spoon-feeding’,” Kaufman said. “Since I view teaching as a process of iterative improvement, I will carry this lesson forward in the future.”

Statistics Chair and Professor Sandrine Dudoit announced Kaufman’s award to faculty, staff and students, writing “I am so glad that the University has recognized Cari’s outstanding contributions to our teaching mission, her innovative pedagogy, and her commitment to the well-being of our students. Congratulations and thank you for all you are doing, Cari! We are fortunate to have you as a colleague.”

by John Bashor