Giulia Alberini: Inspiring students while being inspired by them

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“As a matter of principle, I have argued that being an instructor must involve being available and invested in the growth of your students,” says Giulia Alberini

The Principal’s Teaching Excellence Award recognizes the commitment of exceptional teachers who are at the heart of the academic experience of McGill students. During the fall 2021 convocation ceremonies, six of McGill’s outstanding educators will receive a Principal’s Award. Giulia Alberini, member of the School of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science, is one of the two winners of the Principal’s Prize in the Senior Lecturer category.

Giulia Alberini teaches COMP 202 and COMP 250, a pair of great introductory classes that attract hundreds of students. It is a difficult environment for teachers and students. COVID-19 has not made things easier.

“As always with lessons with a large number of students, the problem has been to keep the course content up to date and relevant to as much of the class as possible,” says Alberini. “The challenge has been the same, but the pandemic has amplified its difficulty. Losing that human interaction from before has meant losing some of the guidance I use to refine my lessons. I can say that I have adapted, but I am far from happy with my current approach.

Some people might say that Alberini is a bit hard on herself. Some people, like Provost Christopher Manfredi, for example.

“Dr. Alberini turned the dreaded introductory courses into rewarding and enjoyable experiences for the students,” said the provost at the morning convocation ceremony on November 25, in which Alberini received the award of the main one for excellence in teaching. “At the height of the pandemic, she implemented a flipped classroom model and assigned students to learning groups supervised by teaching assistants, creating a sense of community in an online class of nearly 700 students. ”

Le Provost quoted a student who said: “In a class that I found initially intimidating and a little scary, this teacher made a huge difference: she was approachable, open and clear about expectations. Through activities, discussions and live lessons, she clearly reflected and went to great lengths to make the classroom a productive and nurturing space. “[…] it was really an amazing learning environment (I felt like a bee in a hive (very active and important and part of a team) while being 100% online! “

Overlooking a “room of friendly faces”

Part of Alberini’s success is his ability to make meaningful connections with his students.

When asked about her memories of her first teaching experience at McGill, Alberini does not say she was intimidated by rows of students staring at her in silence.

Instead, she talks about “how quickly an auditorium with hundreds of students has grown into a hall full of friendly faces.” I mainly remember the students, those who attended the course, who asked me questions at the end of the course, and those who came to see me during office hours. I have been fortunate enough to keep in touch with several of them over the years and I think it was the greatest gift.

“It might sound cliché, but having the up-close perspective of seeing students grow as academics and as people is often my main inspiration,” says Alberini. “It’s even more poignant for those who have chosen to be teaching assistants and mentors because it gives me more time to interact and learn more about them. As a mentor and supervisor, I live vicariously through their struggles and accomplishments, which makes the journey all the more worthwhile.

Teaching assistants and mentors who work with Alberini are also inspired by her, according to Provost Manfredi.

“Dr. Alberini successfully supervises teams of 45 to 55 TA and TEAM mentors each semester. Her commitment to her Teacher Assistants is remarkable as she introduced Teacher Assistant Awards to the School and created Sessions training for teacher assistants who have been so successful that they serve as a model for other departments in the Faculty, “said the rector.” One of his former technical assistants wrote: “Her passion for teaching ignited mine and guided me to a future in research and academia. ”


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