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As part of the Megas and Gigas Educate (MaGE) program at Mount Holyoke College, the MaGE Training Course prepares students for the task of educating, mentoring, and supporting others in inclusive ways. This training course raises awareness of the role of social identity in learning, emphasizes active learning within computer science, and provides preparation for being technical peer mentors. The curriculum focuses on the following key competencies:

  • Peer code review (technical feedback)
  • Written feedback
  • In-person feedback
  • Active learning
  • In-person support
  • Instruction/discussion leadership
We hope the course materials may be useful for other institutions and have created this web site to distribute them. 
  • Curricular materials The lesson plans for each of our seven sessions are available, including topic description and vocabulary, prerequisite readings, discussion topics and prompts, in-class activities, and homework.
  • Using the Curriculum We understand that not every institution will want or be able to use these materials in the format that we use at Mount Holyoke (seven 3-hour weekly sessions). We provide an overview of the materials and give some suggested adaptations targeting different goals, timeframes, etc.

About MaGE

Background

The MaGE (Megas and Gigas Educate) program was started in 2015 at Mount Holyoke College with support from Google's CS Capacity program. With growing student interest (echoing national trends), the Computer Science department faced the challenge of meeting capacity demands with limited resources. As a women's liberal arts college, we aim to scale our CS offerings while maintaining a diverse community that includes groups traditionally underrepresented in CS

MaGE is a peer mentoring program, where trained undergraduate students act as peer mentors to beginner students, providing close interaction and assisting with feedback. The program is designed to accomplish three main objectives, and this training course addresses the third:

  1. increase enrollment capacity in introductory computer science classes
  2. increase enrollment and retention of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields
  3. to train students to educate, mentor, and support others in inclusive ways.

A mentor's description of the MaGE Program, created by Katie Ho (Fall 2015 GEM)

The Need for Technical Peer Mentor Training

Research supports the idea that preparation helps peer mentors to succeed in their role. Some departments may give up on peer mentoring, drawing a conclusion that peer mentors are ineffective. Before doing so, we encourage taking a close look at the training and how it can be provided in a way that is both effective and also resource-efficient for your department. Many new faculty members, although experts in their own fields of study, enter college classrooms without a keen understanding of how novices learn. While many draw upon their own learning experiences as a resource, this alone is often insufficient as learners vary in their strengths, stumbling blocks, and strategies. Many faculty draw upon their own creativity to generate teaching methods that are effective. And just as many others appreciate access to teaching workshops, professional resources, conferences, and colleagues to augment their toolbox. Peer mentors, typically selected for their academic success, come to the task with their own knowledge base, although less extensive than faculty, their experience is more recent. Here too, while some peer mentors may use their own intuition to reach a wide variety of students, just as many if not more, appreciate the opportunity to learn about best practices from the literature, from more experienced others (whether more seasoned peer mentors, lab directors, or faculty), and in colleagueship or consultation with other peer mentors. The training is thus designed to enable peer mentors to hone their technical skills, improve their competence, and develop their understanding of the fundamentals of effective peer mentoring and inclusive pedagogy, all of which will improve their teaching effectiveness.
Climate
Computer science programs are striving to become more inclusive and engaging of all students; the MaGE Training course focuses on diversity and inclusion as key tools for creating a welcoming and diverse learning environment, especially for students who may not automatically see themselves as computer scientists. The course provides research-based instruction on effective learning (motivation, strategic learning, self-efficacy, and growth mindset), enabling peer mentors to strengthen their education toolkits by self-assessing their own strengths, engaging in group discussions, and adjusting and stretching their personal perspectives.
Effectiveness
Our initial research findings, based on rating forms completed by introductory students after individual one-on-one meetings and active learning sessions:
  • Introductory computer science students consistently rated the peer mentors as highly knowledgeable, approachable, and creative/flexible in their approaches. As the training targeted the peer mentor’s knowledge base and emphasized inclusivity, we see evidence of success in these goals.
  • Introductory computer science students also credited the peer mentor’s feedback with improving their own confidence and understanding of the material. Thus, we also see evidence that the use of peer mentors in the course helped to bolster self-efficacy and understanding, which are key goals in the introductory sequence.


What Next?

If you would like to know more, we encourage you to explore the Curricular Materials and our recommendations for Using the Curriculum (including tips for how you might adapt the MaGE Training lesson plans to fit your institution).

To contact us with questions or comments, please use this form or send an email to ponbarry@mtholyoke.edu and barbara.rotundo@mtholyoke.edu.


About Us

These curricular materials were developed by a team of educators at Mount Holyoke College.
Heather Pon-Barry
Associate Professor of Computer Science, Mount Holyoke College
ponbarry@mtholyoke.edu
 
Audrey St. John
Associate Professor of Computer Science, Mount Holyoke College
astjohn@mtholyoke.edu
 
Becky Wai-Ling Packard
Professor of Psychology and Education, Mount Holyoke College
bpackard@mtholyoke.edu
 
Barbara Rotundo
MaGE Program Coordinator, Mount Holyoke College
barbara.rotundo@mtholyoke.edu
With significant contribution from Ashley DeFlumere (Wellesley College), and the Giga Education Mentors at Mount Holyoke College.