Strengthening TA Teaching Capacity

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:45pm Student Union: Acoma A and B
Round Table Discussion


Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico
Kelsey Bitting, Elon University
Katherine Ryker, University of South Carolina-Columbia

Teaching Assistants (TAs) play a major role in undergraduate instruction, and their teaching practices and beliefs influence student learning. Nonetheless, TAs often begin their positions with little to no teaching knowledge and naïve beliefs about the nature and process of both science and learning. Despite many calls in the literature for well-validated approaches to training STEM TAs within the context of their departments, minimal research on TA training exists in the geoscience context. This round table discussion will provide a forum for the community to identify new and existing approaches to TA training, the desired outcomes of those training programs, and (quantitative and qualitative) approaches to assessing the degree to which those training programs meet those desired outcomes.

Pics: Assessment (Pink)

Pics: Skills (yellow):

Pics: Teaching (green):

Report Outs:

1. Group 1, Topic 1: Skills/Knowledge discussed: That teaching is more than just lecturing- how can we get of TAs being comfortable teaching with different styles- don't expect just lecture, expect variety of teaching styles-

How? Ask TAs about their learning experiences, why it was a good/bad experience?

Observe TAs teaching (peer or faculty)

Have TAs do reflection activities to think about what worked/didn't and how that could be improved

Ta's could also observe other TAs or faculty, use TA mentoring

Group 1Topic 2: Teaching is more than the course content- how does content/skills of the course get used beyond the course (e.g. in the workforce)

Assessing knowledge that course is more than content: Ask TAs how they see the course as relevant to areas outside of the course;

TA should be enthusiastic about the value of the course material beyond getting the answer

Discussions with TAs on the value of the course/content to students beyond the course and into the program and after graduation

Group 2: Skills/Knowledge- TAs should be able to teach material to diverse students/learners

How? Classroom observations of TAs (and TAs observing others)

Teaching the TAs this skill: Reflection activities for TAs to complete so they can think about what worked/didn't

Share a lesson plan with TAs for them to use to predict where their students might have trouble

Prof share teaching/learning experiences with TAs in which they encountered successes & challenges in helping students learn

Group 3:Beliefs and Attitudes- Objective: TAs demonstrate interest in teaching

How? TAs meet regularly (and actually attend and are prepared/informed of the upcoming lab activity)

Assess-Expect TAs take the class they teach seriously/professionally (arrive on time etc) look at grades of students

Teaching this: Conveying the value of being a TA and that skills are transferable to life beyond being a TA, using a TA manual, have a contract with TAs;

Weekly meetings to discuss nuts & bolts of upcoming lab, explaining pedagogy, debriefing previous lab; incorporate teaching goals TAs set for themselves at beginning of semester that they can work on during the term they are a TA and then checking in on that goal; communicating with the TAs peer evaluations from peer-observations during class; ask advisors to help them convey the importance of taking their teaching seriously;


Having high standards for GTAs can elevate teaching practice as a marketable skill to help get the GTA position

Strong evaluations and teaching awards can go into a teaching portfolio to use when applying for academic position

Teaching awards (departmental awards can be selected by faculty/peer TAs; NAGT also has TA awards), which can be incentive

What are some models for selecting TAs? Competitive among incoming grad students (Baylor); Competitive, 2 year GTA positions among faculty, used to recruit grad students (UN Reno); where grad students are mostly grant funded, the students who want teaching experiences are there because they want teaching experience and want to learn to teach well (Virginia Tech)

Question: What research questions would be useful with respect to GTAs or GTA training?

  • What are transferable skills of teaching? We know not all GTAs go on to academia, are teaching skills desirable in industry or other areas where they may be employed?
  • It would be nice to know if being a TA has positive impacts in ones success as a grad student and beyond?
  • Do TA positions have service learning components embedded?
  • How many universities have TA training programs at the university level, college level, department level? What are impacts of GTA training at different places (e.g. university vs. department)?
    • What training happens in each of those programs?
    • When do those programs occur? (before the semester or training in a term before they start?)

Strengthening TA Teaching Capacity -- Discussion  

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