Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

An Integrated Approach to Training Graduate Teaching Assistants

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

An Integrated Approach to Training Graduate Teaching Assistants

Article excerpt

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are essential members of the instructional team at large research universities. They provide a primary point of contact for undergraduate students in both laboratory courses and problem sessions. The quality of instruction offered by GTAs is one of the most tangible impressions of a university's commitment to education. Undergraduate students remember effective and engaging instructors; in turn, graduate students with teaching duties develop communication and leadership skills, and the university community benefits from these positive influences (Chick & Brame, 2015; Dragisich, Keller, & Zhao, 2016).

The guidelines provided by the American Chemical Society's Committee on Professional Training recognize that chemistry programs have a responsibility to train and supervise teaching assistants (Wenzel, McCoy, & Landis, 2015). However, the nature of this training is highly variable across departments and even across divisions, and is complicated by the fact that many institutions use both graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants (Park, 2004; Pentecost, Langdon, Asirvatham, Robus, & Parson, 2012; Philipp, Tretter, & Rich, 2016). In our own institution, the training of GTAs has historically been greatly influenced by the GTAs' initial teaching appointment and concerned with immediate functionality and basic safety. Such an approach was lacking in long-term goals. As a result, few GTAs pursued teaching development opportunities or were formally recognized for their efforts regarding the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Moreover, when GTAs were advanced to teaching upper level courses, which require more content design and advanced safety features (Schroder, Huang, Ellis, Gibson, & Wayne, 2016), they may not have developed the skills that would enable them to be successful in that role.

As the laboratory directors for the divisions employing most of the new teaching assistants, and with all these considerations in mind, we decided to consolidate our incoming GTA training efforts across divisions, while aligning our objectives with the larger training mission of the Graduate School. At our institution, the Graduate School offers well-recognized advanced training programs that were being underutilized by our GTA population. Of these programs, the most applicable one is the Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching (CoAT), which is a 2-year program that culminates in the development of a teaching philosophy and portfolio. Completion results in an official letter of recommendation as well as a transcript notation. We started the yearlong Foundations in Teaching (FIT) program as a voluntary opportunity for chemistry GTAs to develop skills that would enhance their teaching and allow them to stand out in the future job market. The certification that we offer for completing the FIT program is recognized by the Graduate School and allows the students to complete the more advanced CoAT program with one more year of work. To our knowledge, this alliance between the training methods at a departmental level with the established programs in the Graduate School represents a novel model for the long-term development of teaching skills in graduate students.

Description of the FIT program

Stage 1--New graduate student orientation

The first stage of the FIT program is mandatory and included in the Department of Chemistry's new graduate student orientation in August. Attendance at the initial training sessions can vary from 20 to 40 new graduate students from both domestic and international institutions with a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from novices to those with extensive teaching experience. The majority of graduate students are required to teach either general or organic chemistry labs or problem sessions during their first year. Issues related to academic integrity, discrimination and harassment, safety, and irregular student behaviors are also covered in partnership with the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Department of Student and Community Standards, and Environmental Health and Safety. …

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