Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Good Teaching Starts Here: Applied Learning at the Graduate Teaching Assistant Institute

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Good Teaching Starts Here: Applied Learning at the Graduate Teaching Assistant Institute

Article excerpt



Since the 1990s, the number of graduate students teaching at larger universities in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere has increased substantially-so much so that the majority of first-year courses in these universities are often taught by graduate students (Austin, 2002; Marbach-Ad, Schaefer, Kumi, Friedman, Thompson, & Doyle, 2012; Wise, 2011). At the same time, the training of graduate teaching assistants (TAs) has received increased attention (e.g., Blouin & Moss, 2015; Boman, 2013; Hoessler & Godden, 2015; Kenny, Watson, & Watton, 2014). The Council of Graduate Schools and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) developed the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program, which charged graduate schools with preparing aspiring academics for a career in higher education (DeNeef, 2002; Kniola, Chang, & Olsen, 2012; Wurgler, VanHeuvelen, Rohrman, Loehr, & Grace, 2013). A primary objective of the PFF was to develop TA training programs that prepare graduate students for their roles as graduate teaching assistants and as potential faculty members (Austin, 2002; Boyer, 1991; Dudley, 2009; Shannon, Twale, & Moore, 1998).

Graduate Student and Teaching Assistant Preparation

In 2008, the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies' (CAGS) Report on Professional Skills Development for Graduate Students advocated providing graduate students with the best possible preparation for their future roles whether in academia or in other sectors (Aspenlieder & Kloet, 2014). The conceptualization of a Canadian national competency framework for teaching assistants came about in 2012 through the work of the Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA) Special Interest Group of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). This framework differs from the work of the Graduate Student Professional Development (GSPD) group that is part of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education in the United States, in that TAGSA focused purely on TA development, as opposed to reaching all graduate students in their professional assistantships and internships. From four collaborative conversations within the professional community, the framework was built to represent what a capable TA might look like in the classroom (Korpan, Sheffield, & Verwoord, 2015). For instance, Korpan, Sheffield, and Verwoord (2015) describe targeted knowledge, skill, and social competencies for a first-time TA within the developmental model. The University of Victoria helped simplify the framework given its background in cultivating experienced teaching assistants through TA mentorship via a program formally referred to as Teaching Assistant Consultant (TACs).

Hoessler and Godden (2015) thoroughly reviewed 10 cornerstone documents on Canadian-wide institutional policies, guidelines, and resources on graduate student teaching. They reported that Canadian universities were tasked with the responsibility of training both the TAs and graduate students, as well as with developing and implementing the programs. In addition to the challenge of a dual outcome emphasis, these programs often face fiscal constraints, which act as restraining forces at the same time as many Western countries call for greater student productivity and employability as outcomes. The sub-committee report referenced in Hoessler and Godden (2015) indicated that preparing TAs should involve practical hands-on training that includes mentoring, monitoring, institution-wide resources, departmental training, course-level discussions, and support from instructors and peers. The document analysis resulted in the authors recommending that training be holistic in order to allow TAs to develop a wide variety of skills, as opposed to a content-delivery-only focus.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Roles Vary

Moreover, the graduate student teaching experience varies wildly across universities and education levels. …

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