Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

International Graduate Teaching Assistants (IGTAs) Workshop: Implications for Training

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

International Graduate Teaching Assistants (IGTAs) Workshop: Implications for Training

Article excerpt

This article presents an analysis of the international graduate teaching assistants (IGTAs) workshop conducted at a large university in the southwestern United States. The workshop provided training for 48 IGTAs representing 12 countries. The analysis and evaluation of the workshop were conducted using a participant observation technique. Five social difficulty variables including language, age, academic classification, cultural similarity, and friendship communication network were used in the study. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of the workshop according to how well each variable was addressed. Recommendations regarding content and how to conduct an IGTA workshop were presented for IGTA directors contemplating such a workshop for their own institutions.

The role of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) in universities is critical to instructional delivery especially in large and research based institutions (Avery & Gray, 1993; Gray, Buerkel-Rothfuss, & Bort, 1993; Nyquist, Abott, Wulff, & Sprague, 1991). Increasing numbers of GTAs are from other nations with different cultural backgrounds (Briggs & Hofer, 1991; Smith, Byrd, Nelson, Barrett, & Constantinides, 1992). Their presence in undergraduates' instructional delivery is expected to continue to increase (Numrich, 1991; Smith et al., 1992). The diverse backgrounds of these GTAs have generated a call for more rigorous training (e.g., Davids, 1994; Williams & Schaller, 1994). Apart from the general training for GTAs, it is essential that the international graduate teaching assistants (IGTAs) receive additional training that addresses concerns exceeding those of other GTAs. IGTAs are faced with cultural differences that ostensibly influence their roles in instructional delivery (Althen, 1991; Numrich, 1991; Smith et al., 1992). However, training which specifically targets the IGTA has been limited, and often, the focus is given primarily to language proficiency (Althen, 1991; Nelson, 1991). The goal of this paper is to provide some recommendations for conducting such training, which goes beyond language proficiency to addressing key factors influencing the cultural adaptation concerns of IGTAs.

IGTAs find themselves inside classrooms and laboratories as teaching assistants and research assistants where they have to adapt to the host culture as well as participate in the host culture's instructional delivery process. As a result of these factors, IGTAs face some social difficulties, forcing them to juggle academic challenges and other intercultural adaptation process requirements (Furnham & Bochner, 1982; Westwood & Barker, 1990). Social difficulty is defined as "the normal day-to-day challenges that characterize attempts to maintain physical and emotional well-being in communication encounters with people from a different country" (Olaniran, 1996, p. 72).

Each social setting that international students encounter requires them to demonstrate competence in the host culture's communication processes (Kim, 1988; Olaniran, 1996). Therefore, international students face problems of learning and acquiring new communication patterns that are acceptable for effective functioning in a host country (Bowman, 1989). Olaniran (1996) identifies five specific variables that are critical to the social difficulty experiences of international students: language, age, academic classification, cultural similarity, and friendship communication network patterns. In the following paragraphs, each variable will be examined with regard to the influence on IGTAs' cultural adaptation and their performance in classrooms. Furthermore, learning to function socially is salient to teaching because it facilitates related issues such as roles in groups and appropriate cultural behaviors in social settings. The benefit for IGTAs to learn to function socially extends beyond teaching because it fosters learning about other cultures and the process of intercultural interaction in general (Althen, 1991). …

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