Why Have a Learning Community for Faculty and TAs?

Universities throughout the US are increasingly reliant on graduate teaching assistants (Park 2004), and recent research points to the importance of targeted pedagogical training and support for TAs (Chadha 2013, Gardner and Jones 2011; Pentecost et al 2012). The issue of faculty/TA collaboration is under-addressed in the pedagogical literature, though existing scholarship has found that this working relationship is commonly fraught for both faculty (Breslow 1998; Nyquist and Wulff 1996) and for TAs (Dotger 2011, Gardner and Jones 2011, Madden 2014, Park 2004, Vaughn 1998).

However, some scholars propose approaches that hold promise. For TAs, these include promoting collaborative teaching between faculty and graduate students (Walters and Misra 2013), encouraging TAs to develop their pedagogical commitments (Madden 2014) and academic identities (Fairbrother 2011) as active members of their department. For faculty, these include support for juggling their multiple roles as mentors for TAs’ professional development, as managers and supervisors of their academic labor, and as their collaborators in educating undergraduates – all at once (Breslow 1998, Nyquist and Wulff 1996).

The Learning Community organizers, Angela Jenks (Anthropology Assistant Teaching Professor) and Kathryn Cox (Anthropology PhD Candidate), conducted a preliminary investigation during Fall 2017 in preparation for a Spring 2018 teaching workshop series for Social Sciences faculty and TAs. This investigation revealed several issues related to faculty and TA collaboration in the School of Social Sciences at UCI, including:

  • Little coordination between lecture and discussion section planning. Lectures and sections tend to run as parallel rather than closely integrated classes;
  • A reliance on TA-led discussion sections to address the highest-order learning goals of a course (especially reading, writing, research, and critical thinking skills);
  • A lack of clarity among both faculty and TAs about teaching roles;
  • Few opportunities for feedback in either direction (faculty–>TA or TA–>faculty) throughout the quarter.

The Teaching Together Learning Community seeks to address some of these issues by jointly engaging faculty and TAs in a pilot program to address common challenges and improve teaching & learning in large classes and discussion sections.

References

Breslow, Lori. 1998. “Working With TAs: Supervising TAs Calls for Faculty to Be Managers,
Team Leaders, Role Models, and Mentors.” Teaching and Learning Library, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology 11 (2). http://web.mit.edu/Tll/tll-library/teach- talk/tas.html.

Chadha, Deesha. 2013. “Reconceptualising and Reframing Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Provision for a Research-Intensive Institution.” Teaching in Higher Education 18 (2): 205–17.

Dotger, Sharon. 2011. “Exploring and Developing Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Pedagogies via Lesson Study.” Teaching in Higher Education 16 (2): 157–69.

Fairbrother, Hannah. 2012. “Creating Space: Maximising the Potential of the Graduate Teaching Assistant Role.” Teaching in Higher Education 17 (3): 353–58.

Gardner, Grant E., and M. Gail Jones. 2011. “Pedagogical Preparation of the Science Graduate Teaching Assistant: Challenges and Implications.” Science Educator 20 (2): 31–41.

Madden, Meredith. 2014. “Pedagogical Encounters, Graduate Teaching Assistants, and Decolonial Feminist Commitments.” Feminist Teacher 25 (1): 55–74.

Nyquist, Jody, and Donald Wulff. 1996. Working Effectively with Graduate Assistants. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Park, Chris. 2004. “The Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA): Lessons from North American Experience.” Teaching in Higher Education 9 (3): 349–61.

Pentecost, Thomas C., Laurie S. Langdon, Margaret Asirvatham, Hannah Robus, and Robert
Parson. 2012. “Graduate Teaching Assistant Training That Fosters Student-Centered
Instruction and Professional Development.” Journal of College Science Teaching 41 (6):
68–75.

Vaughn, W. 1998. “Apprentice of Employee? Graduate Students and Their Unions.” Academe 84(6): 43–49.

Walters, Kyla, and Joya Misra. 2013. “Bringing Collaborative Teaching into Doctoral Programs:
Faculty and Graduate Student Co-Teaching as Experiential Training.” The American
Sociologist 44 (3): 292–301.