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A Workshop to Improve Communication Skills for Teaching Assistants

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Advances in Communication Instruction

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.121.1 - 25.121.10



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth A. DeBartolo Rochester Institute of Technology

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Elizabeth A. DeBartolo is an Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She earned her B.S.E. at Duke University in 1994 and her Ph.D. at Purdue University in 2000. She works with students on assistive device design and determining mechanical properties of materials. DeBartolo serves on her college’s leadership teams for both multi-disciplinary capstone design and outreach program development.

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Margaret B. Bailey Rochester Institute of Technology

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Margaret B. Bailey, P.E., is a professor of mechanical engineering within the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) located in Rochester, N.Y. Bailey is also the Founding Executive Director for the nationally recognized women in engineering program called WE@RIT ( At the institute level, Bailey serves as Faculty Associate to the Provost for female faculty and she co-chairs the President’s Commission on Women. In these roles, she leads efforts to create strategies to increase the representation of women undergraduate students and improve recruitment, retention, and advancement of women faculty. Within her college, Bailey teaches energy-related courses, and serves as a mentor and advisor to undergraduate and graduate mechanical engineering students who are involved in her research. Bailey teaches courses related to thermodynamics, engineering and public policy, and design. She is actively involved in curricular development and assessment activities ranging from individual courses to college and institute wide programs. Bailey and her graduate students conduct research in thermodynamic analyses of complex, energy intensive systems, such as coal-fired power plants, and commercial refrigeration plants.

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Risa Robinson Rochester Institute of Technology

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A Workshop to Improve Communication Skills for Teaching AssistantsIn engineering departments where teaching assistants (TAs) often lead recitation sessions andhold “office hours” in tutoring centers, it is important that these TAs can clearly communicatenew, discipline-specific, technical information to other students who have a technicalbackground, but lack expertise in the topic at hand. The same can be said for any engineeringstudent, who will be required to communicate on technical topics after graduation. ASME’s“Vision 2030: Creating the Future of Mechanical Engineering Education”, cites the results of asurvey of over 1000 engineering managers as pointing to communication as an area whereengineering graduates need improvement.In order to address this need, a teaching workshop for engineering students has been developed,with the intention of giving students the skills they need to be able to teach other students. Thisexperience of teaching others is hypothesized to help students improve both their own commandof the subject matter and the communication skills required to teach technical material. Theteaching workshop currently contains five modules: 1. Knowing your audience 2. Lecture and questioning techniques 3. Managing hands-on activities 4. Classroom assessment techniques 5. Microteaching session with peer observationDuring the final peer observation session, students evaluate one another on their written andverbal communication skills, and provide constructive feedback for improvement.This teaching workshop has been offered four times in its current form, to a total of 17 students.Participants include student members of capstone design teams, students interested involunteering at outreach programs, and full-time co-operative education students doing extensiveteaching and curriculum development for engineering outreach programs on campus. During the2011-12 academic year, this workshop will be expanded and offered as a one-credit electivecourse to Mechanical Engineering students who are interested in working as TAs in thedepartment. Additional content relative to TAs, such as writing and working sample problems,grading, and using the campus course management system, will be integrated.The results to date are favorable. Out of the 17 prior attendees, students on average felt that eachof the five sessions was helpful (minimum score 4.18/5), and all students agreed or stronglyagreed that they would recommend the workshop to other students.

DeBartolo, E. A., & Bailey, M. B., & Robinson, R. (2012, June), A Workshop to Improve Communication Skills for Teaching Assistants Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20881

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