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Applying Research-Based Principles and Theory to Practice: The Redesign of a Graduate Student Instructor Seminar

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Preparing Future Educators

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.189.1 - 24.189.19



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Paper Authors


Mary Lynn Brannon Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Mary Lynn Brannon is the Instructional Support Specialist at the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education, College of Engineering, at the Pennsylvania State University, USA. She has a Master of Arts Degree in Education and Human Development specializing in Educational Technology Leadership. Her work focuses on projects that measure and assess student perceptions of learning related to their experiences with engineering course innovations. She has worked extensively in the design of assessment tools for course methods and activities. She is a faculty development consultant with previous experience in instructional design, and the instructor of the Graduate Assistant Seminar for training engineering teaching assistants at Penn State.

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Applying Research-Based Principles and Theory to Practice: The redesign of a graduate student instructor seminarWhat do Graduate Student Instructors (GSI) expect from a seminar course on teaching andlearning? The instructor of such a seminar, that prepares engineering GSIs to teach at a largeresearch university, asks this of GTIs during the first week of the each semester. The answersare always very similar. The GTIs want to know the “nuts and bolts”, how to prepare for class,how to manage the variety of tasks, grading and feedback, how to motivate students, how toassess learning, how to answer students questions, what to do about cheating and how toteaching to a variety of learners. The instructor believes that in order for the GTIs to beholistically prepared, the practice of teaching should be taught concurrently with pedagogicaltheory. The challenge is to make this connection real and practical for the GTIs during 8 classmeetings. After attending a workshop presented by the author of the book “How LearningWorks: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching” (2010 Ambrose) the instructor foundthe answer. This book takes an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning, combiningresearch evidence with practical advice. Graduate student instructors will use this book to helpthem understand the theory and practice of teaching in a format that is practical and applicableto them.The graduate student seminar is a one credit course that meets for the first 8 weeks of thesemester in a two hour class session. The remainder of the semester involves teachingobservations by the instructor and by a peer with the class reconvening during the final week ofthe semester. Each of the class sessions focuses on a teaching and learning topic, 1) the firstweek of class – setting the tone, 2) understanding your students, 3) strategic course planning andobjectives, 4) instructional methods and appropriate assessments, 5) active learning techniques,6) multicultural awareness and ethics, and 7) peer learning techniques, practice and feedback.The challenge was to maintain the essence of the course and blend this with the chapters of thebook, “How Learning Works”. The seven chapters of the book represent the research-basedprinciples around these key points, 1) prior knowledge, 2) organization of knowledge, 3)motivation, 4) development of mastery, 5) practice and feedback, 6) student development andcourse climate, and 7) self-directed learning. Each class meeting focused on one of the sevenprinciples. Each two hour class meeting consists of presentation on a practical topic, such as,knowing your students, followed by a student-centered discussion on a complimentary chapterfrom the book, such as, student development and climate. The students do the reading prior tocoming to class.This paper will describe the adoption of the book “How Learning Works” as a text book for agraduate student instructor seminar. The author will describe the experience and motive usingstudent comments and survey data on perceptions of the course.

Brannon, M. L. (2014, June), Applying Research-Based Principles and Theory to Practice: The Redesign of a Graduate Student Instructor Seminar Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20080

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