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Board # 110 : Exploring Experiences of Graduate Teaching Assistants in Teaching Professional Development Groups

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Jill K Nelson George Mason University

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Jill Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at George Mason University. She earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and a BA in Economics from Rice University in 1998. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for graduate study, earning an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering in 2001 and 2005, respectively. Dr. Nelson's research focus is in statistical signal processing, specifically detection and estimation for applications in target tracking and physical layer communications. Her work on target detection and tracking is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Nelson is a 2010 recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and the IEEE Signal Processing, Communications, and Education Societies.

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Daria Gerasimova George Mason University


Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University

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Margret Hjalmarson is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University and currently a Program Officer in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings at the National Science Foundation. Her research interests include engineering education, mathematics education, faculty development and mathematics teacher leadership.

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J. Reid Schwebach George Mason University

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Dr. Schwebach is a faculty member of the Department of Biology, Coordinator of High School Outreach and Recruitment for The College of Science, and Coordinator of The Governor’s School at Innovation Park, a dual-enrollment public high school at Mason. He is a founding member of the Accelerator Program at Mason, which has the goal to support College of Science undergraduate student learning, achievement, and career success. Dr. Schwebach received his PhD in microbiology and immunology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He also holds EdM (secondary science education) and MA (international education development) degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University. He grew up on a farm in New Mexico, and has a BA in agriculture and a BS in biochemistry from New Mexico State University. Before coming to Mason, he worked for the Board on Science Education at The National Research Council as a program officer and study director. From 2007-2008, he was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) sponsored “Science and Technology Policy Fellow” at the National Science Foundation, in The Division of Research and Learning. In the New York City public school system, he taught high school chemistry and independent student research at The Beacon School, where he was a principal intern. His scientific research focused on the immunology of M. tuberculosis, the bacterial pathogen that causes tuberculosis. He currently works with undergraduate and graduate researchers to investigate the evolution of microbes, and to improve how undergraduate students learn science at the university.

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While significant research supports the use of interactive strategies to improve learning and engagement in STEM, translating the research to implementation of evidence-based practices in university STEM courses remains a challenge. In an effort to address that challenge, we have implemented a network of small faculty development groups within several STEM programs at a single university. Each group is led by a faculty member within the STEM program in which it operates, and the group leader has autonomy in recruiting participants. During the past two years of the project, some leaders have chosen to include graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) among the members of their groups. This paper explores the experiences of GTAs in in one teaching development group (operating within the “X” program) in which GTAs have played a significant role.


The X teaching development group was has been active since fall 2014. The group has two leaders, both of whom participated in a semester of training prior to forming the group; this training included readings in pedagogical research and self-study reflections on their own teaching. The teaching development groups formed through this project meet regularly (anywhere from once per week to once per month) during the academic year. Through the meetings, group members learn about evidence-based techniques and identify techniques to try in their courses. Members are asked to try a new technique in one or more courses, share their experience with the group, and reflect on how to revise the technique for future implementation.

A case study was generated to analyze the group X’s functioning. Data collection has taken place through meeting recordings, written notes from group leaders, and interviews. Meetings of all group leaders are held monthly and are recorded and transcribed. At meetings, group leaders are asked to complete written “check-ins” describing the activities of their group, and any significant successes and/or challenges. Additionally, group leaders and participants are interviewed annually; the interviews are also recorded and transcribed. The documents were coded for instances describing the work of the GTAs and their role in the group.


The leaders of the X teaching development group recruited both faculty members and GTAs to participate in the group. Four GTAs have been active in the group at various times. The full X TDG meets on a monthly basis, and the GTAs have an additional meeting with the group leaders each month. Check-ins from group leaders indicate that a primary goal of the group is to support GTA instructional skills, and participating GTAs indicate that they hope to develop teaching skills that will help them in academic careers. Beyond improving their teaching, each GTA is working on a discipline-based educational research project with mentoring from one of the group leaders. Based on a grassroots effort from the GTAs, the group holds journal club meetings to discuss recent results in education research. The full paper will further describe the role of GTAs in the X group model and how participating GTAs perceive the teaching development experience.

Nelson, J. K., & Gerasimova, D., & Hjalmarson, M., & Schwebach, J. R. (2017, June), Board # 110 : Exploring Experiences of Graduate Teaching Assistants in Teaching Professional Development Groups Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27688

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