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Factors That Help and Hinder Teaching Assistants’ Ability to Execute Their Responsibilities

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

FPD 4: First-Year Engineering Courses, Part I: Multimedia, Large Classes, and TAs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.588.1 - 23.588.18

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Paper Authors


Farshid Marbouti Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Farshid Marbouti is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interest is first-year engineering and specifically using learning analytics to improve first-year engineering students' success. He completed his M.A. in the Educational Technology and Learning Design at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and his B.S. and M.S. in computer engineering in Iran.

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Kelsey Joy Rodgers Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Kelsey Rodgers is currently a graduate student at Purdue University in the School of Engineering Education. She is a member of this research team studying teaching assistants' perspectives of their TA responsibilities. This team of graduate students with the help of their mentor are currently working on developing a survey based on these interviews to further this research.

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Hyunyi Jung Purdue University

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Alena Moon Purdue University


Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program at Purdue, the gateway for all first-year students entering the College of Engineering. She has coordinated and taught in a required first-year engineering course that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of model-eliciting activities with realistic engineering contexts. She is currently the Director of Teacher Professional Development for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE).

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Graduate and Undergraduate Teaching Assistants’ Perspectives on Their First-Year Engineering TA PositionsThis study aims to understand Graduate and Undergraduate Teaching Assistants’ (G/UTAs’)perspectives of their positions in a First-Year Engineering (FYE) program at a research intensiveMidwestern university. In this large FYE program (~1800 students), G/UTAs have moreinteraction with first-year engineering students than the primary instructors. The TAs areresponsible for office hours, addressing student emails, and grading most assignments. Theirgrading responsibilities include scaffolding students’ learning through feedback on open-endedproblem solutions. Since scaffolding through effective feedback is key to the success of studentsand a complex task1, it is important to understand G/UTAs’ perspectives on their preparation forand execution of their roles in their positions. Using open-ended problem-solving projects thatrequire scaffolding are an emerging pedagogical approach taken to teach FYE students. Thisprogram utilizes Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs). MEAs are open-ended, client-driven, andauthentic mathematical modeling problems2-3. The completion of engineering-based MEAsrequires communication, teaming, problem formulation, and critical thinking abilities, skillsrequired to be developed by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)education4-6.To begin to understand the perspectives of the TAs, the research team randomly selected 4 GTAsand 4 UTAs from the more than 30 current TAs that volunteered to participate in a ~1.5 hourinterview to discuss their perceptions. This sample size was drawn from a population ofapproximately 90 G/UTAs (in a 1 GTA to 8 UTAs ratio) teaching in the FYE program. Eachparticipant is working as a FYE TA in this Fall 2012 semester. Their previous experience as FYETAs ranged from this being their first semester working for the department to up to working as aFYE TA for 6 consecutive semesters. All of the UTAs and two of the GTAs were previouslystudents in the FYE course. The UTAs are required to complete the FYE course with a “B” orbetter to apply for the position. There are no requirements for GTAs to have previous experiencerelated to the FYE course; although they must have an undergraduate degree in engineering or bea graduate student in the college of engineering.Since the purpose of the interviews was to understand the G/UTAs’ perspectives of the FYEprogram and their TA position, the questions covered a wide range of position related topics. Theinterview questions were divided into seven categories: background information, hiring process,overall experience, teaching with MEAs, TA training, expectations and responsibilities, andsupport/mentoring. The interview categories were developed based on analysis of findingsregarding the key components for a successful program utilizing UTAs7, changes toimplementation and grading of MEAs in the FYE program, and modifications to the FYEprogram TA training. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. An inductiveapproach was taken to analyzing the interview transcripts.Preliminary analysis revealed similarities and differences between UTAs and GTAs’perspectives regarding the FYE program. Both UTAs and GTAs preferred helping studentsduring class time and office hours to grading student work. However, GTAs spent much moretime than UTAs providing written feedback, grading, and dealing with issues outside of therequired class time and office hours (e.g., responding to nearly 30 student emails on a dailybasis). These findings align with previous research showing that the quantity and quality ofUTAs feedback on MEAs was lower than that of GTAs8. The finding regarding time spent onout-of-class tasks may relate to another finding. UTAs reported a strong enjoyment of theirposition, while GTAs reported being more stressed in their position. These findings will be usedto design an online survey for all G/UTAs in the FYE program. Findings from these interviewsand the survey data will be used to improve training and adjust responsibilities and makerecommendations more broadly concerning the training and use of G/UTAs to facilitate learningthrough open-ended problem solving pedagogy.Bibliography 1. Carless, D., Slater, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2010) Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education. 2. Lesh, R., Hoover, M., & Kelly E. (1993). Equity, assessment, and thinking mathematically: Principles for the design of model eliciting activities. In I. Wirszup & Streit (Eds.), Developments in school mathematics education around the world (Vol. 3). Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 3. Author, et al. (2008). Book. 4. Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology Accreditation Department. (2011). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs, 2011 - 2012. ABET Inc.: Baltimore, MD, Retrieved from 5. National Academy of Engineering. (2004). The engineering of 2020: Visions of engineering in the new century. Washington, DC: The National Academic Press. 6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for mathematics. Retrieved from 7. Roderick, C. (2009). Undergraduate teaching assistantships: good practices. The International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. MountainRise. 8. Authors, et al. (2012). Conference paper.

Marbouti, F., & Rodgers, K. J., & Jung, H., & Moon, A., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2013, June), Factors That Help and Hinder Teaching Assistants’ Ability to Execute Their Responsibilities Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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