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Preparing Graduate Students To Teach: A Seminar On Teaching For Graduate Assistants In Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Improving the Teaching Skills of Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.976.1 - 14.976.21



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Paper Authors


Mary Lynn Brannon Pennsylvania State University

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Mary Lynn Brannon is the Instructional Support Specialist in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at the Pennsylvania State University. Her background is in faculty development and instructional design. Her Master's Degree is in education and human development with an emphasis in educational technology leadership.

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Sarah Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Sarah Zappe is the Director of Assessment and Instructional Support in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Pennsylvania State University. Her background is in educational psychology with an emphasis on educational testing and assessment.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Preparing Graduate Students to Teach: A Seminar on Teaching for Graduate Assistants in Engineering


Graduate student teaching assistants constitute an important part of the university and serve a critical role in the education of undergraduate students. The purpose of this paper is to describe efforts to redesign a course entitled, “Teaching Seminar for Graduate Assistants” offered to graduate students in the College of Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University. Students enrolled in the course serve critical roles in the College of Engineering, including holding positions such as lab instructor, recitation leader, independent instructor, or grader. Although the course has been offered for many years within the college, efforts to revise the course were made in order to better meet the needs of the college and the diverse graduate student population within the course and to clarify the instructional objectives of the course.

Individuals who are involved in faculty development or who are concerned with enhancing the educational experiences of teaching assistants may be interested in this paper, which includes a description of the specific course activities and assessment techniques. In addition, assessment data from the students on the effectiveness of the course are described. Challenges and concerns with teaching the course given the characteristics of the students are also discussed.


Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) wear many hats with a variety of duties and responsibilities from grading, correcting homework, tutoring students, holding office hours, teaching a lab or recitation or being the primary instructor of a course. Many fill an important role within the university structure teaching undergraduates in resident courses. However, most TAs go into this duty with little or no teaching experience. Training programs abound in universities which focus on the general preparedness for teaching assistants. Most are in the format of short sessions that focus on just-in-time information regarding general tips on grading, student etiquette and understanding university policies and procedures. “TA training is an essential and powerful tool that improves TAs’ performance” (p. 4).1, 5 While this information may be sufficient for those students who hold limited duties such as grading and office hours, TAs who have teaching duties often have little or no information and mentorship on how to be an effective teacher, or an understanding of how students learn. More complete programs are necessary in order to give the TA the appropriate tools and pedagogical strategies that foster an understanding of the teaching and learning process.

Most tenured college professors will tell you, that as graduate assistants, they went into their teaching duties cold with little or no instruction on the art and craft of teaching. Similarly, TAs often assume their first teaching experience with no instruction on how to teach. TAs must be effective in communication to be able to present information clearly and concisely in the classroom and lab formats. In addition, they must be able to effectively manage the classroom environment (p. xxxv).2

Brannon, M. L., & Zappe, S. (2009, June), Preparing Graduate Students To Teach: A Seminar On Teaching For Graduate Assistants In Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4897

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