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Teaching Assistant Professional Development Through Design: Why They Participate and How They Benefit

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Technical Session: Professional Development Opportunities for Students

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1469.1 - 26.1469.14



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Paper Authors


Kathleen A. Harper The Ohio State University

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Kathleen A. Harper is a senior lecturer in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. She received her M. S. in physics and B. S. in electrical engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph. D. in physics from The Ohio State University. She has been on the staff of Ohio State’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, in addition to teaching in both the physics department and college of engineering. Her research interests address a broad spectrum of educational topics, but her specialty is in how people learn problem solving skills.

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Hannah Christine Zierden The Ohio State University


Kevin Robert Wegman

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Kevin is a first year graduate student studying Nuclear Engineering. He graduated last fall with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Kevin has taught with the EEIC for the past three years, twice as a UTA and once as a GTA.

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Rachel Louis Kajfez The Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Rachel Louis Kajfez is an Assistant Professor of Practice in the Engineering Education Innovation Center and the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering at The Ohio State University. She earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering from Ohio State and earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Her research interests focus on the intersection between motivation and identity of undergraduate and graduate students, first-year engineering programs, mixed methods research, and innovative approaches to teaching. Currently, she teaches within the first-year engineering program at Ohio State while maintaining an active engineering education research program.

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Krista M. Kecskemety The Ohio State University

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Krista Kecskemety is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. Krista received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University in 2006 and received her M.S. from Ohio State in 2007. In 2012, Krista completed her Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at Ohio State. Her engineering education research interests include investigating first-year engineering student experiences, faculty experiences, and the connection between the two.

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Teaching Assistant Professional Development through Design: Why They Participate and How They BenefitAt a large Midwestern institution, one goal of the first-year engineering program is to fosterprofessional development, not only of the students enrolled in classes, but of the unit’s teachingassistants (TAs). These undergraduate and graduate students serve in the classroom, gradeassignments, support open lab hours, and attend trainings. Additionally, some TAs choose tospend extra hours developing the spring semester robot design project offered to first-yearengineering students. Participating in this curriculum development not only directly impacts thefirst-year students’ design experience, but also gives the TAs a unique opportunity forprofessional development. They are responsible for all aspects of project development andcreation, including designing the competition scenario, constructing the physical course therobots compete upon, and designing and programming the course control electronics. Thisdevelopment and creation is extremely time-intensive. College students already balance manydifferent life aspects, and yet, every year, a core group of TAs embrace this time-intensivechallenge and excel. This study addresses the following research questions: Why do TAsparticipate in the development and creation of the robot design project? What skills, if any, dothey develop through their participation?TAs were invited to take a survey about designing the robot design project. Quantitativequestions asked about the number of terms spent as a TA and the number of terms spent onvarious project components. Qualitative questions centered on reasons for choosing this activity,benefits, and drawbacks. The TAs that responded represented a variety of engineering majors,including chemical, electrical, and mechanical. The rich data generated illustrates thesestudents’ impetus and professional development.This study provides an initial outline of why some TAs go above and beyond the call of theaverage TA to develop and create the robot design project. The data show they participate for avariety of reasons, such as enjoyment, helping students, and applying their knowledge to aproject outside the classroom. Additionally, some TAs leverage this experience to gain co-opsand internships. They also applied the design skills gained via the project to tasks during theirco-ops or internships. The process is cyclical; they strengthen their skills in the workforce, thenreturn to the first-year program and share what they have learned with others. Drawbacks totheir involvement included the time involved, but at the same time, many TAs specifically citedimproved project management skills. They also feel the time required to develop and create therobot design project and curriculum is well spent, as they enjoy giving back to the program theyparticipated in as first-year students. These findings will be framed as “Tricks of the Trade” tohelp TAs make informed decisions about these types of activities which may be beyond theirrole classroom roles.The TA-identified benefits gained by the design of the physical robot course, electronics, andscenario portray the program’s success in providing professional development opportunities toTAs. This feedback, particularly the descriptions of drawbacks to participation, is being utilizedto improve this TA experience.

Harper, K. A., & Zierden, H. C., & Wegman, K. R., & Kajfez, R. L., & Kecskemety, K. M. (2015, June), Teaching Assistant Professional Development Through Design: Why They Participate and How They Benefit Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24806

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015