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Teaching in a Foreign Land: Experiences of International Teaching Assistants in U.S. Engineering Classrooms

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

International Collaborations

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Paper Authors


Ashish Agrawal Virginia Tech

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Ashish Agrawal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He did his B-Tech from Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and his MS from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, both in Electric Engineering. His research interests include experiences of international faculty and students in US classrooms, sociology of education, and critical and inclusive pedagogies.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Research in SEAD Education at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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In light of the pivotal role international teaching assistants (ITAs) play in undergraduate education at US universities, particularly engineering education, this study explores the experiences of engineering ITAs. When ITAs cross national boundaries to pursue graduate education at a US university, they may simultaneously experience significant differences in educational cultures. Teaching in this new educational culture offers challenges and rewards for both the ITAs and the students they teach. While prior work on ITAs highlights the rewards, challenges, and navigational strategies of the ITA experience overall, it generally does not take disciplinary differences into account. By better understanding ITAs’ experiences in disciplinary contexts, departments can more effectively provide the needed resources and support. Toward that end, we ask the following question: How do ITAs describe the experiences of teaching engineering classes at US universities? To explore this question, we adopted a multi-case study approach and collected data from seven engineering ITAs with each ITA representing a case. Data were collected in the form of weekly reflections and in-person interviews at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester. Participants were diverse in terms of their home countries, genders, and engineering discipline. Using thematic coding, we are analyzing the data using both a priori codes drawn from the literature and inductive codes emerging from the data, with particular attention to engineering-specific and ITA-specific experiences. Preliminary findings suggest that three of the four general categories developed by prior researchers are relevant to the experiences of engineering ITAs. At the same time, the data allow us to operationalize these experiences in the context of engineering classrooms, including both lecture and laboratory courses, and identify nuances in each category that are unique to the field. Additionally, preparing for teaching responsibility and management of teaching workload with research and other responsibilities emerged as two new categories of experiences for engineering ITAs. The preliminary results suggest potential areas where colleges, departments, and course instructors may focus efforts and/or develop discipline-specific materials to better support and engage ITAs.

Agrawal, A., & McNair, L. D., & Paretti, M. C. (2018, June), Teaching in a Foreign Land: Experiences of International Teaching Assistants in U.S. Engineering Classrooms Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31054

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