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The Benefit of Training Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

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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

Mathematics Division Technical Session 4

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Gianluca Guadagni University of Virginia

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PhD in Mathematics University of Virginia

Assistant Professor, Applied Mathematics, Department of Engineering and Society, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, University of Virginia.

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Hui Ma University of Virginia

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Hui Ma received her Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012. Her current research focuses on the Errors-In-Variables (EIV) model and fitting geometric curves and surfaces to observed data points. Before joining the University of Virginia (UVA), she worked as an assistant professor at Black Hills State University for two years. In her current role as an APMA faculty member at UVA, she teaches applied math courses to engineering students. Her goals in teaching are to help students develop the confidence in their own ability to do mathematics and to make mathematics a joyful and successful experience.

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Lindsay Wheeler University of Virginia

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We report on a new program to train Undergraduate TAs that we are implementing in Applied Mathematics at our Engineering School.

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants [UTAs] provide a fundamental support to our educational mission.

We started to employ UTAs, as an experiment, in 2014 and we have reported about the details in [1]. After few years many more courses in our school have introduced UTAs in their class activities and the project has grown substantially.

Many of our UTAs have no teaching experience, which is expected since they are quite young and hardly had any practice of teaching. In the past we relied mostly on their personal skills and on their ability to adjust rapidly to the new environment. Most of them were the top of their class and very brilliant, they would learn quickly. Moreover, their inexperience had a limited impact.

Since the early years, the scope of UTAs activity has evolved, in several cases they are superseding Graduate Teaching Assistants and the time they spend tutoring students is now greater than it used to be at the beginning. Their role is more relevant, and their inexperience can have a greater impact on the class. In addition we are recruiting many more UTAs, and we cannot expect from all the same exceptional response we had from the few.

To fill the gap in training, we created a course on ``Teaching methods'' and we now require all UTAs to enroll in it. The class provides tools and support for UTAs to reflect on the several aspects of their activity, from the most effective teaching practices student-centered and inquiry based, to relevant educational methods, grading techniques, including tips to improve interpersonal skills.

At the end of Fall 17 semester we will collect the first batch of data on the project. This will include self-assessment from UTAs, evaluations from instructors, students' feedback on UTAs, and their performance on the ``Teaching methods'' course.

This project is a second step (the first step is reported in [1]) in an ongoing effort to improve our students' learning experience, facilitating in class pedagogies that have proven to be extremely effective [2,3]. At the same time, we want to offer students, who become UTAs, a fulfilling and enriching experience to add to their college formation. A significant part of this research is to understand how UTAs pick up the ``non content knowledge'' and how this knowledge can influence their personal and professional growth as future engineers.

Guadagni, G., & Ma, H., & Wheeler, L. (2018, June), The Benefit of Training Undergraduate Teaching Assistants Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31079

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