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The Role of Teaching Assistants and Faculty in Student Engagement

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

NSF Grantees: Student Learning 3

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Denise Wilson University of Washington

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Denise Wilson is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests in engineering education focus on the role of self-efficacy, belonging, and other non-cognitive aspects of the student experience on engagement, success, and persistence and on effective methods for teaching global issues such as those pertaining to sustainability.

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Students who have greater contact and interaction with instructors learn more and learn more deeply in college. In the early undergraduate years at large institutions, instructional support comes from multiple types of instructors including teaching assistants (TAs) and regular faculty. Yet, a disproportionate amount of research has focused on faculty rather than TAs and other contingent instructors. Given the importance of TAs in engineering education, evidence from previous studies that TAs were less effective than tenure track faculty in teaching undergraduates is concerning. But little is known as to how the efforts of TAs predict immediate student outcomes like engagement compared to the efforts of faculty, particularly in the context of individual courses.

In this study, engagement is studied in the context of individual courses in order to more directly compare the impact of what TAs do with what faculty do. Two engagement measures (attention and participation) were measured in the context of seven large undergraduate engineering courses at a large public institution (N = 781). Students responded to a survey containing multiple items that represented previously validated scales of both attention and participation. Across the board, TA support and faculty support positively and significantly predicted attention and participation. Student-TA interactions, however, predicted engagement with mixed results. Stronger and more frequent student-TA interactions negatively predicted attention while positively predicting participation. Interaction effects between student-TA interactions and faculty support were also significant, suggesting that what TAs do moderates the influence of faculty on student engagement.

Given the importance that interactions play in facilitating academic integration, the distinct contributions of TAs vs. faculty to student engagement are important and merit future research to assess their generalizability across other disciplines and institutions.

Wilson, D. (2020, June), The Role of Teaching Assistants and Faculty in Student Engagement Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35365

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