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Tips From The Trenches: Preparation And Implementation Of An Experience Based Ta Training Session

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Improving the Teaching Skills of Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1291.1 - 13.1291.12



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Paper Authors


Adam Melvin North Carolina State University

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Adam Melvin is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He received his BS in ChE and a BA in Chemistry from the University of Arizona.

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Lisa Bullard North Carolina State University

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Lisa G. Bullard is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. She received her BS in ChE from NC State and her Ph.D. in ChE from Carnegie Mellon, and she served in engineering and management positions within Eastman Chemical Co. from 1991-2000.

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

Tips from the Trenches: Preparation and Implementation of an Experience-Based TA Training Session Abstract

Suitable training of teaching assistants (TAs) is paramount to the success of any department in every university. TAs who are well trained will be ready and able to handle the wide array of responsibilities assigned to them such as grading, holding office hours, supervising labs and even delivering lectures. The challenge to the university is how to best prepare the TAs for these tasks.

This paper describes an informal, experiential TA training seminar that provides new TAs with instruction from a knowledgeable faculty member paired with an experienced TA. The first part of the paper discusses how the session is designed to equip TA’s with skills and confidence in teaching, working with students in office hours, grading and dealing with a variety of other challenges they are likely to face. The second part outlines how to make the training session active, informal and effective. Pairing a faculty member with a TA is a critical component of the workshop design. Participant evaluations and informal feedback suggest that new TAs are more inclined to ask questions of someone close to their developmental level and at the same time, they appreciate the faculty member’s experience and depth of knowledge.


Teaching assistants (TAs) are an important asset in any type of course. They are responsible for most of the day-to-day operations of a class such as grading problem sets and holding office hours1. Moreover, these individuals, on average, tend to have the most one-on-one contact with the students due to similarities in age and station. The impact of a TA on a class can be quite substantial, with effective TAs helping to boost general knowledge and performance and ineffective TAs having the potential to discourage and demotivate students. So what is the distinguishing characteristic between a good TA and bad TA? There could be many explanations such as personal responsibility, willingness to help, knowledge of the subject, time management and so on. Although some of these issues are a function of the individual’s personality; other issues can be addressed by proper TA training.

Current TA training methods vary from university to university; but, unfortunately many of these methods employ teaching techniques that are outdated. The best types of training session, like the best classes, use active learning exercises to engage the student and have them ‘learn by doing’2. Previous studies have shown that enhancement of a TA training program yields high quality, more effective TAs3,4 who are better put to use by the department to increase undergraduate performance and expertise.

Several years ago the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University altered its TA training program to include more hands-on training sessions in order to better provide first semester teaching assistants with these types of skills5. One such addition to this training program is the implementation of an experience-based TA training session, entitled “Tips from

Melvin, A., & Bullard, L. (2008, June), Tips From The Trenches: Preparation And Implementation Of An Experience Based Ta Training Session Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3399

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