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Training Graduate Student Instructors Effectively: The University Of Michigan Model

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.558.1 - 4.558.10



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Trevor Harding

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

Session 0455

Training Graduate Student Instructors Effectively: The University of Michigan Model

Trevor S. Harding Department of Materials Science and Engineering University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2136


Most of todays graduate student instructors (GSIs, a.k.a. "the TA") were undergraduates themselves a mere semester or two before. Can we say with confidence that these individuals are adequately prepared to teach their former peers and perhaps some-day take the place of their professors? We must look not only at how GSI training programs might improve the education of the instructed, but also of the instructor. The TAship is often seen as a sort of internship for those interested in possible academic careers. Therefore, the skills, behaviors, and attitudes developed during this training period will play a crucial role in defining their approach to teaching as faculty1.

This paper strives to examine the nature of how GSIs develop into junior faculty, what an ideal training program might entail, and how the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering has recently begun to address this issue. In writing this paper, it is the author’s sincerest hope that administrators will see the value in a quality GSI training program, professors will see the obvious need to become involved, and students will realize how important such programs can be to their success as GSIs and potentially professors.

GSI training programs can have a profound impact on the entire university. It has been argued that training programs for new GSIs should emphasize the importance of teaching, encourage them to consider jobs in academia, and develop useful communication skills2,3. Furthermore, faculty who participate in such programs benefit by refreshing their own teaching skills and interest in teaching2. Compassionate, well- trained GSIs can also improve retention rates among undergraduate students. Tobias found that effective teachers have a strong effect on student retention rates in the sciences4. The idea then would be to match well-trained GSIs with incoming freshman, where the impact on retention would be the greatest.

And of course, GSI training programs improve the quality of education that undergraduates receive. In a recent survey at Cornell University, engineering students were asked to identify what factors were most discouraging to them during their studies. Of the 31 factors identified, uncaring professors/GSIs, poor quality of instruction, and

Harding, T. (1999, June), Training Graduate Student Instructors Effectively: The University Of Michigan Model Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina. 10.18260/1-2--8002

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