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Work in Progress: Motivations and Outcomes of an Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Teaching Assistants, Supplemental Instruction, and Classroom Support

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Barukh Ben Rohde University of Florida

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PhD student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences and Engineering Education, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of problem-solving, cultures of inclusion in engineering, engineering ethics, and environmental justice.

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This work in progress paper examines the experiences of undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs) facilitating a Signals and Systems course taught through a flipped classroom model. The practice of undergraduates teaching undergraduates has a long, complicated, scattered, and often under-documented history (Smith 2013). As early as 1971, Born and Herbert (1971) found that graduate TAs and undergraduate TAs received similar ratings. Undergrads who have recently completed the course are often more familiar with course-specific tools than graduate students who might not be working in the area. Similarly, undergraduates tend to be more relatable and more enthusiastic than even graduate students are (Smith 2013). Furthermore, undergraduate TAs cost around a fifth of their graduate counterparts. Undergraduate TAs though, especially in flipped classroom settings, have not been well-studied despite their increasing prevalence.

Undergraduate teaching experiences impact students positively just as undergraduate research experiences do (Schalk 2009). However, unlike for undergraduate research experiences, the mechanisms by which students enter and are impacted by teaching assistantship programs have not been well-studied. Crouch and Mazur (2001) found that it was very important to motivate the teaching assistants in a flipped classroom. Less known are what aspects of the program most help them grow and be successful in their later careers.

Our project is using self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci 2000), organizational commitment theory (Kanter 1968), and undergraduate student socialization theory (Weidman 1989) to understand the experiences of undergraduate teaching assistants through their recruitment to, retention in, and graduation from an undergraduate TA program. Our overarching research question is, how does a teaching assistant experience impact undergraduate engineering students? To date, five interviews have been conducted. Analysis is being done using multiple readings, through the lenses of student socialization and the aspects of commitment and self-determination. Although analysis is in the early stages, the results indicate that serving as undergraduate teaching assistants helps to socialize the TAs into their roles within the department. To quote one former TA: “A lot of my best friends now are people that I met through becoming a TA, and through the class, and they were my TAs.” Through this project, we intend to help faculty understand the needs of their undergraduate teaching assistants as different from their graduate TAs, and to learn how best to help undergraduate TAs achieve their career goals.

References: Born, D. G., & Herbert, E. W. (1971). A further study of personalized instruction for students in large university classes. The Journal of Experimental Education, 40(1), 6-11.

Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American journal of physics, 69(9), 970-977.

Kanter, R. M. (1968). Commitment and social organization: A study of commitment mechanisms in utopian communities. American sociological review, 499-517.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.

Schalk, K. A., McGinnis, J. R., Harring, J. R., Hendrickson, A., & Smith, A. C. (2009). The undergraduate teaching assistant experience offers opportunities similar to the undergraduate research experience. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education: JMBE, 10(1), 32.

Smith, T. (Ed.). (2013). Undergraduate curricular peer mentoring programs: Perspectives on innovation by faculty, staff, and students. Rowman & Littlefield.

Weidman, J. (1989). Undergraduate socialization: A conceptual approach. Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, 5(2), 289-322.

Rohde, B. B., & Douglas, E. P. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Motivations and Outcomes of an Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35671

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