Bridging the Graduate Assistant Problem (GAP): Developing New Practices to Support Graduate Teaching Assistants

Concurrent Session 2
Leadership Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

This design studio thinking session engages participants in better understanding the nature and scope of the problems found in professional development offered to graduate teaching assistants. Participants will collaboratively draft a GTA training program proposal that can be implemented at their institutions.

Extended Abstract

In our Innovation Studio Design Thinking Session, we’ll outline the problem facing our institution and many others: How can graduate teaching assistants be better prepared and supported for their dual role? By the end of the session, teams will develop a program proposal draft that includes overall program learning objectives, a schedule of daily content themes, and resources (including educational technology tools, pedagogical strategies, and institutional partners) available to support this initiative at their institution. During the prompt phase of our session, we’ll help participants better understand the scope and nature of the problem, so that they are ready to tackle the divergent brainstorming session that follows. The divergent brainstorming phase will split among the three elements of the deliverable to ensure that each participant has a chance to develop their own ideas to address this problem. Next, participants will work in groups to discuss their individual ideas, collaborate on a cohesive proposal, and produce a draft of the program proposal. Throughout the session, facilitators will jump into group conversations to share feedback and insight based on our experiences and lessons learned. 

The guidance shared with participants comes from our experiences in addressing the gap in professional development for graduate teaching assistants at our institution. Our team created an intensive week-long hybrid training program immediately before the fall semester, emphasizing and modeling key learning theories, which prepared participants for their intersectional roles as faculty and students. We recognized that graduate teaching assistants are often left out of conversations that focus on faculty development or student support, and neither fully addresses their needs. Most often, GTA training is spontaneous and informal, led by their assigned faculty member. As a result of their minimal training, graduate teaching assistants may feel overwhelmed or under-prepared, which can impact their personal development and educational goals. While GTAs can be impacted personally by this lack of training, the institution can suffer as well, considering GTAs often lead and support high-enrollment, core courses, and their stresses may be passed along to their students. Our solution to this problem includes partnerships between our office and others across campus to create a formal and engaging opportunity for teaching assistants to learn theories and practices that will serve them in their roles as both teachers and students. The assistantship academy was the result of partnerships between ten campus departments with 120 average daily participants across 23 unique workshops. Each session of the week-long program was highly interactive and presented by a teaching and learning professional, which increased opportunities for TAs to build a support network that they can return to during the academic year. During each phase of the design cycle, we identified and defined problems through student and presenter feedback to create solutions that better serve participants. 

After identifying the problem, our team followed the backward design process to develop goals and objectives. We began by considering the teaching and learning situations that TAs experience and the skills and knowledge that would (make their responses better). In order to achieve these objectives, we leveraged various campus partnerships and broader institutional support to include diverse perspectives and incentivize participation. During the implementation phase, our team focused on encouraging participant engagement to leave room for the student innovation that comes from collaboration and discussion. The program coordinators and individual presentation teams modeled growth mindset behaviors so that participants could better understand ways in which failure can be a growth opportunity. Presentations prioritized offering various methods of engagement as well as following best practices in accessibility and UDL to create an inclusive community of practice during the academy. A key part of our training design process was collecting participant feedback and developing an appropriate response. This is an important element in establishing a growth mindset culture. The Graduate Teaching Assistant participants and their feedback were integral to this program's evolution. Several students shared issues with internet access or device issues that led to an internal review of our participation policies to make the program’s content more accessible. As a result of our commitment to collecting participant feedback we also learned about areas to address in future programming, including discipline-specific teaching practices. Each stage of this process is a point in which the facilitators can share insights and guide participants as they move through the Innovation Studio Design Thinking Session.