I’ve been thinking about his for some time. Thought I should write something up on it.
I propose that we create small programs to improve the teaching of GSIs — in conjunction (and collaboratively) with the Graduate School and their office of Professional Development, the Delta Program, Writing Across the Curriculum, and the various entities on campus to identify and target needs, to avoid programming in areas that do overlap, and to capitalize on lines of communication to potential participants.
This may range from workshops and treatments entirely within AT’s domain and control, or simple consultations in the design and development of SCID or course-specific training sessions.
This proposal addresses a problem that has not been adequately acted upon, and does so in such a way that could benefit several levels of the university.
For Undergraduate Students:
- 100% of UW–Madison undergraduates are taught by graduate instructors, most of whom have had no pedagogical training.
- AT currently has zero programming to improve undergraduate education through graduate instructor outreach.
For Graduate Students:
- Of the 9,430 graduate students at UW–Madison, ~2400 (21% of Masters students and 27% of doctoral students) are TAs.
- Although graduate and professional students were 13.9 percent of all students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2004), conversations and subsequent efforts to achieve educational excellence regarding student engagement have focused almost exclusively on undergraduates.
- TA training opportunities on campus are scattered, through some SCIDs (e.g. one-day training in L&S and in C&I) and some through Delta. Often these are on specialized trainings (e.g. HR procedures, sexual harassment, etc.)
- A significant percentage hunger for opportunities to learn to teach more effectively.
- Awareness of current practices (through contact/communication with graduate student instructors) will better inform AT of the current state of teaching on campus.
- Graduate students often have more time and energy to devote to learning about good teaching practices (at certain stages of their studies) than many faculty — especially non-tenured faculty, so can provide fantastic opportunities/inroads in improving the T&L of those classes.
- Graduate students are often more willing to share openly about their frustrations with current T&L practices. They can provide “fresh” (on the student side of) insight to recent trends in T&L.
- Graduate students can teach us of new technologies that are relevant in their fields — technologies that we may not be aware of (e.g. deep experience from a user-perspective with Piazza).
If faculty know that their TAs are learning how to teach (beyond TA experience, and faculty-provided knowledge), they will be more willing to trust and share with the TAs the responsibility of designing assignments, units, and even courses.
- increased willingness to try new things (e.g. Blended Learning, mobile-enhanced field research, experiential and socioculturally-rich activities)
- increased sharing of their successes and failure (failures are shared “learning experiences” for TAs, rather than reinforcement of only marginally-effective practice).
By helping graduate students become expert communicators and instructors, the reputation of the university will be enhanced, but so will the day-to-day workings of teaching, learning, research, and administration.
- At Showcase 2014, CIO Bruce Maas mentioned to myself and to Eileen Callahan of the Graduate School that he would like to see UW–Madison graduate students leave as experts in Teaching & Learning.
- This would raise the competitive advantage of UW–Madison beyond most R1 universities by producing not only research leaders, but research leaders who can effectively communicate and teach to a wider variety of audiences.
Increasing undergraduate success is such a tremendous goal for this R1 campus that it is built into the very fabric of the university and taken for granted. However, increasing undergraduate success by increasing the success of their primary instructional contacts — their TAs and graduate student instructors — is typically not discussed. Increasing the pedagogical abilities of graduate students will help them become better teachers, better learners, and better researchers. The impacts of this will affect the entire campus culture.
- “The primary purpose of the University of Wisconsin–Madison is to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all.” (link)
- EI goals are to foster “innovative approaches to curriculum and research … that maintains and enhances student learning” (link)
- “The mission of the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) is to support the primary institutional missions of teaching, research and service with innovative and creative IT services.” (link)
- The goal of FES is to advance teaching excellence.
- Current Graduate School Professional Development opportunities for graduate students: http://grad.wisc.edu/pd/events/
- Measured priorities for undergraduate student learning: http://apir.wisc.edu/datadigest/201314Digest/dd14_web.pdf (slide #31)
Given the intensity of graduate student schedules, the diversity of disciplines and practices, the relatively short time they are on campus (2-10 years), and the high cost of “cohort”-style fellowships (e.g. BLFP, Blend@UW, etc.), I envision this succeeding most effectively as a “broad-but-shallow” program with the following aims:
- broadly target all ~2500 graduate instructors with a “light touch” treatment (e.g. one-hour brownbag, online series of short YouTube-style videos, etc.) providing very basic questions for inquiry into their current teaching (i.e. awareness of a lack of knowledge and need for action)
- establish a (or supplement to an existing) community of graduate student peers who are interested in increasing their teaching skills
- support and maintain that community, both online and offline by participating, mentoring, and rewarding their participation.
- create pathways for deeper exploration (and credentialization/recognition options) for those who delve more deeply into increasing their pedagogical skills and implementation.
As this exploration is already underway to some extent in the Graduate School, the Teaching Academy, and the Delta program, and various SCIDs (L&S, SoE, etc.), and because relationships with these entities are already established and strong, FES can easily connect and collaborate in order to identify best courses of action, avoid duplication of services and programs, and share information. With this in mind, the proposed actions are to:
- Identify entities on campus who are engaging in graduate student instructor outreach (we have many of these already identified)
- Map out the types of outreach and professional development they are already doing.
- Identify focused “generally applicable” pedagogical practices for adult learners.
- Share any and all data with campus entities who prefer to do their own training (do not target their GSIs).
If this moves forward and receives funding,
- Develop or curate a variety of short treatments (workshops, videos, readers, etc.) to address the focused “generally applicable” pedagogical practices for adult learners.
- Create a GSI T&L community, or if appropriate and welcomed, expand existing campus T&L communities with GSI SIGs.
- Actively maintain the community by participating in it, moving treatments to it, expanding and curating treatments on deeper T&L topics, rewarding GSI participation with recognition, credentialing, and inexpensive tokens of appreciation.