Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Jennifer Lewis, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
Background: Professional development for graduate teaching assistants (TAs) often happens in disciplinary silos. Aside from instances of university or institutional orientations meant to familiarize TAs with general employment policies and procedures, professional development most often occurs within departments, thus reinforcing the idea that pedagogy is discipline-specific and thereby reducing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. This research project addressed two questions in the context of an NSF-funded institutional change project (STEER): what TA professional development goals are shared among chemistry, biology and sociology departments? (what goals are different?), and, what TA professional development constraints are shared among chemistry, biology and sociology? (what constraints are different?). Methods: This project employs comparative analysis and draws from policy evaluation research. Data sources included interviews with key stakeholders and documents used in the development, delivery, and evaluation of each TA professional development program. After exploring differences and similarities in the programs, we examined the goals and constraints each department faces. We looked in depth at the manifest and latent values and assumptions inherent in decisions about TA professional development. Results: Comparative analysis of TA professional development programs across three diverse departments revealed similar goals despite disciplinary differences. Namely, these departments are interested in providing quality educational experiences for undergraduates, pedagogical and cultural competency skills training for graduate teaching assistants and transferable job skills. While some constraints varied by department (number of faculty, number of graduate teaching assistants, class size, liability and safety concerns, etc.), other constraints were consistent. For example, the need for “buy in” from diverse stakeholders emerges as a commonality. Conclusions: Approaching TA professional development in this way is fruitful for several reasons: 1) it negates the idea that pedagogy is discipline-specific and provides opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration; 2) it promotes evidence-based pedagogical strategies across disciplines; 3) it strengthens TA professional development across the institution by creating alliances around shared goals; and, 4) it brings together diverse departments to find commonalities and formulate feasible responses to constraints in light of institutional context.