Learning to Teach: TA Orientation Welcomes new Graduate Student Instructors

By Sharon Knox
10/16/2014

Carolyn Thomas, Vice Provost & Dean for Undergraduate Education, welcomed the new TAs

Carolyn Thomas, Vice Provost & Dean for Undergraduate Education, welcomed the new TAs

Almost every UC Davis undergraduate will be taught at some point by a teaching assistant (TA); and most graduate students will serve as TAs some time during their campus career.  Whether they’re facilitating section-level discussion for a large introductory course like Chem 2A or giving students feedback on their French accents, TAs are expected to be capable and resourceful instructors helping students to master and apply course concepts.  For many, this is a new role.  So how do first-time TAs learn to teach effectively?

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) offers year-round workshops, training and consultations for TAs.   In order to reach more than 600 new TAs on campus, however, CETL and its partners offer a full day of training before classes begin, which all first-time TAs are required to attend. 

Carolyn Thomas, Vice Provost & Dean for Undergraduate Education, welcomed the new TAs, and urged them to regard their teaching as a form of research.  “Whenever you teach a class, you’re also collecting data.  Think about that data, use that data to help you understand what works well, and what should be done differently,” she said. Cara Harwood Theisen, who coordinated the event, encouraged the TAs to invest in their teaching, telling them, “As a TA, you will play an important role in educating undergraduates, often working more directly with your students than they do with faculty. You can improve the quality of education at UC Davis.”

TA Consultant Tim Shelton demonstrates how to lead a lively discussion.

Breakout sessions offered workshops featuring titles such as “Yikes, I’m a TA!  Teaching Tips for New Instructors,” “Planning Lessons and activities with Backwards Design, and “Grading and Assessment without the Hassle:  Giving Effective and Efficient Feedback.”  These sessions were led by the Teaching Assistant Consultants, a group of experienced instructors who serve as peer consultants to campus TAs. One session, “Strategies for Leading a Lively Discussion,” introduced PollEverywhere, a technology which allows students to text answers which are projected onto a large screen.  Incoming texts lit up the screen as participants enthusiastically tested the technology.  Tim Shelton, a TA Consultant who led the session, is a graduate student in Chemistry.  “I enjoy getting people excited about science,” Shelton enthused.  “Being a TA lets me teach people who are very close to my own knowledge level.” 

With each TA attending three workshops of their choice, TA Orientation offers a lively, interactive introduction to being an instructor.  “TA Orientation offers a foundation,” said CETL Director Chris Thaiss.  But there is so much to learn about the art of instruction.  While I’m confident that our TAs are off to a good start, we hope to see many of more of them taking advantage of all that the CETL has to offer.”