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Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey Report 2005



The 2005 “Graduate Teaching Assistant Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey” was conducted online in the summer of 2005. The Graduate School conducts the survey biennially to summarize GTA training and development activities in departments, to inform departments of the activities used by others on campus, and to encourage departments to try new activities to improve the effectiveness of their GTAs. Forty-five (45) departments submitted surveys in 2005. At the time of the survey, the University had a total of 267 “teaching” GTAs, i.e., GTAs who met the SACS 18-hour requirement, plus 396 “assist-only” GTAs who did not yet meet the 18-hour requirement but were approved to assist a primary instructor.

The survey consisted of three main sections—initial departmental activities for GTAs prior to stepping into the classroom, ongoing GTA development and supervisory activities, and planned changes for upcoming semesters. These activities do not include the University’s Annual Workshop for New GTAs, the effectiveness of which is assessed by a combination of objective and subjective measures; rather, the activities in the 2005 survey represent what departments do individually to prepare their GTAs.

ORIENTATION ACTIVITIES Before and/or During First Semester as GTA

The departments reported the following orientation and initial training activities prior to and during the first semester of a GTA’s teaching responsibility.

Courses in Teaching Methods

Asked whether or not their GTAs normally take a course in teaching methods before they teach, thirteen (13) said yes; thirty-two (32) said no. Eleven (11) of the 13 departments require the course; two (2) do not. Of those departments requiring their GTAs to take a specific teaching course offered by the department, ten (10) departments give academic credit. For instance, American Studies GTAs are required to take AMS 589: Teaching American Studies, for which they receive 3 hours' credit. Three hours’ credit also is provided in the Art Department for GTAs who take ART 530: Teaching methods in Studio Foundations.

Of the thirty-two (32) departments that do not require their students to take a specific methods course, nine (9) require prior teaching experience, seventeen (17) require in-class assistant experience before teaching a class, and nine (9) have optional courses available in teaching methods. Over two-thirds (76%) of the University’s departments with GTAs require a teaching methods course, offer an optional teaching course, or require prior teaching experience.

One of the reasons that many departments do not offer specific teaching courses is that GTAs have different levels of experience when they enter a graduate program. For instance, many GTAs in Elementary and Secondary Education come into their program with “lengthy” experience in classroom teaching at the elementary and secondary levels. The departments of Computer Science and Chemical and Biological Engineering both point out that that they rely on GTAs mainly for grading papers and other activities not involving direct contact with undergraduate students.

Training needs sometimes require a variety of methods within one academic unit. For example, GTAs in the School of Music work in a variety of areas, each having a different system of orientation, observation and evaluation. GTAs teaching Music Theory are not assigned classroom responsibilities until they have completed at least two semesters as lab assistants, the required 18 graduate semester hours in the teaching discipline, and a pedagogy of theory course. GTAs teaching Music Appreciation must take a seminar on the teaching of such courses, and GTAs teaching Applied Music do so only after completing an appropriate graduate pedagogy course.

In-class Experience and Supervision

Once a GTA is in the classroom, forty (40) of the forty-five (45) departments either assign the GTA an individual mentor or have the GTA under direct supervision in a group.

Departments were asked whether they also provide the following: additional workshops, videos, syllabi, handouts, handbook/manual, or lecture materials. All but four departments provide at least two (2) of these teaching aids; the majority (80%) provide three or more.

In the thirty-two (32) departments that do not offer a specific teaching course, all but four provide at least two of the supplemental aids. Three of these departments are in the College of Engineering, where GTAs only grade assignments and have no classroom responsibilities. Telecommunication and Film GTAs are not primary instructors and do not assign grades; they are limited to assisting professors.

It should be noted that the GTAs in some departments such as Geography and Biological Sciences oversee students working on predetermined laboratory assignments, and much of their interaction with students is devoted to answering questions on a one-to-one basis; they are not responsible for full-length lecture sessions. More experienced GTAs and faculty in these lab settings, however, always supervise GTAs. History and Anthropology are also examples of this situation. In History, GTAs conduct only discussion sections of large survey courses under the direct supervision of professors who retain overall responsibility for the course. For History and Anthropology GTAs to have sole responsibility for classes is rare, and then, only if they are doctoral students who already have completed their comprehensive examinations. Anthropology GTAs may give a lecture or two or conduct one-hour section meetings, but this is at the discretion of the supervisory professor.


Center for Teaching and Learning

Asked whether the department encourages GTAs to have their undergraduate students use resources available at the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), sixteen (16) said yes, and twenty-nine(29) said no. Specific resources recommended were study skills workshop (4), tutors (3), Writing Center (2), videos (2), testing (2), computer resources (2), time management (2), reading skills (2), evaluation and observation (1), and assistance with learning disabilities (1).

Evaluating Progress and Performance

Thirty-two (32) of the departments conduct regular meetings with their GTAs. Sixteen (16) departments have weekly meetings, four (4) meet monthly, four (4) meet two or three times a semester, three (3) meet once a semester, and five (5) departments have meetings at the discretion of the professor. These meetings are conducted both individually and in groups.

Performance Evaluations

Thirty-eight (38) departments conduct regular evaluations. Twenty-seven (27) conduct the evaluations once per semester. Two (2) departments evaluate weekly, four (4) give an evaluation twice per semester, and six (6) give evaluations three times a semester or periodically. The frequency of evaluations in other departments varies at the discretion of the GTA supervisor.

Thirty-two (32) departments conduct periodic supervisory evaluations. Three (3) evaluate weekly, five (5) monthly, seven (7) once a semester, six (6) twice a semester, one (1) daily, and nine (9) as needed.


Five (5) departments report the use of videotaped evaluations of their GTAs. Communication Studies tapes GTAs once a semester; Chemistry uses videotaping occasionally; and Modern Languages and Classics tapes students at least once a year. The Mathematics Department frequently tapes its non-native English speaking GTAs as part of their Peer Instruction Training Program.

Other Evaluation Processes

Departments reported a variety of evaluations in addition to the above items. The School of Music uses both student evaluations and feedback as part of the ongoing evaluation process of each GTA. English and Modern Languages and Classics utilize informal peer reviews that include such activities as assignment exchanges and discussions about classroom rapport and management techniques. In Biological Sciences, all GTA-prepared outlines, exercises, quizzes, and exams are evaluated prior to use in the classroom.

Departmental Opportunities Provided to Enhance GTA Development

Survey respondents were given a list of activities and were asked to indicate which are used in the department. The activities included seminars provided by visiting scholars; lectures on teaching; teaching colloquia; continued mentoring/supervision; workshops; practica; and focus groups for GTAs to discuss concerns and needs and to explore issues in teaching. Results showed that fourteen (14) departments provide lectures, fourteen (14) give teaching seminars, twelve (12) provide visiting scholar seminars, eleven (11) provide focus groups, eight (8) provide colloquia, five (5) provide workshops, and five (5) provide practica. Journalism, Kinesiology, and Women’s Studies report frequent, informal discussions between GTAs and faculty about current teaching responsibilities and issues.

More than half of the departments provide three or more of the ongoing GTA development activities listed above. Outstanding examples include Management and Marketing, Modern Languages and Classics, and Theatre and Dance, each of which provides five (5) or more ongoing training activities.


Departments listed the following changes for the immediate future to assist their GTAs: increasing mentoring/supervision (14); having more class visits by faculty members and/or veteran GTAs (13); refining the mentoring process (10); having more meetings with GTAs (10); developing a department handbook or manual for GTAs that is more discipline-specific than the Graduate School's "Graduate Assistant Guide" (8) (http://www.graduate.ua.edu/publications/ga/); expanding teaching evaluations (7); rotating faculty members in charge of GTAs (7); videotaping GTAs (5); developing teaching evaluations (4); providing colloquia or seminars on teaching (4); teaching in teams (2); providing an optional course on teaching (1); assembling a task force or committee to address GTA issues (1), and requiring a course in teaching (1).

The most frequently considered changes center on supervisory issues: having more class visits by faculty members, increasing mentoring/supervision, and refining the mentoring process. More skillful mentoring of GTAs continues to be a primary focus of faculty members who supervise GTAs.

SELECTED IMPROVEMENTS Since the 2003 Survey:
  • More than two-thirds (76%) of departments report some form of required teacher training prior to classroom teaching, in addition to the University-wide, required Workshop for New Graduate Teaching Assistants (http://www.graduate.ua.edu/events/workshop_gta_program.html). Two-thirds of the departments reported such additional training in 2003.
  • Forty departments report assigning an individual mentor to GTAs or placing GTAs under direct group supervision; only thirty-three reported such supervision in 2003.
  • Thirty-eight departments report regular performance evaluations of GTAs, up from twenty-three (23)in 2003.
  • More departments in 2005 vs. 2003 report that they plan to provide additional meetings with GTAs (10 vs. 9); develop a department handbook or manual for GTAs (8 vs. 6); begin rotating faculty in charge of GTAs (7 vs. 3); and begin the use of videotaping for GTA evaluation (5 vs. 0).

University of Alabama | Graduate School | Site Index | Contact | Last Update 09/16/2014