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Orientation and Ongoing Development - 2007 Survey of Departments



The 2007 "Graduate Teaching Assistant Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey" was conducted online in the summer of 2007. The Graduate School conducts the survey biennially to summarize Graduate Teaching Assistant (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.

As noted in Table 1 below, faculty from forty-six (46) departments submitted GTA surveys in 2007, representing 775 Graduate Teaching Assistants.  Of those 775 GTAs, 392 were enrolled in master’s degree programs, and 381 were enrolled in doctoral degree programs.

Table 1.  GTAs by Year and Degree Program in 2007 Survey of Departments

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 Graduate School’s annual Workshop for New Graduate Teaching Assistants.  Rather, the activities in the 2007 survey represent only what departments reportedly do 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.  In Table 2 there is a summary.

Table 2.  Number of GTA Orientation Activities by Department Before/During First Semester.

Courses in Teaching Methods

When asked if their GTAs normally take a course in teaching methods before they teach, thirteen (13) said yes; thirty-three (33) said no. Ten (10) of the 13 departments require the course; three (3) do not. Of those departments requiring their GTAs to take a specific teaching course offered by the department, nine (9) departments give academic credit.  For instance, Women’s Studies GTAs are required to take WS 503; English department GTAs take EN 532, for which they received 3 hours' credit. Three hours' credit also is provided in the Psychology Department for GTAs who take PY 695: Teaching in Psychology.  

Of the thirty-six (36) departments that do not require their students to take a specific methods course, seven (7) require prior teaching experience, sixteen (16) require in-class assistant experience before teaching a class, and five (5) have optional courses available in teaching methods.  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 enter their programs with "lengthy" experience in classroom teaching at the elementary and secondary levels. The departments of Industrial Engineering and Anthropology both noted that that they rely on GTAs mainly for grading papers and assisting with 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 Department of Communication Studies are offered a three-day Orientation to Teaching workshop in addition to the Graduate School’s annual workshop for incoming Graduate Teaching Assistants.  During the Communication Studies workshop, GTAs are exposed to the course content and WebCt, and they receive a course syllabus, daily schedule, and related items.  At the end of the workshop, each GTA prepares and delivers a course lecture.  In addition, COM 501 is a weekly course in communication and pedagogy required of all GTAs for their first year of teaching (Fall and Spring).

In-class Experience and Supervision

Once a GTA is in the classroom, forty-one (41) of the forty-six (46) departments who responded to the survey either assign the GTA to an individual mentor or have the GTA work 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 nine departments provide at least two (2) of these teaching aids, while the majority (67%) provide three or more.  It should be noted that the GTAs in some departments such as Chemistry and Human Nutrition and Hospitality Management 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.   In Advertising and Public Relations, GTAs are lab instructors and are under the direct supervision of the professor of record.  The Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering uses its GTAs only for labs and substitute lectures, and none is a primary instructor.


GTAs at the University are engaged in a continuous process of improvement involving a variety of resources on campus and within their own departments.  Table 3 below illustrates the range and selected types of ongoing training used to enhance the GTA experience.

Table 3.  Number of Ongoing Training Activities Reported by Departments after First Semester as GTA

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) departments indicated that they encourage their GTAs to use at least one of the resources of the CTL. Specific resources recommended were tutoring (8), Writing Center (3), videos (3), reading and study skills (1), WebCt / eLearning (1), and “as-needed” depending upon the circumstances (3).

Evaluating Progress and Performance

Twenty-eight (28) of the departments reported that they conduct regular meetings with their GTAs. Thirteen (13) departments have weekly meetings, one (1) meets monthly, three (3) meet two or three times a semester, four (4) meet once a semester, and seven (7) departments have meetings at the discretion of the GTA coordinator. These meetings are conducted both individually and in groups.

Performance Evaluations

Thirty-nine (39) departments conduct regular evaluations. Thirty-two (32) conduct the evaluations once per semester, three (3) departments evaluate twice a semester, and one (1) department evaluates three (3) times per semester. The frequency of evaluations in other departments varies at the discretion of the GTA supervisor.

Thirty-five (35) departments conduct periodic supervisory evaluations.  Four (4) evaluate daily, two (2) evaluate weekly, seven (7) once a semester, six (6) twice a semester, and nine (9) as needed.  The remainder of departments vary their periodic observations according to their particular needs.


Six (6) 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. For example, the Department of Modern Language and Classics and several departments in the College of Communication and Information Sciences use both student evaluations and feedback as part of the ongoing evaluation process.  Anthropology and Special Education and Multiple Abilities monitor and provide feedback throughout the term and during assignment reviews.

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; practicum experiences; and focus groups for GTAs to discuss concerns and needs and to explore issues in teaching.  Results showed that thirteen (13) departments provide lectures, seven (7) give teaching seminars, twelve (12) provide visiting scholar seminars, ten (10) provide focus groups, five (5) provide colloquia, ten (10) provide workshops, and thirteen (13) offer practicum experiences.

During the first year of teaching, English GTA’s take a practicum each semester that includes group work on teaching problems, work on syllabi for second semester, and other development activities.  Once or twice annually, Modern Languages and Classics will have a visiting scholar and/or take part in a national foreign language teleconference.  Opportunities provided by Acting Pedagogy include a trip to Havana, Cuba, to learn teaching methods at the Instutuo Superior Del Arte. 

More than half (56%) of the departments provide two (2) or more of the ongoing GTA development activities listed above.  Outstanding examples include departments in Communication and Information Sciences, the programs in Management and Marketing, and Modern Languages and Classics (French, German, and Spanish), each of which provides five (5) or more ongoing training activities. 


Along with the training strategies that are currently being used to improve the effectiveness of their GTAs, departments often consider changes to existing programs or the use of additional training activities in order to expand their GTA training efforts.  Table 4 below is a summary of most of the changes that departments have in mind for the 2007-2008 school year.

Table 4.  Number by Category of Departmental Changes for GTAs under Consideration for 2007-2008

The most frequently considered changes include refinements in the mentoring process, more class visits by faculty, expanding teaching evaluations, increasing GTA monitoring/supervision, and incorporating team teaching, and developing or improving a departmental handbook for

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