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Orientation and Ongoing Development - 2009 Survey of Departments




The 2009 "Graduate Teaching Assistant Orientation and Ongoing Development Survey" was conducted online in the summer of 2009. The Graduate School conducts the survey biennially for the following purposes:  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.


Forty-two (42) departments submitted GTA surveys in 2009, representing 787 of UA’s Graduate Teaching Assistants.  Of those 787 GTAs, 368 were enrolled in master’s degree programs, and 419 were enrolled in doctoral degree programs, as shown in the graph below.


GTAs by Survey Year and Degree Program, As Reported by 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 presentations and videotaping in the University's Annual Workshop for New GTAs, the effectiveness of which is assessed by a combination of measures.  Rather, the activities in the 2009 survey represent what departments reported doing to prepare their GTAs.


ORIENTATION ACTIVITIES Before and/or During First Semester as GTA


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


Courses in Teaching Methods

When asked if their GTAs normally take a course in teaching methods before they teach, eleven (11) said yes; thirty-one (31) said no.  All of the 11 offering a course reported that the course is required, and eight (8) give academic credit for the course.  For instance, in the History department, GTAs are required to take HY 600, Teaching History; English department GTAs take EN 533 and 534 in consecutive semesters and receive 1credit hour for each course; and Psychology provides 3 credit hours for PY 695: Teaching in Psychology.  


A number of departments state that they do not offer specific teaching courses because many of their GTAs have considerable teaching experience when they enter a graduate program.  For instance, many GTAs in Elementary and Secondary Education begin their program with significant experience in classroom teaching at the elementary and secondary levels, so having a departmental course for all new GTAs is not needed. The departments of Advertising and Public Relations, Mechanical Engineering, and Journalism rely on GTAs mainly for grading papers and assisting with other activities not involving direct contact with undergraduate students, so the faculty have determined that a course in teaching the discipline is unneeded.


Training needs sometimes require a variety of methods within a department, such that a course in teaching the discipline may not be the most effective method for GTA development.  For example, GTAs in Journalism serve as Writing Center Mentors, assisting with lab sessions, and holding walk-in hours for students seeking help.  GTAs in Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering work closely with one or more faculty members to prepare for teaching.  Geography GTAs gain insight by attending labs taught by experienced GTAs.  Mathematics GTAs work one year in the Math Technology Learning Center as tutors and observing instructors.  Kinesiology’s students in Sport Pedagogy have required initial orientation meetings and then ongoing study of various aspects of teaching the discipline.


Thirty-four (34) of the forty-two (42) responding departments 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.  Selected responses include the fact that In Advertising and Public Relations, GTAs are lab instructors and are under the direct supervision of the professor of record.  In History, GTAs direct discussion sections in large lecture courses and are always under the direct supervision of a faculty member.




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), more than 71% indicated that they encourage their GTAs to have their students use at least one of the resources of the CTL.  More than 66% of the departments promote the use of WebCt by their GTAs.  In many departments, other specific resources are recommended as-needed, depending upon the circumstances and individual needs of various GTAs.


Evaluating Progress and Performance

Twenty-three (23) of the responding departments conduct regular meetings with their GTAs. These meetings are conducted both individually and in groups. Thirty-nine (39) of the 42 conduct regular evaluations, with the frequency of evaluations at the discretion of the GTA supervisor. Twenty-seven (27) departments conduct additional periodic supervisory evaluations according the individual needs of GTAs. Four (4) departments report the use of videotaped evaluations and subsequent feedback for their GTAs while teaching in the department.


Other Evaluation Processes

Departments reported a variety of evaluations in addition to those described above.  For example, the department of Advertising and Public Relations conducts meetings for GTAs to train with the instructor of record on using lab software.   Biological Sciences GTAs meet with supervisors as needed; Criminal Justice and History GTAs have weekly meetings; and Criminal Justice GTAs have recitation groups.  The department of Mathematics uses video lectures, weekly help sessions, and tutors for their GTAs.  Other enhancements include software training, informal mentoring, and encouraging GTAs to utilize various resources already available here at the University.


SELECTED IMPROVEMENTS Reported Since the 2007 Survey

  • Twenty-eight (28) departments now report stipulating that their GTAs receive additional training on the use of WebCt
  • The number of departments that require their GTAs to have teaching experience before teaching in the department has increased by about 33%
  • Approximately 25% of the reporting departments have expanded the use of GTA teaching evaluations
  • Approximately 20% of reporting departments in 2009 provide more colloquia or seminars on teaching than they did in 2007, and a similar percentage refined their various mentoring processes



Fully half of the reporting departments are considering changes in the immediate future in order to assist their GTAs.   Such changes include the following: 

  • increasing mentoring/supervision (11)
  • refining the mentoring process (9)
  • having more class visits by faculty members and/or veteran GTAs (7)
  • developing a department handbook or manual for GTAs that is more discipline-specific than the Graduate School's Graduate Assistant Guide (7)
  • providing colloquia or seminars on teaching (7)
  • having more meetings with GTAs (4)
  • videotaping GTAs (4)
  • expanding teaching evaluations (3)
  • rotating the faculty members in charge of GTAs (2)
  • developing additional or better teaching evaluations (2)
It is our hope that each department that employs Graduate Teaching Assistants will find the results of the 2009 survey of value in seeing some of the ongoing improvements made across the University.  We encourage each department continually to explore ways to refine its current methods of GTA training and to consider additional methods of GTA training and that they are not now using.

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