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2013 Survey of Departmental GTA Orientation and Ongoing Development Activities for Graduate Teaching Assistants

- R e p o r t -



CONTENTS (with hyperlinks)






Overview of Responding Departments and Their GTAs

  • 38 departments that employ GTAs completed the survey in Spring 2013
  • 774 GTAs reported among the 38 departments
    • 549 (71%) involved primarily in classroom teaching as instructors of record or assistants to instructors of record
    • 225 (29%) involved primarily in labs as lab supervisors, instructors of record for labs, or assistants to instructors of record for labs
    • 55% reported as master’s-level GTAs; 45% doctoral-level
  • 7 departments reported “significant” increase in number of GTAs since 2011 survey
  • most frequently reported functions for Departmental GTA Coordinators
    • write memoranda of appointment to new GTAs
    • coordinate with faculty needing GTAs
    • assign all GTAs to their duties each semester
    • ensure that each GTA has a faculty mentor
    • provide initial orientation for new GTAs after the University-wide workshop
    • provide regular group meetings for GTAs
    • conduct classroom visits
    • provide individual meetings with GTAs, often to follow up classroom visits
    • deal with policy issues
    • solve various problems that arise each semester
    • ensure that each GTA completes UA’s online “Preventing Sexual Harassment” tutorial
    • assign GTAs to teams to observe experienced GTAs
    • assure that written evaluations occur for each GTA during the semester and/or at semester’s end


GTA *Instructors of Record or Assistants to Instructors of Record

Courses on Teaching

  • 58% of departments do not require a course in teaching before GTAs teach or assist
  • 31% require a course in teaching
  • 13% do not require a course but do require GTAs to have teaching experience
  • 7% provide an optional course in teaching
  • 60% require GTAs to work as in-class assistants before they teach; 40% do not
  • 66% of GTAs are assigned or choose a mentor

Methods That Departments Use Most Frequently to Prepare GTAs to Be Classroom Instructors of Record or to Assist Classroom Instructors of Record

  • 60% provide their GTAs resources related to syllabi
  • 50% provide workshops/seminars
  • 47% provide handouts on teaching, handling classroom issues, departmental procedures, etc.
  • 29% provide lectures or seminars on teaching by experienced faculty
  • 26% provide teaching handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • 21% provide instructional videos on teaching

Methods to Prepare GTAs to Be Lab Instructors of Record or to Assist Lab Instructors of Record

  • 32% have lab TAs assist with other labs before they are responsible for their own
  • 3% have lab TAs take a class in leading a lab
  • 53% use other methods to prepare lab GTAs, the most frequently used of which are:
    • lab-specific training by instructor of record and/or more-experienced lab GTAs
    • 1- to 2-day departmental workshops


Percentage of Departments Using Selected Methods To Enhance Ongoing GTA Development After the First GTA Semester

  • 71% provide ongoing mentoring/supervision
  • 34% provide periodic workshops, seminars and colloquia on teaching
  • 16% provide visiting scholar seminars
  • 16% provide lectures on teaching
  • 10% provide practicums
  • 5% provide focus groups

Formal vs. Informal Evaluation Methods

  • 55% employ primarily or exclusively informal evaluations of their GTAs
  • 41% employ primarily or exclusively formal evaluations of their GTAs

Informal Evaluation Methods That Departments Most Frequently Use

  • Consistent observation by mentors, other faculty, experienced GTAs and peers
  • Regular meetings with coordinator (weekly/biweekly are the most typical meeting intervals)
  • Regular e-mail and phone contacts with coordinator
  • Interviews of the students with whom each GTA interacts
  • Faculty/graduate committee meetings to discuss individual GTAs
  • Feedback from head/lead GTA in departments that use one
  • Classroom or lab visits by coordinator
  • Classroom or lab visits by faculty in addition to the coordinator
  • Meetings with individual GTAs as problems or ineffective teaching methods are observed

Formal Evaluation Methods That Departments Most Frequently Use

  • Written Evaluations
    • number of written evaluations of GTAs in departments each semester
      • 76%    1-3
      • 22%    0
      • 3%      5 or more
      • 0%      4-5
  • Classroom or lab visits with written record of factors such as the following:
    • class preparation
    • knowledge of material
    • professionalism/overall demeanor
    • delivery of material
    • engagement of the students/techniques used to ensure engagement
  • SOI survey results
  • department-specific or college-specific end-of-semester evaluation forms
  • mid-semester evaluations
  • outcomes matrices/rubrics
  • summative classroom teaching evaluations
  • self-evaluations by GTAs
  • videotaped class lectures (by 13% of departments; evaluated formally and/or informally)


Changes in the Last 2-3 Years That Departments Feel Have Improved GTAs’ Performance the Most

  • required first-time GTAs to assist in one of the large survey courses taught by experienced instructors
  • began having lab instructors sit in the lecture for the first semester
  • began more in-depth orientations for lab assistants and lab instructors
  • provided lab GTAs with more detailed course materials
  • developed a Graduate Handbook for the first time, which spurred the development of a departmental GTA Handbook
  • developed a Lab Manual for GTAs
  • made continuing financial support contingent on satisfactory GTA performance
  • began more in-depth orientations for lab GTAs
  • reduced lab orientation’s focus on administrative issues and increased the focus on pedagogical issues in the discipline
  • moved to outcomes-based assessment of our GTAs
  • doubled the practicum course contact hours
  • initiated first-year training to conduct discussion sections for large lecture classes
  • began using a “head GTA” to assist with GTAs’ class management and to meet with GTAs more often than GTA coordinator or other faculty can
  • revised curriculum in our course on teaching to include guest lectures on the art of teaching, how to present seminars, and how to advise undergraduate students
  • began to feature experienced GTAs in panel discussions on teaching
  • improved teaching observation form to focus more on active learning by undergraduate students
  • began to have GTA coordinator present a session on effective teaching methods of selected job candidates, with a focus on helping GTAs prepare for teaching demonstrations they might be asked to give when interviewing for a faculty position
  • increased collaboration between GTAs and faculty members
  • began to offer teaching workshops 2-3 times per year

Changes Being Considered For the Future

  • 24% increase the amount of mentoring and supervision
  • 21% refine the mentoring process
  • 21% increase the number of class visits by faculty and veteran GTAs
  • 13% rotate the faculty members in charge of initial GTA training and ongoing GTA development
  • 10% expand the existing teaching evaluations
  • 8% begin videotaping GTAs
  • 8% increase the number of meetings with GTAs
  • 5% develop new teaching evaluations
  • 5% provide colloquia or seminars on teaching
  • 5% develop a handbook/manual for GTAs
  • 5% establish a task force or committee to address GTA issues specific to our department
  • 3% begin team teaching
  • 3% begin offering a course on teaching in the discipline

Things That Prompted Departmental Decisions to Change GTA Training

  • needed to make the teaching experience the best it can be
  • needed to demonstrate continuous improvement, to maintain accreditation, and to document GTA training for ongoing program review
  • needed to improve performance of underperforming GTAs
  • wanted to begin offering a semester-long course on specific aspects of teaching for GTAs, because workshops are not enough; for example, a course that focuses on teaching writing, teaching culture and related topics
  • needed to review how things are done, in anticipation of new departmental hire
  • needed to supervise our GTAs more closely
  • increased our concern for maintaining the highest-possible level of instruction for our undergraduates
  • needed to enhance the professional development of our GTAs

Additional Services Departments Would Like To See the University Provide

  • motivate ITAP/English Language Institute to have stronger focus on lab supervision
  • provide STEM-focused teaching workshops for GTAs
  • continue the Graduate School’s workshop for new GTAs
  • restore the service of having GTAs videotaped in their classes, once conducted during the AY by the Center for Teaching and Leaning
  • provide more assistance on how to handle disruptive students
  • give departments “senior GTA” lines to serve as peer mentors for new GTAs and assist GTA coordinators
  • provide a list of training videos
  • provide departments more faculty lines, to avoid having GTAs teach advanced undergraduate courses
  • provide a course on professionalism
  • fund departments to bring in experts on pedagogy or have their GTAs attend local conferences on teaching
  • increase the recognition by UA administration of the need for close supervision of GTAs by experienced teachers

*Instructors of Record:  GTAs must complete 18 graduate semester hours in the teaching/lab discipline before serving as instructors of record and/or assigning course grades.  For more information, see SACS 18-hour Rule for Teaching Assistants in the Graduate School’s online A-Z site index. 



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