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Research over the last decade has indicated that active learning and student-centered instruction lead to better learning outcomes in undergraduate biology courses than traditional methods such as lecturing. This shift in pedagogical approach has been applied to both high-enrollment lecture-based courses as well as smaller laboratory courses. In these laboratory courses, the primary instructor is often a graduate or undergraduate student teaching assistant. Such novice instructors often lack the pedagogical knowledge and experience to implement student-centered instructional practices such as inquiry effectively. Therefore, to fully realize the benefits of inquiry-based laboratories for undergraduate students, the instructors of these courses require support.
In this paper, we present a design case for a theoretically and contextually grounded professional development program that provides pedagogical support for undergraduate teaching assistants of a college biology laboratory course. Four undergraduate teaching assistants participated in our 12-week program. These participants were assigned weekly readings, turned in periodic reflective writings, and met with an experienced teaching mentor (Thompson) on a monthly basis. As designers, we grounded our design in the current literature but also built-in flexibility to be responsive to participants’ needs throughout the experience. Participants found it challenging to reflect on pedagogical strategies early in their experience, but found the additional support provided by the program very useful as they developed. Finally, we discuss the participant feedback that is being incorporated into future designs of professional development programming.