Design Features of an Effective and Theoretically Grounded Training Program for Undergraduate Teaching Assistants in the Life Sciences

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Seth K. Thompson
Julie Brown
Sehoya Cotner
Jonathan Andicoechea
FangFang Zhao
Gillian Roehrig

Abstract

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.

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How to Cite
Thompson, S., Brown, J., Cotner, S., Andicoechea, J., Zhao, F., & Roehrig, G. (2020). Design Features of an Effective and Theoretically Grounded Training Program for Undergraduate Teaching Assistants in the Life Sciences. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 11(1), 59-74. https://doi.org/10.14434/ijdl.v11i1.24129
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Author Biographies

Seth K. Thompson, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Seth K. Thompson is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. His research focuses on understanding best practices for supporting novice instructors, including professional development, focused on evidence-based pedagogy.

Julie Brown, University of Florida

Julie Brown is an Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at the University of Florida. Her scholarship is rooted in the science of broadening participation in STEM in secondary and higher education contexts by working to advance equitable STEM learning environments.

Sehoya Cotner, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Sehoya Cotner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. Her research interests include teaching with technology, barriers to teaching and learning evolution, and gender disparities in the sciences.

Jonathan Andicoechea, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Jonathan Andicoechea is a Graduate Student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His research focuses on understanding what qualities of a learning environment help students acquire the content knowledge and skills needed to be scientifically literate.

FangFang Zhao, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

FangFang Zhao is a Graduate Student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Her research focuses on understanding how an instructor’s pedagogical choices influence how students apply analytical thinking to biological concepts.

Gillian Roehrig, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Gillian Roehrig is a Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. Her research interests are centered on understanding how teachers translate national and state standards into teaching events and curriculum in their classrooms and how professional development programs can influence teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and classroom practices.