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Teaching Assistant Institute Goes Virtual

Date:   3/10/2021

Source:   By Alexandra Lain, Center for Teaching Excellence

"Virtual TAI was really rewarding this year. TAI brings TA’s together and forms a community where we can ask our questions and improve our teaching skills. It's a little extra boost of confidence before many TAs teach (and/or perform other roles) for the very first time. I was really inspired by the new TAs that I met in each session. It's clear that they know their subjects well and care about their interactions with their students." said Amy King, a Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) Graduate Teaching Consultant (GTC), Teaching Assistant Institute (TAI) facilitator, and graduate student in the Department of Hispanic Studies.

This is just one of the many comments about the 2020-2021 Teaching Assistant Institute. Like many educators contemplating Fall 2020 instruction amid continued COVID-19 distancing policies, Dr. Ra’sheedah Richardson, CTE’s Assistant Director and TAI Administrator, reviewed options to deliver a quality training program to new teaching assistants. In collaboration with the leadership at the Graduate and Professional School (GPS) and the CTE, it was decided that TAI will be transitioned into a 100-percent virtual training program for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. Routinely delivered in a one day, 8-hour face-to-face program, TAI evolved into asynchronous modules combined with a synchronous 2-hour GTC-facilitated activity-based session.

Transition to Virtual
A committee of faculty, known for their excellence in teaching, worked many hours with Dr. Richardson and TAI-experienced Graduate Teaching Consultants to convert, create, and adapt four face-to-face sections into four modules, using Articulate Rise - a responsive e-learning software program.  Beginning with research on evidence-based teaching and learning literature, the committee ensured the TAI curriculum aligned with Texas A&M’s strategic goals and initiatives. A huge debt of gratitude goes out to the following committee members for their invaluable contributions:

Alicia Altemose, Lecturer and Technical Laboratory Coordinator, Department of Chemistry
Ciana Bowhay, Graduate Teaching Consultant, Department of Animal Science
Randy Brooks, Professor of Practice, Engineering Academy
Leah Buchman, Graduate Teaching Consultant, Department of Entomology
Tatiana Erukhimova, Instructional Professor, Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Andrew Garcia, Graduate Teaching Consultant, Department of Sociology
Amit Ghoshal, Graduate Teaching Consultant, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences
Robert Lightfoot, Lecturer, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Alessandra Ribota, Graduate Teaching Consultant, Department of Hispanic Studies
Rasheedah Richardson, Assistant Director, Center for Teaching Excellence
Paul Taele, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Shawna Thomas, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering
TAI is a component of the Teaching Assistant Training & Evaluation Program (TATEP), a mandatory program supporting the preparation and development of teaching assistants across campus. Created in 1990, TATEP provides training for every new teaching assistant to prepare them to meet the challenges of teaching in higher education at Tier One institutions through the TA Institute; as well as the evaluation of teaching assistant training through College-level compliance reports. Participation in TAI results in Texas A&M teaching assistants prepared to effectively use active learning strategies that increase critical thinking and deeper learning while promoting classroom dialogue and interaction.
TAI Curriculum
With an eye to providing a comprehensive array of instruction and policy, graduate students are exposed to a variety of typical experiences in today’s classroom. And to ensure Texas A&M Teaching Assistants are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion each component weaves in foundational topics of respect, dignity, campus climate, and trust. A summary of the Teaching Assistant Institute curriculum is listed below by format. To receive full credit for TAI, each TA must complete the online prep course and eCampus modules before attending the final synchronous sessions.

TAI Preparation course: FERPA; Aggie Honor Code; Discrimination & Harassment Prevention; Texas A&M Disability Services

eCampus modules: Students, Learning Outcomes & Teaching Strategies; Effective Communication and Classroom Management; Assessment and Feedback; Classroom Climate and Community; University Resources and Policies; More Opportunities and Resources

Synchronous sessions: Introduction to Zoom tools; Break out activities and interactive sessions; Students, Learning Outcomes & Teaching Strategies; Effective Communication and Classroom Management; Assessment and Feedback; Classroom Climate and Community

Final Counts
The 2020-2021 Teaching Assistant Institute year concluded late February 2021 resulting in approximately 1050 newly trained teaching assistants from all flagship campuses including Galveston.
In closing, Dr. Richardson expressed her trust in and appreciation for the dedicated, new TA’s, “Teaching Assistants are an essential part of instructional practices on campus serving in roles such as recitation leaders, lab instructors, and full responsibility lecturers. It is a privilege to support these TAs in their efforts and to partner with colleges to increase teaching excellence on campus.”
For more information on the Teaching Assistant Institute, please contact the Center for Teaching Excellence at cte@tamu.edu.