Seema Rivera, an assistant professor of education at Clarkson University’s Captial Region Campus, has recently published the findings of her study of Clarkson’s TA Boot Camp in the book, STEM Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and the Development of STEM Pedagogy. This groundbreaking program first took place in the summer of 2016 when six entering Clarkson Ph.D. candidates arrived at Clarkson’s Schenectady campus for a revolutionary four-week Summer Institute for Graduate Teaching Assistants.
“Peter Turner (the founding director of the Institute for STEM Education at Clarkson) had the idea of creating a program to help the graduate teaching assistants (GTA) learn some pedagogy before starting the academic year. It was a collaboration with the education department and several faculty from Arts and Sciences. Many faculty of the education department at the CRC campus were involved in creating the program,” Rivera said.
Rivera analyzed how this type of program can impact the teaching self-efficacy and the identity development of STEM GTAs. After conducting interviews and doing some recitation observations, she learned that the GTAs understood and appreciated changing their mindset from a teacher-centered pedagogy (where they came up with all the questions) to a student-centered pedagogy. The GTAs said students were more engaged and felt that the learning was more authentic.
“As the GTAs progressed through the academic year, many felt that they came off as approachable to students, almost feeling like an extension of the faculty member. They also had a better sense of identity--meaning that after they felt more confident in their teaching, they had a better understanding of their role or identity in the larger scope of the university system--that is, committing to improving the quality of education for the students. Ultimately communicating and connecting with their students was a big piece of their learning--something they did not initially think would be the case,” Rivera said. “The program has evolved slightly over time. I hope to continue investigating what types of support are needed for GTAs, particular subsets within the GTA population.”