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Preparing Biology Graduate Teaching Assistants for Their Roles as Instructors: An Assessment of Institutional Approaches

Preparing Biology Graduate Teaching Assistants for Their Roles as Instructors: An Assessment of... CBE—Life Sciences Education Vol. 14, 1–11, Fall 2015 Article Preparing Biology Graduate Teaching Assistants for Their Roles as Instructors: An Assessment of Institutional Approaches † ‡ Elisabeth E. Schussler,* Quentin Read,* Gili Marbach-Ad, Kristen Miller, and Miriam Ferzli *Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN 37996; † ‡ CMNS Teaching and Learning Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; Division of Biological Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602; Department of Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 Submitted November 2, 2014; Revised April 6, 2015; Accepted April 14, 2015 Monitoring Editor: Diane Ebert-May The inconsistency of professional development (PD) in teaching for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) is a widespread problem in higher education. Although GTAs serve an important role in retention of undergraduate science majors and in promotion of scientific literacy in nonmajors, they often lack preparation and ongoing support for teaching. Given the recent national focus on in- structional quality in introductory courses, our goal was to use an online survey to identify current practices of teaching PD for biology GTAs and compare these results with the last national survey on this topic. In responses from 71 participant institutions, 96% reported some mandatory teach- ing preparation for biology GTAs; however, 52% of these programs required 10 or fewer hours per year. Respondents wanted to change their programs to include more pedagogical information and teaching observations with feedback to their GTAs. Programmatic self-ratings of satisfaction with GTA PD were positively correlated with the number of topics discussed during PD. Although more schools are requiring GTA PD for teaching compared with the last national survey, the lack of program breadth at many schools warrants a national conversation with regard to recent calls for improving undergraduate instruction. universities across the United States (Sundberg et al., 2005). INTRODUCTION These are the same courses that have been the focus of Biology graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) provide in- recent national efforts to increase science, technology, engi- struction for many of the small class sections (typically, neering, and mathematics retention and increase scientific labs or discussion) associated with introductory and gate- literacy for nonmajors (Association of American Universi- way majors’ and nonmajors’ biology courses at research ties, 2011; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 2012). Scholars have also called atten- CBE Life Sci Educ September 2, 2015 14:ar31 tion to the importance of the quality of instruction provid- DOI:10.1187/cbe-14-11-0196 ed by instructors of these courses (American Association Address correspondence to: Elisabeth E. Schussler (eschussl@utk for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2011; Freeman .edu). et al., 2014). As a result, many pedagogical improvement ef- © 2015 E. E. Schussler et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2015 The forts have been directed toward science faculty members. American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The Despite these efforts in training biology faculty members, American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). fewer opportunities for developing teaching are available to It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommer- GTAs. Given that GTAs have more one-on-one contact with cial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http:// students in large introductory courses than faculty mem- creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0). bers (Rushin et al., 1997), more attention should be given to “ASCB®” and “The American Society for Cell Biology ®” are regis- tered trademarks of The American Society for Cell Biology. this group of instructors. 14:ar31, 1 E. E. Schussler et al. Professional development (PD) of biology GTAs has Since 1997, many authors have reported on new deliver- been a historically neglected aspect of academia (Boyer ies of traditional semester-based teaching PD courses and Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research new ways to approach formal and informal GTA PD. For University, 1998; Golde and Dore, 2001; Gardner and Jones, example, the literature describes several new models for 2011). Although many graduate students are paid through half-semester or semester-long courses for science GTAs teaching assistant positions that require them to teach un- (Baumgartner, 2007; Schussler et al., 2008; Marbach-Ad et al., dergraduate courses, GTAs often receive conflicting infor - 2010, 2012a; Lockwood et  al., 2014). Some institutions have mation about the value of teaching, including being told not also implemented extensions to traditional single-day work- to devote much time to their teaching duties (Nyquist et al., shops, such as multiday, presemester orientations (Young 1999). Many graduate students are encouraged to develop and Bippus, 2008); programs that include a presemester ori- their skills as researchers but are rarely encouraged to de- entation, a teaching seminar, PD in lab prep meetings, and velop their proficiency at teaching (Brownell and Tanner, teaching observations (Gormally et  al., 2011); and optional 2012). Given this typical prioritization of research over teaching certificate programs (Addy and Blanchard, 2010; teaching, GTAs have reported that little is done to promote Honeycutt et  al., 2010, Marbach-Ad et  al., 2015b). Hardre their teaching abilities (Austin, 2002; Austin et al., 2009; Luft, and Burris (2012) created a hybrid online and on-site GTA et al., 2004). This is in contrast to the reality that many GTAs PD orientation with choices of breakout sessions. Some re- are interested in teaching (Tanner and Allen, 2006) and an- searchers have detailed specific training approaches, such ticipate that teaching will be part of their future professional as instructional design (Hardre, 2005), laboratory teaching careers (Sauermann and Roach, 2012). Departments and in- apprenticeships (Bond-Robinson and Rodriques, 2006), and stitutions could make a positive impact on both the teaching lesson study (Dotger, 2011). Others have advocated using abilities of future faculty members and the development of lab preparation meetings as explicit venues for GTA in- appropriate teacher/scholar professional identities if they structional preparation (Nurrenbern et  al., 1999; Trautwein, invested more time and resources in GTA PD (Brownell and 1999; Wyse et  al., 2014). Beyond formal PD sessions, how- Tanner, 2012; Kendall et al., 2013). ever, there has also been a suggestion to add more informal Many studies have suggested that the PD of GTAs does PD and peer support into GTA PD programs (Gardner and not focus on the important pedagogical and discipline-spe- Jones, 2011), such as observations with feedback and reflec - cific knowledge necessary for teaching. It is generally fo - tion (Miller et al., 2014) or the creation of teaching communi- cused on logistics and classroom management rather than ties for GTAs (Hardre and Chen, 2005; Ash et al., 2009). discussion of pedagogical practices that foster student learn- In the context of current calls for science education teach- ing (Luft et al., 2004; Hardre, 2012). In fact, GTAs often com- ing reform and the lack of a systematic survey of GTA PD op- ment that they are given little feedback about their teaching portunities since 1997, we were led to ask: what is the current by course supervisors (Austin, 2002; DeChenne et al., 2012). state of GTA PD at institutions across the nation, and is there In one study, 25% of GTAs reported they had no supervi- any indication that PD for biology GTAs has changed since sion of their teaching at all (Prieto, 2001). Because GTA PD is 1997? Such questions led to the development of the Biology rarely discipline-specific (Park, 2004), GTA PD programs in Teaching Assistant Project (BioTAP) in 2013 with funding undergraduate biology teaching may fail to provide GTAs from the National Science Foundation’s Research Coordi- with support to foster inquiry skills and an understanding nation Network program. The BioTAP network aims to link of the process of science in their undergraduate students, people and resources with the goal of improving the teach- especially as they relate to learning in the laboratory context ing practices of biology graduate students. To inform this (Park, 2004; Honeycutt et al., 2010; Ferzli et al., 2012). initiative, in late Fall 2013, the BioTAP steering committee The last national survey of biology GTA PD practices was conducted a national survey of current institutional GTA PD conducted by Rushin et  al. (1997), who surveyed 153 grad- practices. The specific research questions for the study were: uate schools of biology across the country. Almost all of the schools (97%) reported using GTAs as instructors in labs or 1. What are the types of GTA PD programs at the respon- lectures. The authors classified masters- and doctoral-grant - dents’ institutions? ing institutional responses about formal opportunities for 2. What PD topics are covered in the GTA programs? GTA PD into five categories: 1) no formal training provided, 3. How are GTAs and/or PD programs assessed and eval- 2) mentoring by faculty members with occasional seminars, uated? 3) pre–academic year workshop with occasional other meet- 4. What are the factors correlated with respondent satisfac- ings, 4) required seminar during teaching semester, and tion with their GTA PD? 5) formal course on college teaching. The results of this sur- 5. Is there evidence that GTA PD has changed since 1997? vey found that 49% of the universities provided no teaching preparation for biology GTAs. For 22% of the schools, the The resulting data were used to provide a focus for Bio- primary PD was the pre–academic year workshop, while TAP’s efforts to improve the PD for teaching offered to biol- 14% required a seminar during their teaching semester, and ogy graduate students. 8% required a formal college teaching course. Mentoring by a faculty member comprised only 7% of the responses. Rushin and coauthors reached the conclusion that the min- METHODS imal and brief amount of formal teaching preparation was Data Collection unlikely to effectively prepare GTAs for either their teaching During the Summer of 2013, the BioTAP steering committee responsibilities at the institution or their potential roles as future faculty members. held an intensive 2-d meeting to plan for the project. Before 14:ar31, 2 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development the meeting, every committee member was asked to research questions. The survey was not anonymous, enabling the re- at least two institutional examples of teaching PD opportuni- moval of duplicate responses from individuals involved in ties for biology GTAs. During the meeting, we shared these the same departmental PD programs (responses from indi- examples and synthesized the diversity of practices repre- viduals at the same institution but directing different depart- sented by these institutions. Using a summary of this dis- mental programs were retained). The survey and research cussion and the categories proposed by Rushin et  al. (1997) were approved by the first author’s institutional review as a starting point, two of the coauthors (E.E.S. and Q.R.) board (UTK IRB-14-09318 B-XP), and all respondents in this built the online survey in Fall 2013. Importantly, the BioTAP report gave explicit consent via an email response. survey contained detailed questions that probed current PD The survey contained four categories of questions (de- practices more thoroughly. For example, Rushin et al. (1997) tailed below): demographic information, types of GTA PD asked one open-ended question and then categorized the offered, topics covered by GTA PD, and assessment of GTA responses based on the structure of the PD opportunities. PD. The questions on types, topics, and assessment were The structure of PD was explored in our survey as well, but used to answer research questions 1 through 3, respectively. we also included additional topics for institutional response Research question 4 used data from several survey catego- such as: the length of the formal PD sessions, the content cov- ries, while research question 5 was answered by resorting ered, informal PD available, assessment methods, and how the responses provided about types of GTA PD as described satisfied faculty/staff respondents were with a program. in the Data Analysis section. Survey questions were a mix of predetermined categories to select from (e.g., multiple-choice and Likert-type response 1. Respondent Demographic Information questions) and open-ended responses. This allowed not only Questions in this category asked for respondents’ names, for the compilation of practices in defined categories but also job titles, departments, institutional positions (faculty enabled respondents to report on new practices that may not or staff members), course(s) for which they train GTAs, have been included as survey choices. level of GTA PD involvement (institution, college, depart- The survey was reviewed for face validity by the BioTAP ment, and/or course), type of course their GTAs teach (e.g., steering committee and was pilot tested by a faculty mem- introductory and/or upper-level), and the pedagogical ber and a postdoc not affiliated with the project; the faculty approach of the course (open inquiry, guided inquiry, or member was a lab supervisor and PD course leader, the post- cookbook). No definitions of these pedagogical approach - doc was affiliated with a GTA PD program. We revised the es were included in the survey, allowing respondents to survey based on this collective feedback to clarify wording self-select their perceived pedagogical approaches. and add or remove questions based on what reviewers felt was most or least applicable to their own programs and ex- 2. Type of GTA PD at the Respondent Institution periences with GTA PD. A link to the revised survey with ex- planatory text was sent directly to 336 individuals identified Respondents were asked to select the types of formal PD as being likely to be involved in training of biology GTAs at opportunities (defined, structured offerings such as orien - all of the research-active universities (master’s and doctor- tations or courses) available to biology GTAs at their insti- al-granting) in the United States and Canada. The individ- tutions, report whether these opportunities were optional uals identified for direct contact were either coordinators of or mandatory, and estimate how long each lasted (from introductory courses or biology programs, discipline-based a given list of time ranges). They were also asked about biology educators, or, in the absence of the first two options, specific informal PD programs (e.g., mentoring, peer sup - department chairs; we targeted these individuals because port, observations), and whether they were optional or we felt they would have the most knowledge about GTA mandatory. Finally, respondents answered an open-ended PD practices and therefore would be most likely to provide question asking for an estimate of the minimum number accurate information. The text and link were also sent to of hours a GTA at their institution would spend in PD per mailing lists of the Society for the Advancement of Biology year. Respondents were given the opportunity to clarify Education Research and the Association for Biology Labora- any of their checked responses via comment boxes. tory Education, because these were judged to be the organi- zations most likely to attract faculty and staff members who 3. PD Topics Provided in the GTA Programs provide PD to biology GTAs. By combining direct emails to individuals with emails to these mailing lists, the authors Respondents were presented with six PD topics (teaching intended to reach a majority of professionals involved in bi- policies, classroom management, course content, teach- ology GTA PD rather than attempting to collect a random ing techniques, learning theory, and lesson planning) that sample of respondents. were initially identified as PD categories by the BioTAP The full survey consisted of 21 questions; this report fo- steering committee. They were asked to indicate which cuses on the responses to only 17 of the questions, nine topics were currently covered in their PD sessions and closed-response and eight open-ended questions (see the which topics they wished were provided. The survey did Supplemental Materials for the full survey). Two of the not ask respondents to indicate the length of time, quality, questions regarding how contextual factors at different in- or type of PD session in which a topic was presented, only stitutions impacted PD programs were confusing to respon- whether a topic was addressed during their PD sessions. dents (based on open-ended comments) and thus were dis- A text box, however, did allow respondents to clarify their carded. We also did not compile responses from two of the coverage or add any items that they did discuss in their last questions, as those were specifically designed to collect program that were not represented among those six cate- information for the network and not to inform the research gories. Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 3 E. E. Schussler et al. 4. Assessment of GTA PD that a response would be in a relatively higher satisfaction category. In this model, a regression coefficient is estimated Respondents were asked which assessment tools (e.g., for each predictor variable, and a different intercept is es- surveys of GTAs, student surveys, and/or teaching obser- timated for the transition between each category (very low vations) were used at their institutions to evaluate the ef- to low, low to medium, and so on). A positive coefficient fectiveness of their GTA PD programs. This was followed indicates that an increase in the predictor variable increases by an open-ended question asking what assessment tools the relative odds of the response being in a higher category. they would like to have available to evaluate their GTA The predictor variables in the multiple regression model PD programs. Respondents also provided a Likert-type were 1) the minimum number of mandatory PD hours re- response to two questions: the perceived level of insti- quired annually for each GTA at each institution, which was tutional support for their GTA PD programs and the re- considered to be a surrogate for intensity of PD; 2) the total spondents’ overall satisfaction with the biology GTA PD number of topics covered in PD of the six described above, at their institutions (1 being low and 5 being high for both which was a proxy for the breadth of PD; and 3) the number of questions). The last question of the survey asked them to reported feedback opportunities (whether mandatory or op- list one thing they wished they could change about the tional) provided to GTAs by each institution, including peer GTA PD at their institutions and the aspects of GTA PD mentoring, faculty mentoring, online mentoring, observa- with which a network such as BioTAP could help them. tions, and discussion of student evaluations, which was con- sidered a proxy for the level of feedback provided to GTAs. We identified the total mandatory hours of PD per GTA Data Analysis per year either directly from the open-ended response pro- As mentioned above, all survey questions were either pre- vided to this question on the survey or from a compilation of defined categories from which respondents selected a re - respondent answers. Compilations were necessary, because sponse (closed response) or comment boxes in which re- 31% (N = 85) of the responses to this question were either spondents could provide open-ended responses. These not usable or were inconsistent with other survey responses. closed- and open-response questions in all categories of the Specifically, 20% of the respondents said that this number survey were analyzed as described below to directly answer was “unknown” or “variable” or they left the question research questions 1 through 3 and to inform the analysis for blank. In 11% of the responses, the number provided was research questions 4 and 5. slightly different from the information provided in the sur- For the closed-response questions, the percent responses vey. For example, some respondents said that 0 h of PD were per answer choice were tallied. For questions related to in- provided but had indicated in another section of the survey stitutional PD, the responses of respondents from the same that there was a mandatory presemester orientation at their institution (11 institutions) were compiled into one answer institution. In these cases, the researchers looked at the re- to avoid duplicate responses in the results. In four cases, re- spondents’ responses regarding mandatory PD sessions and spondents from the same institutions provided conflicting their lengths to estimate the total hours of PD their GTAs information about whether institutional orientations were experienced. For the 11% of responses in which there were mandatory or not; if one said it was mandatory, we used that discrepant numbers, the average difference was 4.3 h. as our response for the institution. For other responses about We fitted a model with all three predictors and also cre - departmental or course GTA PD, all responses were treated ated reduced models with all possible subsets of predic- independently. tors and a null model with only intercepts fitted, and used Answers to the open-response questions were read and Akaike’s information criterion (AIC) to determine which analyzed independently by two of the coauthors (E.E.S. and model best explained the data. Because only 49 respondents Q.R.). The coauthors first read all responses and developed included information on all three predictors, this reduced categories they felt represented the majority of the responses. set of respondents was used to fit all the models. In addition They then conferred with each other about their categories to this analysis, we also conducted a polychoric correlation and discussed their ideas to reach a consensus about the (Drasgow, 1986) to assess the relationship between the final categories (Maykut and Morehouse, 1994). Each then Likert ratings of respondents’ satisfaction with their GTA reread the responses and placed them into the categories PD programs and the level of institutional support they felt they had developed; this allowed them to tally the number was provided to their GTA PD programs (both on the same of responses for each category. It should be noted that re- 1–5 Likert scale). Statistical analyses were performed using spondents could provide responses in more than one cate- R 3.1.2 statistical computing language (R Core Team, 2014). gory. For example, someone may have indicated that they To analyze the final research question about evidence for would want to change their program by having more faculty changes to GTA PD since 1997, we directly compared our re- involvement and providing more pedagogy to GTAs. Those sults with the most recent nationwide GTA PD survey (Rushin responses were tallied once in each of those categories. et al., 1997). To do so, we reanalyzed our survey data on biol- To assess research question four regarding the relative ogy GTA PD types to categorize our institutional results into influence of different GTA PD factors on self-reported re - the same groupings the 1997 survey used. Their categories spondent satisfaction with the overall PD program at each were mutually exclusive, meaning that institutions could institution, we used a proportional-odds multiple regres- only belong to a single category. Thus, we started by binning sion model (Hutcheson, 2013). This technique allowed us to each institution into either “no formal PD,” “mentoring as model the multiple Likert scale levels of self-reported sat- only PD,” or “pre–academic year workshop.” We also further isfaction (1–5, where 1 is very low and 5 is very high) and subdivided our “pre-academic year workshop” category into determine the effect each predictor variable has on the odds two categories: only presemester sessions versus presemester 14:ar31, 4 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development sessions plus other required in-semester meetings. It was dif- ficult to sort into the “seminar during teaching semester” and “formal college course” categories, because it was unknown how Rushin and colleagues would categorize PD during lab preparation meetings (which was a fairly common form of PD on our survey). Thus, we merged these two categories into one category that we called “formal PD during semester only”; this comprised 22% of the sample in the original sur- vey. In all cases, sorting was based on mandatory PD at each institution, not what was optional. RESULTS Figure 1. Types of PD programs described by respondents at differ- Respondent Demographics ent institutions, along with whether they were mandatory, optional, not offered, or of unknown status. Key: 1 = presemester institutional There were 108 initial responses to the survey; 23 were re- orientation (*tallied by institution, not respondent), 2 = presemester moved because of incomplete responses or lack of consent. departmental orientation, 3 = presemester course orientation, 4 = Overall, 85 respondents (63 faculty members and 22 staff in-semester institutional PD, 5 = in-semester departmental peda- members) from 71 different institutions completed the sur- gogical seminar, 6 = teaching certificate program, 7 = PD during lab vey. There were multiple respondents (two to three) from 11 preparatory meetings, 8 = peer mentoring, 9 = teaching observation, and 10 = review of teaching evaluations. different institutions, but these were faculty or staff mem- bers working with different courses or departments. Most respondents were involved with PD at the level of a course (58%) and/or the department/division (53%). Four respon- were not available to their GTAs. Finally, 40% of the respon- dents were involved in GTA PD at the college or institutional dents indicated that PD during lab preparation meetings level, and nine were involved at multiple departmental lev- was mandatory for their GTAs, 31% said it was not offered, els. Slightly more than half (51%) were preparing GTAs to and 12% said it was optional. teach introductory biology course sections, while 37% were In total, the average number of different PD types (e.g., focused on both introductory- and upper-level course prepa- orientations and seminars) that were mandatory for GTAs ration. The labs or courses the respondents were preparing was 2.3. Six respondents (7%) reported there was no man- GTAs to teach varied, yet 88% of the respondents were pre- datory PD at their institutions, although three of those had paring GTAs to teach guided-inquiry or open-inquiry cours- colleagues at the same institution who indicated there was es. Only four respondents indicated they were preparing mandatory PD. Four different types of PD were manda- GTAs to teach only cookbook labs. tory for 21% of institutions. Overall, 88% of respondents Below we present our findings according to our five re - indicated some sort of mandatory presemester PD, while search questions. 49% required some form of PD during the semester. The estimates for the number of hours that GTAs spent in PD for teaching ranged from 0 to 100 h, with the average being What Are the Types of GTA PD Programs at the 16.6 h. Five respondents said that their schools require 50 Respondents’ Institutions? or more hours of PD for their GTAs. A little more than half Presemester PD. Responses about institutional presemester (52%) of respondents said their required training was 10 h PD offerings were summarized by institution (N = 71; i.e., or less. not individual respondents). Twenty percent of institutions reported that presemester institutional PD was not offered, Informal PD. The most common mandatory types of in- 27% indicated it was offered but optional, and 45% reported formal PD were teaching observations with feedback (44%) it was mandatory (Figure 1). Information about departmen- and discussion of student evaluation results (39%). Twenty tal presemester GTA orientations was tallied by respondents; percent of programs offered neither option. Peer mentoring 34% reported it was not offered, 7% reported it was offered (20%) and faculty mentoring (13%) were less likely to be but optional, and 51% reported it was mandatory (Figure 1). mandatory and far more likely to be not offered at all (46 and For presemester course-specific orientations, 13% reported 51%, respectively). not offering them, 8% said they were optional, and 73% re- ported they were mandatory (Figure 1). For all three prese- What PD Topics Are Covered in the GTA Programs? mester options, the most common length of the session was The most common PD topics covered by programs were: 2 to 5 h long. teaching policies (91% of respondents), classroom manage- In-Semester PD. Sixty-eight percent of the responding in- ment (84%), how to teach specific content (82%), and teaching stitutions had institutional pedagogical seminars during the techniques (77%; Figure 2). When asked what PD topics they semester that were optional for GTAs to attend, but only 4% wished were offered in their programs, 47% wanted more in- said they were mandatory. Departmental pedagogical sem- formation about student learning theories and 38% wanted inars were not widely available (44% of respondents), while more about planning lessons (the two topics least likely to 13% indicated they were mandatory. Almost half of the re- be currently covered). Thirty-two respondents added com- spondents (46%) reported that teaching certificate programs ments or clarifications after this question, and of those, five Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 5 E. E. Schussler et al. Figure 2. Percent of respondents saying they discuss each of the six Figure 4. Distribution of Likert scale responses (1 being very low PD topics with their GTAs and percent of respondents who wished and 5 being very high) for respondents’ self-rating of institutional that they taught more of each of the six topics to their GTAs. Topics: support for GTA PD (N = 82) and respondents’ satisfaction with their teaching policies, classroom management, course content, teaching GTA PD programs (N = 80). Institutional support and respondent techniques, learning theory, and lesson planning. satisfaction with their programs were significantly positively related to each other (p < 0.001). added that they talk about grading or student assessment in eight indicated they wanted better student evaluation sur- their GTA PD sessions. veys; 11 indicated they would like to have surveys of GTA satisfaction, especially validated surveys; and 19 said they wanted to do GTA teaching observations, particularly using How Are GTAs and/or PD Programs Assessed and a rubric or defined protocol. Evaluated? Satisfaction and Institutional Support. In rating the biol- Assessment of PD. The most common way that respondents ogy GTA PD at their institutions, 33% of respondents rated assessed their PD programs was by student evaluations of their satisfaction level as high or very high, 36% reported GTA instruction (81%), followed by observations of GTA that it was average, and 31% indicated that it was low or teaching (65%) and surveys of GTA satisfaction (35%; Figure very low. Their perception of institutional support for GTA 3). Other assessment methods respondents gave as open re- PD was slightly higher, with 43% of respondents saying it sponses included: peer evaluations, GTA interviews, assess- was high or very high, 29% reporting it was average, and ment of student learning, GTA self-reflection, and student 28% reporting it was low or very low (Figure 4). assessment of labs (one response for each of these forms of assessment). Of the 44 respondents who added comments What to Change. When asked what one thing they wished about what assessments they would like to have available, they could change about their GTA PD program (N = 78 to- tal comments), three responses were most prevalent (Table 1; this table also includes supporting quotes). The most com- mon response was for their institutions to have additional training on pedagogy as part of their GTA PD (39% men- tioned this). Some respondents also mentioned wanting more observations and feedback to GTAs about their teach- ing (N = 7). Finally, some respondents (N = 8) wanted to see increased faculty support and acknowledgment for the val- ue of GTA teaching and training. What Are the Factors Correlated with Respondent Satisfaction with Their GTA PD? In our multiple regression model, the full model (including all three predictors: PD intensity, PD breadth, and amount of feedback) was found to be the best fit ( ΔAIC = 7.8 relative to the next-best model). However, although all three predic- tors were included in the best model, only PD breadth as measured by number of topics covered by PD program had Figure 3. The percentage of respondents who currently use each of a coefficient significantly greater than zero ( β = 0.67 ± 0.22; t three types of GTA PD assessments (student evaluations of GTAs, = 2.982, p = 0.001); the coefficients for the minimum number observations of GTA teaching, and surveys of GTA satisfaction of hours spent (β = 0.002 ± 0.015; t = 0.162, p = 0.44) and types with the PD program) to evaluate their programs, and percentage of feedback provided (β = 0.15 ± 0.25; t = 0.615, p = 0.27) were of open-ended responses (N = 44) indicating their desire to use the same three assessments for their GTA PD program. not significantly different from zero (Figure 5). This result 14:ar31, 6 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development Table 1. Most prevalent responses (N = 78) and supporting quotes to the open-ended question about what survey respondents would want to change about their GTA PD programs Most prevalent responses Supporting quotes Additional training on “We would require that all GTAs pedagogy as part of GTA PD enroll in a semester-long semi- (39% of respondents) nar focused on teaching (educa- tional research and practice).” “Require all graduate students to take a course in teaching pedagogy and practice in their discipline that incorporates feedback on concurrent class- room teaching to the graduate students.” Observations of GTA teaching “The single change I would make with feedback (9% of would be to offer more train- respondents) ing to GTAs to improve their teaching including teaching observations and feedback.” Faculty support and “If the faculty supported teach- acknowledgment of the ing to a larger extent, many value of GTA PD (10% of would not see professional respondents) development of their graduate students as the waste of valuable research time that many do.” “Authentic support … for the value of the TA experience, and commitment to using their own TAs in a manner that contributes to profession- al development.” indicates that the quality of PD provided in terms of topics covered, but not necessarily the quantity in terms of num- ber of hours, has a positive impact on the success of the PD program as measured by the program coordinator ’s level of satisfaction. We also found a correlation coefficient of 0.798 ± 0.043 between the respondents’ ratings of their satisfaction with their GTA PD programs and their ratings of the level of institutional support for GTA PD (chi-square = 37.9, df = 15, p < 0.001). Is There Evidence That GTA PD Has Changed Since 1997? While Rushin et  al. (1997) reported that 49% of schools of- fered no GTA PD training at all, only 4% of our survey re- spondents (three institutions out of 71) indicated that their institutions had no mandatory GTA PD (Table 2). Similar- ly, while Rushin and coworkers found that 22% of schools offered presemester orientations, we found that 92% of in- stitutions in our survey offered some type of mandatory presemester orientation (at the institutional, departmental, Figure 5. Scatter plots showing the relationship between respon- dents’ self-reported overall satisfaction with their GTA PD pro- or course level). Of these, 31 schools (48%) had no addition- grams and (a) minimum number of mandatory PD hours provided al PD requirements, while 34 schools (52%) had additional per year, (b) number of different topics covered in PD sessions, and in-semester requirements, such as a departmental seminar or (c) number of different types of mandatory or optional feedback PD during lab preparation meetings. Three schools (4%) of- provided to GTAs. Only the number of different topics covered in fered mandatory PD during the semester as their only form PD sessions (b) was significantly positively related to self-reported of PD; by comparison, Rushin et al. (1997) found 22% in this satisfaction (p = 0.001). Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 7 E. E. Schussler et al. an understanding of what skills they will need or problems Table 2. Comparison of the findings of Rushin et al. (1997) with our they will encounter while teaching (Hardre, 2012). Even this survey results regarding biology GTA PD meager amount of PD is greater than at 12% of responding institutions, which had no mandatory presemester orienta- Rushin et al. Schussler et al. tions at all, meaning there is no official venue for providing Training categories (N = 153) (N = 71) even basic instructional information before the semester be- No training 49% 4% gins for those GTAs. Faculty mentoring 7% 0% In-semester PD for GTAs is generally less likely to be man- Pre–academic year 22% 92% datory than presemester PD. This may be an effort to protect workshop research time of GTAs (Boyer Commission on Educating Required seminar 14% 4% (in-semester PD only) Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998; Nyquist Formal course 8% 4% for both categories et al., 1999; Golde and Dore, 2001; Gardner and Jones, 2011) but may have other causes. For example, faculty and staff members may be unable to provide training during the se- category. None of the schools in the current survey relied mester or it may be lack of awareness on the part of biology solely on mentoring by a faculty member as their source of programs that ongoing PD is better than a single workshop. PD. The most common in-semester PD was found to take place during lab preparation meetings, with 40% of schools report- ing this was mandatory. What is unknown from our survey DISCUSSION results is the nature of the PD being provided during these The results of this survey provide an overview of the current sessions. Traditional lab preparation time is usually spent state of PD teaching programs for biology GTAs at institu- on reviewing the lab protocols and equipment/supplies tions across the United States and Canada. The comparison (French and Russell, 2002; Wyse et al., 2014), suggesting that with the last national survey in 1997 suggests that institu- time for PD may be limited if it is provided in this context. tional PD for biology GTAs has indeed changed. Almost all However, there are models for how to integrate PD into lab biology GTAs are now required to receive at least some for- preparation effectively (Nurrenbern et  al., 1999; French and mal PD for teaching, with a little more than half attending Russell, 2002; Wyse et al., 2014), and these sessions have the sessions both before and during the semester. While these potential to provide continuous PD over a semester and be results may indicate progress in formal training opportuni- firmly situated within the discipline-specific and pedago - ties for biology GTAs, it was less encouraging to find that gy-specific nature of labs (Brown et  al., 1989). To maximize around half of the schools had 10 or fewer hours of total GTA the utility of PD during lab preparation meetings, schools PD per year and that most sessions only lasted 2–5 h. Thus, should try to minimize time for parts of lab preparation ses- although more formal preparation for teaching is required, sions that are less important (like supply lists or setups) and it is likely not meeting the spirit of ongoing, time-intensive maximize time spent on instructional support for GTAs. The pedagogical preparation seen as best practice (Darling-Ham- survey also uncovered the existence of many other optional mond and Richardson, 2009). Respondents who were most in-semester PD activities available to GTAs to supplement satisfied with their GTA PD programs discussed more of their learning, including institutional and departmental the six PD topics offered on the survey and self-rated their pedagogical seminars. The challenge, however, is to identify institutional support for GTA PD as high, suggesting that and remove the barriers that apparently continue to prevent support for PD breadth may be an important goal for pro- departments from making these opportunities mandatory so grams. Clearly, while the changes to biology GTA PD sug- that all GTAs can receive a minimum amount of pedagogical gest a transition in the field since 1997, there is still little to preparation for their teaching roles. indicate that the level of GTA PD for teaching is proportional Another interesting finding was that programs have a to the importance of the role of GTAs in today’s undergrad- surprising amount of informal PD that could be expanded uate classrooms. to provide the supplemental teaching support needed by One of the major findings regarding our first research GTAs. For instance, around 40% of programs are observing question is that presemester PD is the most common man- GTAs teach and providing feedback or discussing the results datory type of formal GTA PD biology graduate students of student evaluations with GTAs. These are extremely im- experience. Such orientations are more likely to be man- portant forms of instructional reflection that are often used datory when they are course-specific versus departmental by K–12 teachers in training for improvement of practice or institutional. This is discouraging, since the literature and should be adopted by GTA PD programs (Gardner suggests that one-shot, short (most were 2–5 h) PD ses- and Jones, 2011). Institutions could provide more formal sions are fairly ineffective for developing teaching abilities structure to these programs by providing faculty and staff (Darling-Hammond and Richardson, 2009). At those institu- members support for these activities and by using validated tions where GTA training programs are discipline-specific, observation protocols to improve and unify the feedback GTAs receive more rigorous and structured PD with the aid (Miller et  al., 2014). One role for a network such as BioTAP of mentors who specialize in content pedagogy (Honeycutt may be to gather resources and protocols such as these and et al., 2010; Ferzli et al., 2012). Although presemester orienta- promote them as national models for best practices. Informal tions are certainly necessary to provide course background PD is often not perceived as a formalized practice that can and set expectations for the semester, this is typically not the improve instruction, yet given the limited amount of time best time for integrating meaningful pedagogical theory into that programs have for formal training, informal PD may be a PD program, because GTAs are not yet teaching and lack instrumental to helping increase GTA PD. 14:ar31, 8 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development Our second research question focused on the number of teaching. This indicates an awareness of the need to have PD topics presented to GTAs in their programs, a factor empirical evidence of program quality, which may be a sign found in this study to be positively related to respondents’ of increased undergraduate biology education research ef- satisfaction with their PD programs. Of the six topics offered forts across the nation. As mentioned previously, one thing as potential points of discussion in GTA PD sessions, it was a national network for GTA PD can do is suggest rubrics not surprising that teaching policies and course manage- and surveys that have been successfully used for assessing ment were the two that were discussed the most. Course instruction (e.g., COPUS [Smith et  al., 2013] and OTAOP logistics are often the first topics presented in PD sessions, [Miller et  al., 2014]) and could be used to assess GTA PD because these are the first teaching concerns on which be - programs. ginning teachers focus (Prieto, 2001). One surprising result, Finally, there is a positive correlation between percep- however, was the percentage of respondents who reported tion of institutional support and respondent self-rating of that they discussed teaching techniques. Although the programmatic GTA PD satisfaction. Receiving more insti- length, quality, and content of this coverage is unknown, it tutional support from administrators and faculty members is encouraging to know, particularly in light of the fact that was also one of the desired changes respondents wanted 88% of the respondents are training GTAs to teach courses to see in their programs. The question of how to get more with an inquiry approach, that at least some time is being institutional support for GTA PD is often not easy; nor is spent discussing instructional techniques. Of the six topics, it easy to know who to approach for such support. Insti- however, the least presented in PD sessions were learning tutional teaching and learning centers may be one place to theory and lesson planning. This suggests that students start with these efforts, since they often have connections may not be getting the type of instructional information that with influential members of the administration and/or would truly support them in the delivery of an inquiry lab could help to initiate and sustain interdisciplinary collab- or course (particularly given how short most PD is reported orations for PD (Marbach-Ad et al., 2012b, 2015a). Working to be). with institutional teaching and learning centers to develop Encouragingly, respondents are most interested in adding cross-departmental GTA PD programs may also centralize information about pedagogy and lesson planning to their some components of PD (Amundsen and Wilson, 2012) PD sessions. There are many excellent models for how to and bring additional visibility to these efforts. Departmen- add these topics into GTA PD (Hardre, 2005; Baumgartner, tal support may be generated by utilizing recent national 2007; Schussler et  al., 2008; Marbach-Ad et  al., 2010, 2012a; reports like Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Ed- Dotger, 2011; Lockwood et  al., 2014); however, institutions ucation (AAAS, 2011) or Engage to Excel (PCAST, 2012) to clearly are not requiring semester-long PD courses for emphasize the importance of instruction in gateway science GTAs, so finding a structure that can maximize GTA learn - courses. Some institutions may find that the key is to ask ing while minimizing time away from research is critical. for a specific programmatic need, such as a few 2-h sessions For instance, holding six 2-h-long sessions in one semester for PD or a graduate assistant to help with GTA observa- would not be particularly onerous for a GTA PD require- tions. On a national level, professional societies may also be ment and has been found to yield excellent instructional key to promoting the importance of GTA PD for teaching. results (Marbach-Ad et  al., 2012a). However, if the faculty If they could focus their membership on the importance of or staff member leading the PD program is less familiar introductory courses and the future role GTAs will play in with lesson planning or pedagogical theory or how to ef- national teaching efforts, they may garner more support fectively teach these topics, then this may be a barrier to from faculty members who have been otherwise reluctant adding these topics. In these cases, departments could ask to support teaching PD. a science faculty member who conducts education research As noted previously, satisfaction of respondents with to present this information or consider contracting out this their PD programs was significantly positively related training to their institutional teaching and learning center. to the number of PD topics they presented to their GTAs Teaching and learning centers have the added benefit of and the institutional support they perceived for their bringing together GTAs across multiple disciplines to focus programs. In open-ended responses, 43% of respondents on best practices in teaching regardless of course type or wanted to be able to carry out GTA observations with feed- topic. Departments could also create a GTA position for a back, and 39% of respondents said that the one thing they qualified graduate student in a college of education or one would change about their programs would be to provide conducting education research to supplement PD sessions more pedagogical training to their GTAs. Thus, survey on these topics. responses suggest that programs looking to change their Assessment of GTA PD programs and GTA instructional GTA PD may want to enlist institutional support to engage quality is clearly a developing but underutilized part of GTAs more meaningfully in pedagogical preparation and GTA PD programs at this time. This is likely a result of many to provide feedback about their teaching. One path for- programs not having a dedicated faculty or staff member ward for programs may be to more carefully consider the who has time to both manage labs and assess the quality overall purpose of their PD programs. As Amundsen and of PD programs. Nor is there an institutional imperative to Wilson (2012) pointed out for faculty PD, programs tend measure GTA PD program effectiveness at this time. Given to either focus on specific instructional outcomes (such as this, it is encouraging that so many programs do assess the skills or methods) or on processes that improve instruc- quality of their efforts by student evaluations of GTAs and tion (such as reflection), and these perspectives impact GTA teaching observations and even GTA surveys of sat- the choice of PD practices. Regardless of purpose, how- isfaction. Moreover, respondents indicated they would like ever, the literature on K–12 PD (Darling-Hammond and to be introduced to validated national surveys to assess Richardson, 2009) suggests that this preparation needs to Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 9 E. E. Schussler et al. be provided in an ongoing manner and not as part of sin- REFERENCES gle presemester orientations. Addy TM, Blanchard MR (2010). 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Preparing Biology Graduate Teaching Assistants for Their Roles as Instructors: An Assessment of Institutional Approaches

CBE Life Sciences Education , Volume 14 (3) – Sep 3, 2015

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© 2015 E. E. Schussler et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2015 The American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0).
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CBE—Life Sciences Education Vol. 14, 1–11, Fall 2015 Article Preparing Biology Graduate Teaching Assistants for Their Roles as Instructors: An Assessment of Institutional Approaches † ‡ Elisabeth E. Schussler,* Quentin Read,* Gili Marbach-Ad, Kristen Miller, and Miriam Ferzli *Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN 37996; † ‡ CMNS Teaching and Learning Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; Division of Biological Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602; Department of Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695 Submitted November 2, 2014; Revised April 6, 2015; Accepted April 14, 2015 Monitoring Editor: Diane Ebert-May The inconsistency of professional development (PD) in teaching for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) is a widespread problem in higher education. Although GTAs serve an important role in retention of undergraduate science majors and in promotion of scientific literacy in nonmajors, they often lack preparation and ongoing support for teaching. Given the recent national focus on in- structional quality in introductory courses, our goal was to use an online survey to identify current practices of teaching PD for biology GTAs and compare these results with the last national survey on this topic. In responses from 71 participant institutions, 96% reported some mandatory teach- ing preparation for biology GTAs; however, 52% of these programs required 10 or fewer hours per year. Respondents wanted to change their programs to include more pedagogical information and teaching observations with feedback to their GTAs. Programmatic self-ratings of satisfaction with GTA PD were positively correlated with the number of topics discussed during PD. Although more schools are requiring GTA PD for teaching compared with the last national survey, the lack of program breadth at many schools warrants a national conversation with regard to recent calls for improving undergraduate instruction. universities across the United States (Sundberg et al., 2005). INTRODUCTION These are the same courses that have been the focus of Biology graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) provide in- recent national efforts to increase science, technology, engi- struction for many of the small class sections (typically, neering, and mathematics retention and increase scientific labs or discussion) associated with introductory and gate- literacy for nonmajors (Association of American Universi- way majors’ and nonmajors’ biology courses at research ties, 2011; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 2012). Scholars have also called atten- CBE Life Sci Educ September 2, 2015 14:ar31 tion to the importance of the quality of instruction provid- DOI:10.1187/cbe-14-11-0196 ed by instructors of these courses (American Association Address correspondence to: Elisabeth E. Schussler (eschussl@utk for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2011; Freeman .edu). et al., 2014). As a result, many pedagogical improvement ef- © 2015 E. E. Schussler et al. CBE—Life Sciences Education © 2015 The forts have been directed toward science faculty members. American Society for Cell Biology. This article is distributed by The Despite these efforts in training biology faculty members, American Society for Cell Biology under license from the author(s). fewer opportunities for developing teaching are available to It is available to the public under an Attribution–Noncommer- GTAs. Given that GTAs have more one-on-one contact with cial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License (http:// students in large introductory courses than faculty mem- creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0). bers (Rushin et al., 1997), more attention should be given to “ASCB®” and “The American Society for Cell Biology ®” are regis- tered trademarks of The American Society for Cell Biology. this group of instructors. 14:ar31, 1 E. E. Schussler et al. Professional development (PD) of biology GTAs has Since 1997, many authors have reported on new deliver- been a historically neglected aspect of academia (Boyer ies of traditional semester-based teaching PD courses and Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research new ways to approach formal and informal GTA PD. For University, 1998; Golde and Dore, 2001; Gardner and Jones, example, the literature describes several new models for 2011). Although many graduate students are paid through half-semester or semester-long courses for science GTAs teaching assistant positions that require them to teach un- (Baumgartner, 2007; Schussler et al., 2008; Marbach-Ad et al., dergraduate courses, GTAs often receive conflicting infor - 2010, 2012a; Lockwood et  al., 2014). Some institutions have mation about the value of teaching, including being told not also implemented extensions to traditional single-day work- to devote much time to their teaching duties (Nyquist et al., shops, such as multiday, presemester orientations (Young 1999). Many graduate students are encouraged to develop and Bippus, 2008); programs that include a presemester ori- their skills as researchers but are rarely encouraged to de- entation, a teaching seminar, PD in lab prep meetings, and velop their proficiency at teaching (Brownell and Tanner, teaching observations (Gormally et  al., 2011); and optional 2012). Given this typical prioritization of research over teaching certificate programs (Addy and Blanchard, 2010; teaching, GTAs have reported that little is done to promote Honeycutt et  al., 2010, Marbach-Ad et  al., 2015b). Hardre their teaching abilities (Austin, 2002; Austin et al., 2009; Luft, and Burris (2012) created a hybrid online and on-site GTA et al., 2004). This is in contrast to the reality that many GTAs PD orientation with choices of breakout sessions. Some re- are interested in teaching (Tanner and Allen, 2006) and an- searchers have detailed specific training approaches, such ticipate that teaching will be part of their future professional as instructional design (Hardre, 2005), laboratory teaching careers (Sauermann and Roach, 2012). Departments and in- apprenticeships (Bond-Robinson and Rodriques, 2006), and stitutions could make a positive impact on both the teaching lesson study (Dotger, 2011). Others have advocated using abilities of future faculty members and the development of lab preparation meetings as explicit venues for GTA in- appropriate teacher/scholar professional identities if they structional preparation (Nurrenbern et  al., 1999; Trautwein, invested more time and resources in GTA PD (Brownell and 1999; Wyse et  al., 2014). Beyond formal PD sessions, how- Tanner, 2012; Kendall et al., 2013). ever, there has also been a suggestion to add more informal Many studies have suggested that the PD of GTAs does PD and peer support into GTA PD programs (Gardner and not focus on the important pedagogical and discipline-spe- Jones, 2011), such as observations with feedback and reflec - cific knowledge necessary for teaching. It is generally fo - tion (Miller et al., 2014) or the creation of teaching communi- cused on logistics and classroom management rather than ties for GTAs (Hardre and Chen, 2005; Ash et al., 2009). discussion of pedagogical practices that foster student learn- In the context of current calls for science education teach- ing (Luft et al., 2004; Hardre, 2012). In fact, GTAs often com- ing reform and the lack of a systematic survey of GTA PD op- ment that they are given little feedback about their teaching portunities since 1997, we were led to ask: what is the current by course supervisors (Austin, 2002; DeChenne et al., 2012). state of GTA PD at institutions across the nation, and is there In one study, 25% of GTAs reported they had no supervi- any indication that PD for biology GTAs has changed since sion of their teaching at all (Prieto, 2001). Because GTA PD is 1997? Such questions led to the development of the Biology rarely discipline-specific (Park, 2004), GTA PD programs in Teaching Assistant Project (BioTAP) in 2013 with funding undergraduate biology teaching may fail to provide GTAs from the National Science Foundation’s Research Coordi- with support to foster inquiry skills and an understanding nation Network program. The BioTAP network aims to link of the process of science in their undergraduate students, people and resources with the goal of improving the teach- especially as they relate to learning in the laboratory context ing practices of biology graduate students. To inform this (Park, 2004; Honeycutt et al., 2010; Ferzli et al., 2012). initiative, in late Fall 2013, the BioTAP steering committee The last national survey of biology GTA PD practices was conducted a national survey of current institutional GTA PD conducted by Rushin et  al. (1997), who surveyed 153 grad- practices. The specific research questions for the study were: uate schools of biology across the country. Almost all of the schools (97%) reported using GTAs as instructors in labs or 1. What are the types of GTA PD programs at the respon- lectures. The authors classified masters- and doctoral-grant - dents’ institutions? ing institutional responses about formal opportunities for 2. What PD topics are covered in the GTA programs? GTA PD into five categories: 1) no formal training provided, 3. How are GTAs and/or PD programs assessed and eval- 2) mentoring by faculty members with occasional seminars, uated? 3) pre–academic year workshop with occasional other meet- 4. What are the factors correlated with respondent satisfac- ings, 4) required seminar during teaching semester, and tion with their GTA PD? 5) formal course on college teaching. The results of this sur- 5. Is there evidence that GTA PD has changed since 1997? vey found that 49% of the universities provided no teaching preparation for biology GTAs. For 22% of the schools, the The resulting data were used to provide a focus for Bio- primary PD was the pre–academic year workshop, while TAP’s efforts to improve the PD for teaching offered to biol- 14% required a seminar during their teaching semester, and ogy graduate students. 8% required a formal college teaching course. Mentoring by a faculty member comprised only 7% of the responses. Rushin and coauthors reached the conclusion that the min- METHODS imal and brief amount of formal teaching preparation was Data Collection unlikely to effectively prepare GTAs for either their teaching During the Summer of 2013, the BioTAP steering committee responsibilities at the institution or their potential roles as future faculty members. held an intensive 2-d meeting to plan for the project. Before 14:ar31, 2 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development the meeting, every committee member was asked to research questions. The survey was not anonymous, enabling the re- at least two institutional examples of teaching PD opportuni- moval of duplicate responses from individuals involved in ties for biology GTAs. During the meeting, we shared these the same departmental PD programs (responses from indi- examples and synthesized the diversity of practices repre- viduals at the same institution but directing different depart- sented by these institutions. Using a summary of this dis- mental programs were retained). The survey and research cussion and the categories proposed by Rushin et  al. (1997) were approved by the first author’s institutional review as a starting point, two of the coauthors (E.E.S. and Q.R.) board (UTK IRB-14-09318 B-XP), and all respondents in this built the online survey in Fall 2013. Importantly, the BioTAP report gave explicit consent via an email response. survey contained detailed questions that probed current PD The survey contained four categories of questions (de- practices more thoroughly. For example, Rushin et al. (1997) tailed below): demographic information, types of GTA PD asked one open-ended question and then categorized the offered, topics covered by GTA PD, and assessment of GTA responses based on the structure of the PD opportunities. PD. The questions on types, topics, and assessment were The structure of PD was explored in our survey as well, but used to answer research questions 1 through 3, respectively. we also included additional topics for institutional response Research question 4 used data from several survey catego- such as: the length of the formal PD sessions, the content cov- ries, while research question 5 was answered by resorting ered, informal PD available, assessment methods, and how the responses provided about types of GTA PD as described satisfied faculty/staff respondents were with a program. in the Data Analysis section. Survey questions were a mix of predetermined categories to select from (e.g., multiple-choice and Likert-type response 1. Respondent Demographic Information questions) and open-ended responses. This allowed not only Questions in this category asked for respondents’ names, for the compilation of practices in defined categories but also job titles, departments, institutional positions (faculty enabled respondents to report on new practices that may not or staff members), course(s) for which they train GTAs, have been included as survey choices. level of GTA PD involvement (institution, college, depart- The survey was reviewed for face validity by the BioTAP ment, and/or course), type of course their GTAs teach (e.g., steering committee and was pilot tested by a faculty mem- introductory and/or upper-level), and the pedagogical ber and a postdoc not affiliated with the project; the faculty approach of the course (open inquiry, guided inquiry, or member was a lab supervisor and PD course leader, the post- cookbook). No definitions of these pedagogical approach - doc was affiliated with a GTA PD program. We revised the es were included in the survey, allowing respondents to survey based on this collective feedback to clarify wording self-select their perceived pedagogical approaches. and add or remove questions based on what reviewers felt was most or least applicable to their own programs and ex- 2. Type of GTA PD at the Respondent Institution periences with GTA PD. A link to the revised survey with ex- planatory text was sent directly to 336 individuals identified Respondents were asked to select the types of formal PD as being likely to be involved in training of biology GTAs at opportunities (defined, structured offerings such as orien - all of the research-active universities (master’s and doctor- tations or courses) available to biology GTAs at their insti- al-granting) in the United States and Canada. The individ- tutions, report whether these opportunities were optional uals identified for direct contact were either coordinators of or mandatory, and estimate how long each lasted (from introductory courses or biology programs, discipline-based a given list of time ranges). They were also asked about biology educators, or, in the absence of the first two options, specific informal PD programs (e.g., mentoring, peer sup - department chairs; we targeted these individuals because port, observations), and whether they were optional or we felt they would have the most knowledge about GTA mandatory. Finally, respondents answered an open-ended PD practices and therefore would be most likely to provide question asking for an estimate of the minimum number accurate information. The text and link were also sent to of hours a GTA at their institution would spend in PD per mailing lists of the Society for the Advancement of Biology year. Respondents were given the opportunity to clarify Education Research and the Association for Biology Labora- any of their checked responses via comment boxes. tory Education, because these were judged to be the organi- zations most likely to attract faculty and staff members who 3. PD Topics Provided in the GTA Programs provide PD to biology GTAs. By combining direct emails to individuals with emails to these mailing lists, the authors Respondents were presented with six PD topics (teaching intended to reach a majority of professionals involved in bi- policies, classroom management, course content, teach- ology GTA PD rather than attempting to collect a random ing techniques, learning theory, and lesson planning) that sample of respondents. were initially identified as PD categories by the BioTAP The full survey consisted of 21 questions; this report fo- steering committee. They were asked to indicate which cuses on the responses to only 17 of the questions, nine topics were currently covered in their PD sessions and closed-response and eight open-ended questions (see the which topics they wished were provided. The survey did Supplemental Materials for the full survey). Two of the not ask respondents to indicate the length of time, quality, questions regarding how contextual factors at different in- or type of PD session in which a topic was presented, only stitutions impacted PD programs were confusing to respon- whether a topic was addressed during their PD sessions. dents (based on open-ended comments) and thus were dis- A text box, however, did allow respondents to clarify their carded. We also did not compile responses from two of the coverage or add any items that they did discuss in their last questions, as those were specifically designed to collect program that were not represented among those six cate- information for the network and not to inform the research gories. Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 3 E. E. Schussler et al. 4. Assessment of GTA PD that a response would be in a relatively higher satisfaction category. In this model, a regression coefficient is estimated Respondents were asked which assessment tools (e.g., for each predictor variable, and a different intercept is es- surveys of GTAs, student surveys, and/or teaching obser- timated for the transition between each category (very low vations) were used at their institutions to evaluate the ef- to low, low to medium, and so on). A positive coefficient fectiveness of their GTA PD programs. This was followed indicates that an increase in the predictor variable increases by an open-ended question asking what assessment tools the relative odds of the response being in a higher category. they would like to have available to evaluate their GTA The predictor variables in the multiple regression model PD programs. Respondents also provided a Likert-type were 1) the minimum number of mandatory PD hours re- response to two questions: the perceived level of insti- quired annually for each GTA at each institution, which was tutional support for their GTA PD programs and the re- considered to be a surrogate for intensity of PD; 2) the total spondents’ overall satisfaction with the biology GTA PD number of topics covered in PD of the six described above, at their institutions (1 being low and 5 being high for both which was a proxy for the breadth of PD; and 3) the number of questions). The last question of the survey asked them to reported feedback opportunities (whether mandatory or op- list one thing they wished they could change about the tional) provided to GTAs by each institution, including peer GTA PD at their institutions and the aspects of GTA PD mentoring, faculty mentoring, online mentoring, observa- with which a network such as BioTAP could help them. tions, and discussion of student evaluations, which was con- sidered a proxy for the level of feedback provided to GTAs. We identified the total mandatory hours of PD per GTA Data Analysis per year either directly from the open-ended response pro- As mentioned above, all survey questions were either pre- vided to this question on the survey or from a compilation of defined categories from which respondents selected a re - respondent answers. Compilations were necessary, because sponse (closed response) or comment boxes in which re- 31% (N = 85) of the responses to this question were either spondents could provide open-ended responses. These not usable or were inconsistent with other survey responses. closed- and open-response questions in all categories of the Specifically, 20% of the respondents said that this number survey were analyzed as described below to directly answer was “unknown” or “variable” or they left the question research questions 1 through 3 and to inform the analysis for blank. In 11% of the responses, the number provided was research questions 4 and 5. slightly different from the information provided in the sur- For the closed-response questions, the percent responses vey. For example, some respondents said that 0 h of PD were per answer choice were tallied. For questions related to in- provided but had indicated in another section of the survey stitutional PD, the responses of respondents from the same that there was a mandatory presemester orientation at their institution (11 institutions) were compiled into one answer institution. In these cases, the researchers looked at the re- to avoid duplicate responses in the results. In four cases, re- spondents’ responses regarding mandatory PD sessions and spondents from the same institutions provided conflicting their lengths to estimate the total hours of PD their GTAs information about whether institutional orientations were experienced. For the 11% of responses in which there were mandatory or not; if one said it was mandatory, we used that discrepant numbers, the average difference was 4.3 h. as our response for the institution. For other responses about We fitted a model with all three predictors and also cre - departmental or course GTA PD, all responses were treated ated reduced models with all possible subsets of predic- independently. tors and a null model with only intercepts fitted, and used Answers to the open-response questions were read and Akaike’s information criterion (AIC) to determine which analyzed independently by two of the coauthors (E.E.S. and model best explained the data. Because only 49 respondents Q.R.). The coauthors first read all responses and developed included information on all three predictors, this reduced categories they felt represented the majority of the responses. set of respondents was used to fit all the models. In addition They then conferred with each other about their categories to this analysis, we also conducted a polychoric correlation and discussed their ideas to reach a consensus about the (Drasgow, 1986) to assess the relationship between the final categories (Maykut and Morehouse, 1994). Each then Likert ratings of respondents’ satisfaction with their GTA reread the responses and placed them into the categories PD programs and the level of institutional support they felt they had developed; this allowed them to tally the number was provided to their GTA PD programs (both on the same of responses for each category. It should be noted that re- 1–5 Likert scale). Statistical analyses were performed using spondents could provide responses in more than one cate- R 3.1.2 statistical computing language (R Core Team, 2014). gory. For example, someone may have indicated that they To analyze the final research question about evidence for would want to change their program by having more faculty changes to GTA PD since 1997, we directly compared our re- involvement and providing more pedagogy to GTAs. Those sults with the most recent nationwide GTA PD survey (Rushin responses were tallied once in each of those categories. et al., 1997). To do so, we reanalyzed our survey data on biol- To assess research question four regarding the relative ogy GTA PD types to categorize our institutional results into influence of different GTA PD factors on self-reported re - the same groupings the 1997 survey used. Their categories spondent satisfaction with the overall PD program at each were mutually exclusive, meaning that institutions could institution, we used a proportional-odds multiple regres- only belong to a single category. Thus, we started by binning sion model (Hutcheson, 2013). This technique allowed us to each institution into either “no formal PD,” “mentoring as model the multiple Likert scale levels of self-reported sat- only PD,” or “pre–academic year workshop.” We also further isfaction (1–5, where 1 is very low and 5 is very high) and subdivided our “pre-academic year workshop” category into determine the effect each predictor variable has on the odds two categories: only presemester sessions versus presemester 14:ar31, 4 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development sessions plus other required in-semester meetings. It was dif- ficult to sort into the “seminar during teaching semester” and “formal college course” categories, because it was unknown how Rushin and colleagues would categorize PD during lab preparation meetings (which was a fairly common form of PD on our survey). Thus, we merged these two categories into one category that we called “formal PD during semester only”; this comprised 22% of the sample in the original sur- vey. In all cases, sorting was based on mandatory PD at each institution, not what was optional. RESULTS Figure 1. Types of PD programs described by respondents at differ- Respondent Demographics ent institutions, along with whether they were mandatory, optional, not offered, or of unknown status. Key: 1 = presemester institutional There were 108 initial responses to the survey; 23 were re- orientation (*tallied by institution, not respondent), 2 = presemester moved because of incomplete responses or lack of consent. departmental orientation, 3 = presemester course orientation, 4 = Overall, 85 respondents (63 faculty members and 22 staff in-semester institutional PD, 5 = in-semester departmental peda- members) from 71 different institutions completed the sur- gogical seminar, 6 = teaching certificate program, 7 = PD during lab vey. There were multiple respondents (two to three) from 11 preparatory meetings, 8 = peer mentoring, 9 = teaching observation, and 10 = review of teaching evaluations. different institutions, but these were faculty or staff mem- bers working with different courses or departments. Most respondents were involved with PD at the level of a course (58%) and/or the department/division (53%). Four respon- were not available to their GTAs. Finally, 40% of the respon- dents were involved in GTA PD at the college or institutional dents indicated that PD during lab preparation meetings level, and nine were involved at multiple departmental lev- was mandatory for their GTAs, 31% said it was not offered, els. Slightly more than half (51%) were preparing GTAs to and 12% said it was optional. teach introductory biology course sections, while 37% were In total, the average number of different PD types (e.g., focused on both introductory- and upper-level course prepa- orientations and seminars) that were mandatory for GTAs ration. The labs or courses the respondents were preparing was 2.3. Six respondents (7%) reported there was no man- GTAs to teach varied, yet 88% of the respondents were pre- datory PD at their institutions, although three of those had paring GTAs to teach guided-inquiry or open-inquiry cours- colleagues at the same institution who indicated there was es. Only four respondents indicated they were preparing mandatory PD. Four different types of PD were manda- GTAs to teach only cookbook labs. tory for 21% of institutions. Overall, 88% of respondents Below we present our findings according to our five re - indicated some sort of mandatory presemester PD, while search questions. 49% required some form of PD during the semester. The estimates for the number of hours that GTAs spent in PD for teaching ranged from 0 to 100 h, with the average being What Are the Types of GTA PD Programs at the 16.6 h. Five respondents said that their schools require 50 Respondents’ Institutions? or more hours of PD for their GTAs. A little more than half Presemester PD. Responses about institutional presemester (52%) of respondents said their required training was 10 h PD offerings were summarized by institution (N = 71; i.e., or less. not individual respondents). Twenty percent of institutions reported that presemester institutional PD was not offered, Informal PD. The most common mandatory types of in- 27% indicated it was offered but optional, and 45% reported formal PD were teaching observations with feedback (44%) it was mandatory (Figure 1). Information about departmen- and discussion of student evaluation results (39%). Twenty tal presemester GTA orientations was tallied by respondents; percent of programs offered neither option. Peer mentoring 34% reported it was not offered, 7% reported it was offered (20%) and faculty mentoring (13%) were less likely to be but optional, and 51% reported it was mandatory (Figure 1). mandatory and far more likely to be not offered at all (46 and For presemester course-specific orientations, 13% reported 51%, respectively). not offering them, 8% said they were optional, and 73% re- ported they were mandatory (Figure 1). For all three prese- What PD Topics Are Covered in the GTA Programs? mester options, the most common length of the session was The most common PD topics covered by programs were: 2 to 5 h long. teaching policies (91% of respondents), classroom manage- In-Semester PD. Sixty-eight percent of the responding in- ment (84%), how to teach specific content (82%), and teaching stitutions had institutional pedagogical seminars during the techniques (77%; Figure 2). When asked what PD topics they semester that were optional for GTAs to attend, but only 4% wished were offered in their programs, 47% wanted more in- said they were mandatory. Departmental pedagogical sem- formation about student learning theories and 38% wanted inars were not widely available (44% of respondents), while more about planning lessons (the two topics least likely to 13% indicated they were mandatory. Almost half of the re- be currently covered). Thirty-two respondents added com- spondents (46%) reported that teaching certificate programs ments or clarifications after this question, and of those, five Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 5 E. E. Schussler et al. Figure 2. Percent of respondents saying they discuss each of the six Figure 4. Distribution of Likert scale responses (1 being very low PD topics with their GTAs and percent of respondents who wished and 5 being very high) for respondents’ self-rating of institutional that they taught more of each of the six topics to their GTAs. Topics: support for GTA PD (N = 82) and respondents’ satisfaction with their teaching policies, classroom management, course content, teaching GTA PD programs (N = 80). Institutional support and respondent techniques, learning theory, and lesson planning. satisfaction with their programs were significantly positively related to each other (p < 0.001). added that they talk about grading or student assessment in eight indicated they wanted better student evaluation sur- their GTA PD sessions. veys; 11 indicated they would like to have surveys of GTA satisfaction, especially validated surveys; and 19 said they wanted to do GTA teaching observations, particularly using How Are GTAs and/or PD Programs Assessed and a rubric or defined protocol. Evaluated? Satisfaction and Institutional Support. In rating the biol- Assessment of PD. The most common way that respondents ogy GTA PD at their institutions, 33% of respondents rated assessed their PD programs was by student evaluations of their satisfaction level as high or very high, 36% reported GTA instruction (81%), followed by observations of GTA that it was average, and 31% indicated that it was low or teaching (65%) and surveys of GTA satisfaction (35%; Figure very low. Their perception of institutional support for GTA 3). Other assessment methods respondents gave as open re- PD was slightly higher, with 43% of respondents saying it sponses included: peer evaluations, GTA interviews, assess- was high or very high, 29% reporting it was average, and ment of student learning, GTA self-reflection, and student 28% reporting it was low or very low (Figure 4). assessment of labs (one response for each of these forms of assessment). Of the 44 respondents who added comments What to Change. When asked what one thing they wished about what assessments they would like to have available, they could change about their GTA PD program (N = 78 to- tal comments), three responses were most prevalent (Table 1; this table also includes supporting quotes). The most com- mon response was for their institutions to have additional training on pedagogy as part of their GTA PD (39% men- tioned this). Some respondents also mentioned wanting more observations and feedback to GTAs about their teach- ing (N = 7). Finally, some respondents (N = 8) wanted to see increased faculty support and acknowledgment for the val- ue of GTA teaching and training. What Are the Factors Correlated with Respondent Satisfaction with Their GTA PD? In our multiple regression model, the full model (including all three predictors: PD intensity, PD breadth, and amount of feedback) was found to be the best fit ( ΔAIC = 7.8 relative to the next-best model). However, although all three predic- tors were included in the best model, only PD breadth as measured by number of topics covered by PD program had Figure 3. The percentage of respondents who currently use each of a coefficient significantly greater than zero ( β = 0.67 ± 0.22; t three types of GTA PD assessments (student evaluations of GTAs, = 2.982, p = 0.001); the coefficients for the minimum number observations of GTA teaching, and surveys of GTA satisfaction of hours spent (β = 0.002 ± 0.015; t = 0.162, p = 0.44) and types with the PD program) to evaluate their programs, and percentage of feedback provided (β = 0.15 ± 0.25; t = 0.615, p = 0.27) were of open-ended responses (N = 44) indicating their desire to use the same three assessments for their GTA PD program. not significantly different from zero (Figure 5). This result 14:ar31, 6 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development Table 1. Most prevalent responses (N = 78) and supporting quotes to the open-ended question about what survey respondents would want to change about their GTA PD programs Most prevalent responses Supporting quotes Additional training on “We would require that all GTAs pedagogy as part of GTA PD enroll in a semester-long semi- (39% of respondents) nar focused on teaching (educa- tional research and practice).” “Require all graduate students to take a course in teaching pedagogy and practice in their discipline that incorporates feedback on concurrent class- room teaching to the graduate students.” Observations of GTA teaching “The single change I would make with feedback (9% of would be to offer more train- respondents) ing to GTAs to improve their teaching including teaching observations and feedback.” Faculty support and “If the faculty supported teach- acknowledgment of the ing to a larger extent, many value of GTA PD (10% of would not see professional respondents) development of their graduate students as the waste of valuable research time that many do.” “Authentic support … for the value of the TA experience, and commitment to using their own TAs in a manner that contributes to profession- al development.” indicates that the quality of PD provided in terms of topics covered, but not necessarily the quantity in terms of num- ber of hours, has a positive impact on the success of the PD program as measured by the program coordinator ’s level of satisfaction. We also found a correlation coefficient of 0.798 ± 0.043 between the respondents’ ratings of their satisfaction with their GTA PD programs and their ratings of the level of institutional support for GTA PD (chi-square = 37.9, df = 15, p < 0.001). Is There Evidence That GTA PD Has Changed Since 1997? While Rushin et  al. (1997) reported that 49% of schools of- fered no GTA PD training at all, only 4% of our survey re- spondents (three institutions out of 71) indicated that their institutions had no mandatory GTA PD (Table 2). Similar- ly, while Rushin and coworkers found that 22% of schools offered presemester orientations, we found that 92% of in- stitutions in our survey offered some type of mandatory presemester orientation (at the institutional, departmental, Figure 5. Scatter plots showing the relationship between respon- dents’ self-reported overall satisfaction with their GTA PD pro- or course level). Of these, 31 schools (48%) had no addition- grams and (a) minimum number of mandatory PD hours provided al PD requirements, while 34 schools (52%) had additional per year, (b) number of different topics covered in PD sessions, and in-semester requirements, such as a departmental seminar or (c) number of different types of mandatory or optional feedback PD during lab preparation meetings. Three schools (4%) of- provided to GTAs. Only the number of different topics covered in fered mandatory PD during the semester as their only form PD sessions (b) was significantly positively related to self-reported of PD; by comparison, Rushin et al. (1997) found 22% in this satisfaction (p = 0.001). Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 7 E. E. Schussler et al. an understanding of what skills they will need or problems Table 2. Comparison of the findings of Rushin et al. (1997) with our they will encounter while teaching (Hardre, 2012). Even this survey results regarding biology GTA PD meager amount of PD is greater than at 12% of responding institutions, which had no mandatory presemester orienta- Rushin et al. Schussler et al. tions at all, meaning there is no official venue for providing Training categories (N = 153) (N = 71) even basic instructional information before the semester be- No training 49% 4% gins for those GTAs. Faculty mentoring 7% 0% In-semester PD for GTAs is generally less likely to be man- Pre–academic year 22% 92% datory than presemester PD. This may be an effort to protect workshop research time of GTAs (Boyer Commission on Educating Required seminar 14% 4% (in-semester PD only) Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998; Nyquist Formal course 8% 4% for both categories et al., 1999; Golde and Dore, 2001; Gardner and Jones, 2011) but may have other causes. For example, faculty and staff members may be unable to provide training during the se- category. None of the schools in the current survey relied mester or it may be lack of awareness on the part of biology solely on mentoring by a faculty member as their source of programs that ongoing PD is better than a single workshop. PD. The most common in-semester PD was found to take place during lab preparation meetings, with 40% of schools report- ing this was mandatory. What is unknown from our survey DISCUSSION results is the nature of the PD being provided during these The results of this survey provide an overview of the current sessions. Traditional lab preparation time is usually spent state of PD teaching programs for biology GTAs at institu- on reviewing the lab protocols and equipment/supplies tions across the United States and Canada. The comparison (French and Russell, 2002; Wyse et al., 2014), suggesting that with the last national survey in 1997 suggests that institu- time for PD may be limited if it is provided in this context. tional PD for biology GTAs has indeed changed. Almost all However, there are models for how to integrate PD into lab biology GTAs are now required to receive at least some for- preparation effectively (Nurrenbern et  al., 1999; French and mal PD for teaching, with a little more than half attending Russell, 2002; Wyse et al., 2014), and these sessions have the sessions both before and during the semester. While these potential to provide continuous PD over a semester and be results may indicate progress in formal training opportuni- firmly situated within the discipline-specific and pedago - ties for biology GTAs, it was less encouraging to find that gy-specific nature of labs (Brown et  al., 1989). To maximize around half of the schools had 10 or fewer hours of total GTA the utility of PD during lab preparation meetings, schools PD per year and that most sessions only lasted 2–5 h. Thus, should try to minimize time for parts of lab preparation ses- although more formal preparation for teaching is required, sions that are less important (like supply lists or setups) and it is likely not meeting the spirit of ongoing, time-intensive maximize time spent on instructional support for GTAs. The pedagogical preparation seen as best practice (Darling-Ham- survey also uncovered the existence of many other optional mond and Richardson, 2009). Respondents who were most in-semester PD activities available to GTAs to supplement satisfied with their GTA PD programs discussed more of their learning, including institutional and departmental the six PD topics offered on the survey and self-rated their pedagogical seminars. The challenge, however, is to identify institutional support for GTA PD as high, suggesting that and remove the barriers that apparently continue to prevent support for PD breadth may be an important goal for pro- departments from making these opportunities mandatory so grams. Clearly, while the changes to biology GTA PD sug- that all GTAs can receive a minimum amount of pedagogical gest a transition in the field since 1997, there is still little to preparation for their teaching roles. indicate that the level of GTA PD for teaching is proportional Another interesting finding was that programs have a to the importance of the role of GTAs in today’s undergrad- surprising amount of informal PD that could be expanded uate classrooms. to provide the supplemental teaching support needed by One of the major findings regarding our first research GTAs. For instance, around 40% of programs are observing question is that presemester PD is the most common man- GTAs teach and providing feedback or discussing the results datory type of formal GTA PD biology graduate students of student evaluations with GTAs. These are extremely im- experience. Such orientations are more likely to be man- portant forms of instructional reflection that are often used datory when they are course-specific versus departmental by K–12 teachers in training for improvement of practice or institutional. This is discouraging, since the literature and should be adopted by GTA PD programs (Gardner suggests that one-shot, short (most were 2–5 h) PD ses- and Jones, 2011). Institutions could provide more formal sions are fairly ineffective for developing teaching abilities structure to these programs by providing faculty and staff (Darling-Hammond and Richardson, 2009). At those institu- members support for these activities and by using validated tions where GTA training programs are discipline-specific, observation protocols to improve and unify the feedback GTAs receive more rigorous and structured PD with the aid (Miller et  al., 2014). One role for a network such as BioTAP of mentors who specialize in content pedagogy (Honeycutt may be to gather resources and protocols such as these and et al., 2010; Ferzli et al., 2012). Although presemester orienta- promote them as national models for best practices. Informal tions are certainly necessary to provide course background PD is often not perceived as a formalized practice that can and set expectations for the semester, this is typically not the improve instruction, yet given the limited amount of time best time for integrating meaningful pedagogical theory into that programs have for formal training, informal PD may be a PD program, because GTAs are not yet teaching and lack instrumental to helping increase GTA PD. 14:ar31, 8 CBE—Life Sciences Education Biology GTA Professional Development Our second research question focused on the number of teaching. This indicates an awareness of the need to have PD topics presented to GTAs in their programs, a factor empirical evidence of program quality, which may be a sign found in this study to be positively related to respondents’ of increased undergraduate biology education research ef- satisfaction with their PD programs. Of the six topics offered forts across the nation. As mentioned previously, one thing as potential points of discussion in GTA PD sessions, it was a national network for GTA PD can do is suggest rubrics not surprising that teaching policies and course manage- and surveys that have been successfully used for assessing ment were the two that were discussed the most. Course instruction (e.g., COPUS [Smith et  al., 2013] and OTAOP logistics are often the first topics presented in PD sessions, [Miller et  al., 2014]) and could be used to assess GTA PD because these are the first teaching concerns on which be - programs. ginning teachers focus (Prieto, 2001). One surprising result, Finally, there is a positive correlation between percep- however, was the percentage of respondents who reported tion of institutional support and respondent self-rating of that they discussed teaching techniques. Although the programmatic GTA PD satisfaction. Receiving more insti- length, quality, and content of this coverage is unknown, it tutional support from administrators and faculty members is encouraging to know, particularly in light of the fact that was also one of the desired changes respondents wanted 88% of the respondents are training GTAs to teach courses to see in their programs. The question of how to get more with an inquiry approach, that at least some time is being institutional support for GTA PD is often not easy; nor is spent discussing instructional techniques. Of the six topics, it easy to know who to approach for such support. Insti- however, the least presented in PD sessions were learning tutional teaching and learning centers may be one place to theory and lesson planning. This suggests that students start with these efforts, since they often have connections may not be getting the type of instructional information that with influential members of the administration and/or would truly support them in the delivery of an inquiry lab could help to initiate and sustain interdisciplinary collab- or course (particularly given how short most PD is reported orations for PD (Marbach-Ad et al., 2012b, 2015a). Working to be). with institutional teaching and learning centers to develop Encouragingly, respondents are most interested in adding cross-departmental GTA PD programs may also centralize information about pedagogy and lesson planning to their some components of PD (Amundsen and Wilson, 2012) PD sessions. There are many excellent models for how to and bring additional visibility to these efforts. Departmen- add these topics into GTA PD (Hardre, 2005; Baumgartner, tal support may be generated by utilizing recent national 2007; Schussler et  al., 2008; Marbach-Ad et  al., 2010, 2012a; reports like Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Ed- Dotger, 2011; Lockwood et  al., 2014); however, institutions ucation (AAAS, 2011) or Engage to Excel (PCAST, 2012) to clearly are not requiring semester-long PD courses for emphasize the importance of instruction in gateway science GTAs, so finding a structure that can maximize GTA learn - courses. Some institutions may find that the key is to ask ing while minimizing time away from research is critical. for a specific programmatic need, such as a few 2-h sessions For instance, holding six 2-h-long sessions in one semester for PD or a graduate assistant to help with GTA observa- would not be particularly onerous for a GTA PD require- tions. On a national level, professional societies may also be ment and has been found to yield excellent instructional key to promoting the importance of GTA PD for teaching. results (Marbach-Ad et  al., 2012a). However, if the faculty If they could focus their membership on the importance of or staff member leading the PD program is less familiar introductory courses and the future role GTAs will play in with lesson planning or pedagogical theory or how to ef- national teaching efforts, they may garner more support fectively teach these topics, then this may be a barrier to from faculty members who have been otherwise reluctant adding these topics. In these cases, departments could ask to support teaching PD. a science faculty member who conducts education research As noted previously, satisfaction of respondents with to present this information or consider contracting out this their PD programs was significantly positively related training to their institutional teaching and learning center. to the number of PD topics they presented to their GTAs Teaching and learning centers have the added benefit of and the institutional support they perceived for their bringing together GTAs across multiple disciplines to focus programs. In open-ended responses, 43% of respondents on best practices in teaching regardless of course type or wanted to be able to carry out GTA observations with feed- topic. Departments could also create a GTA position for a back, and 39% of respondents said that the one thing they qualified graduate student in a college of education or one would change about their programs would be to provide conducting education research to supplement PD sessions more pedagogical training to their GTAs. Thus, survey on these topics. responses suggest that programs looking to change their Assessment of GTA PD programs and GTA instructional GTA PD may want to enlist institutional support to engage quality is clearly a developing but underutilized part of GTAs more meaningfully in pedagogical preparation and GTA PD programs at this time. This is likely a result of many to provide feedback about their teaching. One path for- programs not having a dedicated faculty or staff member ward for programs may be to more carefully consider the who has time to both manage labs and assess the quality overall purpose of their PD programs. As Amundsen and of PD programs. Nor is there an institutional imperative to Wilson (2012) pointed out for faculty PD, programs tend measure GTA PD program effectiveness at this time. Given to either focus on specific instructional outcomes (such as this, it is encouraging that so many programs do assess the skills or methods) or on processes that improve instruc- quality of their efforts by student evaluations of GTAs and tion (such as reflection), and these perspectives impact GTA teaching observations and even GTA surveys of sat- the choice of PD practices. Regardless of purpose, how- isfaction. Moreover, respondents indicated they would like ever, the literature on K–12 PD (Darling-Hammond and to be introduced to validated national surveys to assess Richardson, 2009) suggests that this preparation needs to Vol. 14, Fall 2015 14:ar31, 9 E. E. Schussler et al. be provided in an ongoing manner and not as part of sin- REFERENCES gle presemester orientations. Addy TM, Blanchard MR (2010). 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Journal

CBE Life Sciences EducationPubmed Central

Published: Sep 3, 2015

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