TA Instruction

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

In early January, VMS grad students, Elliott Welker (PhD Genomics & Bioinformatics), Breanne Steffan (PhD Molecular Pathogenesis), and Manoj Shah (MS Microbiology), participated in a two-day event, Unleash Learning: A Graduate Learning Conference for College Teaching.

The conference was organized by Paul Kelter, Professor and Director of NDSU's Center for Science and Math Education. The goal: introduce concepts of great teaching to grad students who often have to teach, but who get very little instruction on how to actually do that. The students participated in sessions focused on classroom communication, including cross-cultural communication, grading and feedback, interacting with students, using the classroom as a stage, and the principles of assessment.

"This is the first time a workshop like this has been offered for graduate TAs since I've been in graduate school," Elliott says. "We talked a lot about how effective teaching has changed over the decades and...about alternative ways to interact with students that isn’t reading off a slide."

Since the workshop, Elliott, Breanne, and Manoj have met with Dr. Kelter to discuss how their teaching activities are going. They will also meet with him at the end of the semester to "recap everything we learned during the semester and [discuss] how to continue to improve," Elliott says.

He encourages future and current grad students to take advantage of this opportunity. "It can be intimidating to teach for the first time," he says, which is why this forum is so important. It allows students to discuss and learn about basic teaching practices as well as some of the trickier issues of being a teacher: how to handle difficult students, how to manage research time and class time and teaching time, and how to better package and present information to students.

And if nothing else, it gives you a "snazzy" certificate and a powerful line on your CV.