New mentorship program for TAs

First-year master’s student J.P. Faubert, who is working in Carleton University’s geography department this year as a teaching assistant, likes the convenience of the new department-specific training offered to TAs.

Faubert is one of 1,230 TAs benefiting from discipline-specific mentors.

The TA mentorship program was piloted in 2007 in response to undergraduate students who asked for better quality TAs. The students were surveyed through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a tool universities use to measure academic experiences and levels of student engagement to help them focus on institutional improvements.

The 2006 results showed that 35 per cent of first-year Carleton students and about one in four fourth-year students wanted to see an improvement in the quality of TAs.

In response, the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research developed the decentralized TA mentorship program, making this aspect of TA training more departmental and discipline specific. The initiative began with mentors in five areas: psychology, systems and computer engineering, political science, math and statistics and the Sprott School of Business. Last year, the program expanded to 11 departments and this year to 19 out of 36.

“The main goal,” explains TA facilitator Marlene Haley, “is not only to provide training for the TAs, but to establish a professional community. As a result, they have more confidence and job satisfaction and feel more supported in fulfilling their vital role in the delivery of undergraduate programs.”

Mentors offer one-on-one advice, teaching-skills workshops and individual classroom technique evaluation. Each department also has its own WebCT resource site with information on marking strategies, interacting with students in labs and holding office hours.

“By implementing this new model of TA training, Carleton University is saying they are listening to undergraduate concerns and addressing them. We really feel it’s making a difference,” notes Haley. Scores improved in the 2008 NSSE survey and there was an improvement in the Canadian University Survey Consortium (CUSC) survey of 2009 over 2006.

Feedback from TAs has been positive.

“The program is a great way for first-time TAs to learn the ropes through the experiences of senior students who have been there before,” says Faubert.

John Shepherd, dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, agrees.

“Teaching assistants make an invaluable contribution to the delivery of our programs to undergraduate students,” says Shepherd.

“By ensuring that TAs have contact with experienced TA mentors in their discipline who can pass on their knowledge and skills, new TAs in particular quickly develop a sense of professionalism and confidence in fulfilling their duties that significantly enhances the learning experiences of our undergraduates.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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