Once a year, the Science, Technology, and Society (STS) program holds its popular introductory course, “STS 1: The Public Life of Science and Technology,” which attracts approximately 150 students. Because the class size requires an organizing team of three professors and five teaching assistants (TAs), coordination has been a challenge in the past. Thus, last year, the department tried a new approach to improve communications and the quality of the class by applying for a TA Teaching Grant administered by the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL).
The grant can be used towards establishing a new teaching assistant training program or even enhancing an existing program. STS, in particular, used the funds to invite faculty and TAs to a series of five lunch meetings held throughout the quarter. These discussions were focused on developing better coherence among the lectures and devising a curriculum that encourages students to think deeply about STS issues.
Professor John Willinsky, STS director and instructor for STS 1, notes, “The weekly lunch program for the TAs and, less frequently, for the instructors, provided a great vehicle for the coordination, clarification, and feedback associated with a relatively large multi-section course such as STS 1.”
He elaborates that the lunches provided opportunities to review assignments and marking expectations, which ultimately led to improved evaluation descriptions, and marking criteria. “We gained a greater clarity around how the sections supported the learning that began with the lectures and readings. We also reviewed what was working well and not so well in the large classes.”
During the course of the lunch meetings, it became evident to Professor Willinsky that the TAs were creating a common standard and set of expectations for their work, as well as learning from each other in the process. The food also added to the level of camaraderie that developed among us as a team, which was reflected in how we worked with the class.”
TA Kamran Naim highlights, “The lunch meetings were the ideal setting for us to brainstorm on the best approach to take for sections. We used these sessions as opportunities to share experiences (what worked vs. what didn’t work) in each of our respective sections, discuss learning goals for the week, share any resources we had discovered when preparing our lesson plans, and discuss our approaches towards assignments to ensure consistency across sections.”
“For a class with a high workload and time expectations for teaching assistants, the lunches provided us with the ideal opportunity to coordinate our schedules and collaborate to make our individual sections, and the class overall more effective,” he adds.
The VPTL’s TA Teaching Grants are available on a rolling basis for the current academic year. For more information, please contact Tim Randazzo.