by Eric Chehab and Patrick Ye
The Bioengineering TA mentorship program is a multi-faceted initiative that aims to train TAs and to support them throughout their TAship. One of the strengths of this program comes from the large mentorship team (8-9 TA mentors), where each mentor is assigned about 3 TAs per quarter. This allows the program to be adapted on a TA-by-TA basis, which is especially important given the diversity of course types and student levels in the bioengineering department.
The TA mentorship program includes:
This past year, a CTL (now part of VPTL) grant provided us with funding that allowed us to add a new facet to the program: in-class videorecording and personalized feedback, where the mentor records and/or observes the TA teaching (for example, in office hours, lecture, or lab session). The TA mentor then provided personalized feedback to the TA that promoted a specific discussion on teaching styles and targets for improvement.
Although this is a common technique to help improve teachers, it becomes a particularly strong facet of the program given that the personalized TA mentors, who have been tracking the goals and issues of the TAs leading up to the videorecording, are the same mentors who will be following up with their progress for the remainder of the quarter. This allows them to provide feedback that is contextualized and more applicable to the TA, their course, and their teaching style. About 30 videorecordings and/or in-class observations were performed in the 2014-15 academic year by the TA mentors.
At the end of each quarter, all TAs were asked to give some quantitative and qualitative feedback on the TA mentorship program, including the videorecording portion of the program. When asked whether videorecording was helpful, they responded:
We view these results as generally positive, especially given that this was the first year that this process was formally introduced to our program.
In addition, it was the first year that many of the mentors had used this kind of teaching tool, where the type of feedback and analysis differs from other parts of TA mentorship. The feedback improved as the year progressed, indicating that as TA mentors became more experienced, the process became more helpful to the TAs.
After discussion with TAs and TA mentors, it became clear that videorecording and analysis can be a great tool to help TAs become better teachers. However, its functionality and usefulness is a function of many things: the mentor’s experience and comfort in analyzing teaching style rather than techniques, the type of course and the nature in which the TA interacts with students, and the TA’s willingness to be recorded and evaluated in this way.
For example, a TA who has an inherent interest in teaching in the future and who is in charge of giving short lectures would be an ideal candidate for videorecording. On the other hand, TA who helps run a lab course that has many separate stations and is only interested in completing their TAship may not benefit much from this teaching tool.
In the future, we hope to keep videorecording in our program, but will likely be more selective in choosing the classes on which we focus. For those classes and TAs we decide not to videorecord, other forms of in-class observation, such as sound recording or simply note taking by the TA mentors, may be simpler to perform and provide enough feedback.
We will also try to implement a more specific overview of the value of videorecording in the TA orientations and a more detailed “training” for the TA mentors at the start of the academic year.
Have you used videorecording to train TAs or new instructors? Share your experience in a comment below.
Eric Chehab is a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering in Tom Andriacchi's BioMotion Lab.
Patrick Ye is a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering in Kim Butts Pauly's lab.