The 2017 Teaching Assistant Orientation Hosted over 225 Participants

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TA orientation people at tables

This year’s Teaching Assistant Orientation, on August 22, 2017, was a full house with over 225 new and returning graduate assistants and presenters. Faculty and staff from across the university presented on supporting students, teaching and teaching with technology, and managing teaching-related tasks. Although this is a general orientation, and many departments have their own specialized orientation for teaching assistants, over 35 different departments were represented at this large event. Graduate teaching assistants from across campus gathered to learn from the presenters, but also to learn from each other. This year, the majority of the participants were pursuing a master’s degree, however approximately 25% were pursuing a doctorate degree.

Each year new graduate teaching assistants are encouraged to attend the orientation by their departments. This year almost 30 GTAs returned to the orientation for a second time, with a broad range of experience levels. Some had only taught one or two semesters, while some had taught over 10. There were a lot of engaging conversations happening around the room.

Initial feedback from the participant survey suggests graduate teaching assistants wanted more! “I wish could attend more than one choice from Breakout Sessions A & B” said one participant and “Each topic should have its own specific program” said another. The good news is the orientation is just the start. Graduate teaching assistants can attend many of the monthly events offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. In the 2016-2017 academic year over 620 Graduate Teaching Assistant attended the center’s programs. To find out more about TA workshops, look for our monthly calendar of programs. All TAs receive the schedule via their NIU student email.

 

Center Staff Discuss Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education with Visitors from Tianjin University

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meeting with visitorsStaff from the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center met with six faculty members and administrators from the Tianjin University in Beijing, China to discuss online teaching and learning. Some of the topics covered included: online program decisions, online teaching skills and time commitments, and design models. “It is always an honor to share ideas and best practices with colleagues from across the globe,” said Jason Rhode, the director of the center.

To reinforce the concepts, the staff demonstrated some sample works of closed-captioned presentations, audio-enhanced lectures, and methods for creating a welcoming and interactive course. The Chinese delegation also received resources on development timelines, support models and quality assurance guidelines. The delegation included faculty and administrators from multiple colleges and they were interested in a broad spectrum of the organizational support necessary to fully support online teaching and learning initiatives.

 

“Your talk was important to understand the full picture. I learned a great deal meeting with you and your staff. You have a professional team there.” ~Visitor from Beijing Delegation

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is grateful to have the opportunity to engage in conversations with other higher education professionals on a variety of teaching and teaching with technology topics. To find out more about what the center does, read about it in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

This Summer’s Line-up of Free Online Workshops – Registration Open to the Public

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Altgeld - NIU

This summer the Northern Illinois University’s Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center is offering 7 online workshops. These one hour, fully online sessions are now open to the public. We’d like to invite our colleagues in higher education to join our workshops and expand our conversations around these topics. There is no charge for participating in these workshops, but you will need to register.

Summer Workshops – May through August

Advanced Registration is required for all workshops. Click on the workshop title to register, then if you are not affiliated with NIU, click the Non-NIU Registration button.

Quality Online Course Series: Getting Students Started

May 19, 2017
12-1 pm CST

Getting Started . . . at Last? Now that you have designed a high quality online course based on the other standards, you are ready to introduce it to your students. Set the right tone and support student success by helping them get started with a welcome, a course tour, or a navigation guide. In this workshop you will explore best practices for introducing your course structure to your students and building community.

Quality Online Teaching Series: Best Practices for Delivering an Online Course

May 24, 2017
12-1 pm CST

Teaching an online course is not so different from teaching a face-to-face course. You still need to communicate with your students, grade student work, and support their learning. There are some differences, though, and research has shown that following some best practices can increase student success. In this online workshop, find out how to best support your students in the online environment. In this online workshop, you will discover practical strategies you can implement in your own online courses.

Creating Authentic Experiences for Your Online Course

June 14, 2017
12-1 pm CST

When designing an online course, remember everything doesn’t have to happen online or in isolation of the world around us. You can create authentic experiences for your online students, such as field experiences, real-world activities, and genuine, skill building tasks. In this online workshop we will explore ways to craft authentic experiences and assessments for our online students. Plus, we will look at how these experiences align with your course learning objectives.

**NEW** Enhancing Your Online Course with Images and Icons

July 13, 2017
12-1 pm CST

Sometimes a picture says a thousand words. You can enhance your course by adding images, icons, and other media into the online learning environment. Although images are plentiful online you still must consider the copyright of items you choose, even for educational purposes. In this workshop you will learn about helpful repositories that are free for you to use and how to find, evaluate, and incorporate visuals into your online course.

Free Software Tools for the Classroom

July 18, 2017
12-1 pm CST

Many of the software tools that are the most useful in the classroom are unfortunately also some of the most expensive software tools. Often, budgets require that software is limited to a few users or a few locations, which prevents faculty and instructors from utilizing the technology with their students. It even prevents students from learning from these valuable tools. Don’t let licensing fees hold you back! There are free versions of many of the expensive software tools, if you know where to look. This online session will introduce free versions of some of the most common software programs and share ideas for using them in the classroom.

Developing a Course Syllabus

July 26, 2017
12-1 pm CST

The course syllabus is an essential component of your course and should be thorough, precise, and clear. Since the syllabus is often one of the first means of communication between you and your students, it should set the tone for the entire semester. The ultimate goal of a well-designed syllabus, therefore, is to inform students about what is expected of them throughout the semester by outlining content, policies, and due dates. In essence, the syllabus acts as a road map to help students navigate the course. In this workshop, we will discuss key elements of a course syllabus, possibilities for design layout, and provide a checklist to help you create a well-organized and complete course syllabus.

Ensuring Quality in Your Online Course

August 29, 2017
12-1 pm CST

How do you know if your online course is good?  More importantly, how do you make it better? In this workshop, you will learn about why quality is important and how to create more student-centered online courses by using the Quality Matters rubric (a nationally-recognized benchmark for online course design based on research-supported best practices). After the workshop, you will be prepared to develop or improve an online course that is designed to promote student learning.

 

You can find out about free online faculty development workshops offered online by the Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center by subscribing to email notifications or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tips for New Graduate Teaching Assistants from Your Experienced Peers

head with light bulb IdeaEach fall, the Teaching Assistant Orientation is offered to new and returning teaching assistants to learn more about their role as a TA and the support services at Northern Illinois University. The Teaching Across the Disciplines panel of experienced teaching assistants is always one of the most popular sessions at the orientation. This year, we asked the panel members, who are experienced TAs, to share some best practices and practical tips of being a graduate teaching assistant.

Q: How do you balance your school work with your teaching assistantship?

Kelsey Williams, English, GTA for 8 semesters: “I know of two common approaches to this.The first is to handle your work as a student and your work as a teaching assistant separately. That could mean designating Friday as your day to get your own homework done, Saturday as your day to get your teaching duties taken care of, and Sunday as your day of rest because, hey, you’ve earned it. The benefit of this approach is that you can set your brain in “student mode” one day and “teacher mode” the next, rather than doing mental gymnastics by switching between the two. It can also allow you to cross whole items off your to-do list. This is my preferred strategy and it has served me well, even unto the third year of my Ph.D.

The second strategy is to do a little bit of student work, then switch to a little bit of TA work, then switch back to student work, and so on into infinity. The benefit of this approach is that you can slowly make progress on your to-do list without feeling overwhelmed or having to force yourself to focus on a single task for too long. You need to take care of yourself as a person as well. The best way to balance student work and TA work is to balance all of that equally with having a life outside of being a student and a TA.”

Q: How do you prepare for class?

Jeanine Clark Bremer, Literacy and Elementary Education, GTA for 6 semesters: “I’m old school – I bought into the notion to read the top five scholars on each topic you will cover, for every topic you will cover all semester long. In a perfect setting, where you know what you will be teaching well in advance, this works. In a minimally perfect situation, you have probably already read a lot of the scholars due to your graduate level work. Looking at this from the daily perspective of prepping for class, two things come to mind. First, read along with your students. You will be surprised at how many more mistakes you will catch that they are making during a discussion, if you have reread the material for the day it was assigned. Concurrently reading with them also helps you better ascertain who is reading ahead and who is falling behind. Second, it may sound silly, but take a few minutes and really try to think through possible questions you might receive on a day’s topic. You may not come up with everything, because their schema is different than your own, but mentally working through options will make you more agile when they throw questions at you that you were not expecting.”

Q: What is the one thing you learned about being a teaching assistant during your first semester that you didn’t know before?

Amanda Schlink, Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Sciences, GTA for 4 semesters: “The one thing that I learned about being a teaching assistant was how much the students can rely on you. In my first semester, I was the TA instructor for a food preparation lab, where the lab was a separate course from the lecture. Therefore, I was responsible for the instruction, including lecturing, preparation of ingredients, grading, exams and everything in between. Going into the first semester, I had never had a course like this during my undergrad and didn’t know that a TA could essentially teach a separate lab, where the grade is completely independent from the lecture course. However, I found that I gained respect from my students early on by acting as the authority figure in the lab, speaking from experience when discussing course topics and showing care about their academic success in my course. This reliance carried on throughout the semester and eventually led to trust that if something didn’t work out, everything was going to be okay.”

 

Tips for Grading Student Work

Amanda Schlink:

  • Be consistent from start to finish, especially with essays, projects or any assignments that do not have a concrete rubric.
  • Avoid grading late at night, as you are more likely to miss errors. I recommend giving all graded assignments a second look over to ensure the grades given are indeed correct.
  • Use the rubrics for assignments if possible. In addition, always be able to justify the grades that are given.
  • For any exams that require a Scantron, double check that the answer key is correct before the Scantrons are submitted for grading.

Tips for Handling Difficult Situations

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always stay professional, especially through email and conversations that occur in person.
  • If possible, discuss difficult situations in private, away from other students.
  • Be observant of your tone and body language, as students can sometimes misinterpret signals.
  • Always remain neutral and do not take sides.
  • Never be afraid to go to your supervisor or faculty supervisor for advice if a situation requires additional assistance.

Jeanine Clark Bremer:

  • Breathe – no matter what, you are in charge and the student will respond to your action/reaction.
  • Listen with an open mind. Really listen to what they are saying so you understand the many facets of the situation.
  • Ask questions in a manner that is not accusatory and is fact-seeking.
  • Be straightforward and honest. Be honest about the actions you have to take (if any).

Tips for Preparing for Class/Lab/Clinical

Amanda Schlink:

  • Always come prepared (unless circumstances arise that are out of your control)
  • Students notice when you are not prepared and will comment on it, even if you think they won’t.
  • Allow more time to prepare than what you think. As the semester progresses, you will likely become more efficient and therefore will spend less time preparing.

Thank you to the experienced teaching assistants that provided these valuable suggestions on how to develop in the role of teaching assistant at NIU.

Beyond the Teaching Assistant Orientation

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photo of participants attending the NIU Teaching Assistant Orientation

Over 220 Graduate Teaching Assistants, presenters, and staff attended the 2016 Teaching Assistant Orientation on August 16, 2016 in the Holmes Student Center. The Teaching Assistant Orientation is offered to new and returning teaching assistants each year to learn more about their role as a TA and the support services at Northern Illinois University. However, this isn’t the only opportunity for TAs to develop their teaching skills. Teaching assistants can also attend other Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center programs throughout the year. In 2015-2016, teaching assistants accounted for 40% of program attendance, which equates to almost 600 registrations.

To find out more about TA workshops, look for our monthly calendar of programs. All TAs receive the schedule via their NIU student email.

The TA Orientation is offered each year through the collaborative efforts of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, the Graduate School, and other departments and support units. The annual event helps graduate teaching assistants develop their teaching skills and introduces them to university resources that will support their work. The TA Orientation is always well attended and attendees consistently agree that this event will benefit their students. Although the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center does not require new TAs to attend the orientation, 29 unique academic departments required their TAs to attend. Over 85% of the participants agreed that their objectives for attending the orientation were met.

If you were unable to attend this year’s TA Orientation, you can review the presentations and handouts online.

Finally, the Teaching Across the Disciplines panel of experienced teaching assistants is always popular. We asked our recognized experienced TAs to share more about their role as a teaching assistant with some strategies and tips. For more advice go to: Tips for New Graduate Teaching Assistants from Your Experienced Peers

 

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