Lunch Session: WATCH PARTY: Teaching Professional Development for STEM GTAs (30 mins)

  • Jill Nelson George Mason University
  • Mary Nelson George Mason University
  • Jessica Rosenberg George Mason University
  • Robert Sachs George Mason University
  • Liz White George Mason University
  • Mark Snyder George Mason University
  • Margret Hjalmarson George Mason University


Want to talk about one of the On Demand pre-recorded sessions with the authors and other colleagues? 

Join us for this informal session in which the authors will play the pre-recorded video for everyone to watch together and then open the rest of the time up for discussion.

This Watch Party is about Teaching Professional Development for STEM GTAs.

GTAs have significant teaching and learning responsibilities in many highly enrolled undergraduate STEM courses at Mason. They serve as recitation instructors, laboratory instructors, tutors (via office hours), and graders. In these roles, GTAs can have a significant impact on undergraduate students’ learning experience. Hence, mentoring GTAs as they develop and refine their teaching skills is critical to the success of our undergraduate STEM programs. That said, traditionally there has been little investment in formal GTA training beyond the department level at Mason. A variety of models for STEM GTA training have been described in existing literature. Proposed models often take the form of intensive summer institutes (e.g., Rivera, 2018; Dragisich, 2016) that are one to two weeks in length. A study of successful calculus programs noted that the most effective GTA training models associated with these programs included either a summer session with follow-up during the year or a semester-long course on teaching (Rasmussen, 2014), suggesting that ongoing teaching professional development is an important factor in successful GTA training. As part of an existing NSF-funded project we are working to increase the use of student-centered learning in highly enrolled courses. The first two departments engaged in this effort have initially focused on increasing student-centered learning in GTA-led aspects of the targeted courses, e.g. recitations and labs. Targeting GTA-led efforts has been viewed as easier because GTA training (which was not already in place) is fairly easy to create and because GTAs are viewed as more willing than their faculty counterparts to change the way they teach. Additionally, recitations and labs tend to occur in smaller groups, so they provide the opportunity for more hands-on engagement with course material and are natural places to begin a movement toward active learning. Hence, a first step toward transforming highly enrolled courses is providing the necessary professional development for GTAs. Physics and Math, the initial departments engaged in this project, have created and refined their own structures for ongoing GTA development, each catering to the culture and specific needs of their own department. Our goals for this roundtable discussion are: (1) to share GTA training models that have been adopted in several STEM departments at Mason, including curriculum for the professional development sessions, structure of sessions (GTA vs. faculty-led), mechanisms for GTA buy-in, and challenges encountered in developing these professional development opportunities including differing needs of new and experienced GTAs; and (2) to learn about other models of GTA training at Mason, identify the needs of departments and faculty in training their GTAs, and to identify elements of GTA professional development that can be shared across departments and potentially institutionalized.

Author Biographies

Jill Nelson, George Mason University
****TEA 2014 Winner****

Jill Nelson is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at George Mason University. Dr. Nelson's research focus is in statistical signal processing, machine learning, and detection and estimation. She has considered applications in target tracking, intelligent sonar systems, and physical layer communications. Her work on sonar tracking and automation is funded by the Office of Naval Research. Dr. Nelson also conducts research in engineering education and STEM faculty development, funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. Nelson is a 2010 recipient of the NSF CAREER Award. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and the IEEE Signal Processing, Communications, and Education Societies.



Mary Nelson, George Mason University

Mathmatical Sciences Professor

Jessica Rosenberg, George Mason University

Dr. Rosenberg teaches both introductory physics and astronomy courses ranging from the undergraduate introductory courses to graduate-level astrophysics. She brings her research and teaching experience with active-learning pedagogies into all of her courses. 

My astrophysics research is focused on understanding the evolution of galaxies over cosmic time primarily by studying the baryonic content of galaxies and the intergalactic medium. My work in STEM education research spans undergraduate education, graduate education, and faculty development. I am interested in how we expand the use of research-based teaching practices as a mechanism to improve student learning in the undergraduate classroom through graduate student and faculty development. With the Quantum Materials Center I am exploring how we can prepare students coming from a broad range of STEM backgrounds for the quantum information science workforce.

Robert Sachs, George Mason University

Mathematical Sciences

Liz White, George Mason University

Elizabeth “Liz” White contributes significantly to research and teaching excellence to the Computer Science department at the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University. She shares her extensive knowledge with students in the realms of systems software, compilers, programming languages, and mobile devices. Her research interests include radio frequency identification (RFID), software architecture, middleware, distributed computing, interoperability, dynamic reconfiguration, and compilers.

Mark Snyder, George Mason University
****TEA 2016 Winner****

Mark Snyder is as enthusiastic about teaching introductory topics such as basic programming as he is about explaining more complex topics such as materials and languages. His research interests include language interpretation, type-driven language specification, language semantic type systems, domain-specific languages, compilation, and systems level design.

Margret Hjalmarson, George Mason University

Dr. Hjalmarson holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Mathematics Education from Purdue University. She also has a Masters degree in Mathematics from Purdue University and a B.S. in Mathematics from Mount Holyoke College. Dr. Hjalmarson's research interests include mathematics education and engineering education. She has been awarded multiple NSF-funded projects on STEM faculty development for interactive teaching and engineering learning. In both of these settings, her work focuses on design-based research and models and modeling frameworks for teaching and learning. She also served as a Program Director in the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings in the Directorate for Education & Human Resources at the National Science Foundation. She led the Discovery Research K-12 program and managed proposals and awards related to mathematics and engineering education across other programs in the Division (e.g., STEM+C, ITEST, CAREER, EHR Core Research).

TUESDAY 12:15pm-12:45pm