Fostering a Community of Practice Among Teaching Assistants Through Peer Observation and Reflective Discussion

Grant programExploring Well-being in Learning Environments: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipientMegan Barker, Biological Sciences

Project team: Kevin Lam, Joan Sharp, Mala Fernando, Erin Barley, Tammy McMullan, Biological Sciences, research assistants(s) TBD

Timeframe: September 2019 to February 2021

Funding: $5,000

Courses addressed:

  • BISC 101 – General Biology
  • BISC 102 – General Biology

Description: This project is based on prior work with my large, introductory biology courses, where we learned that the graduate students involved in the course – our teaching assistants (TAs) – receive little to no training, and are generally left to figure things out for themselves, on top of their demanding graduate research work. They often feel stressed, anxious, ill-prepared, and isolated. As a group of biology instructors teaching the lab component of these courses, we want to support and enrich the well-being of these students, using our shared courses as an opportunity to help our TAs build a community of practice around teaching skills. We will integrate peer observation into our TA role, supported by team discussion at weekly prep meetings, and reflective feedback between the observer and tutorial instructor. Developing a community of practice for these TAs should positively impact their senses of belonging and competence, leading to personal and professional growth.

Questions addressed

  • In what ways, and to what extent, does structured peer observation and feedback impact:
  1. TA sense of community? 
  2. TA confidence in teaching?
  3. TA self-reports of teaching practices?
  • How can I, the instructor, best facilitate conversations around peer observations?
  • What do the TA-led tutorials look like? 

Knowledge sharing: I will create a conference poster for this project, as well as aim to present at Teaching Matters, or the CEE symposium. I also hope to present at external conferences, either SABER or STLHE. I have already submitted the proposal to the Building Connections: UBC & SFU Well-being in Learning Environments Symposium in May.