S10-STEM5-4 - Developing and Supporting STEM Undergraduate Teaching Assistants as Partners in Teaching

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
Arthur Borem1 , Christina Smith1
1 Brown University

Research to Practice Full Paper: The reliance on undergraduate students to take on key aspects of college level courses, such as grading, holding office hours, and facilitating small group work, has been growing with the increased enrollment in many introductory STEM courses. There is an urgent need to understand how these undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) approach and engage their roles in the wake of the increasing dependency on these students to facilitate learning within courses. Over the past few years at Brown University, and many others, UTAs have been hired at a growing rate and have been expected to take on new responsibilities. However, institutional policies and guidelines have not changed to reflect these new conditions, raising the question as to what are points of tension in the UTA experience and what are the causes of such tensions. This paper aims to address this concern by identifying and analyzing these tensions that arise as UTAs work to be successful educators.

To further understand the tensions and pressures experienced by these student workers, we interviewed UTAs in engineering, physics, computer science, and one UTA in engineering and computer science (n=5). The departments vary according to the size and scope of their respective UTA programs. We use the framework of Activity Systems Analysis (ASA) in an effort to identify areas of tension and improvement in current teaching and support practices. The ASA framework allows researchers to narrow their focus on human activity and experiences, in this case those of the UTA, while not losing sight of the cultural and historical contexts in which this activity and these experiences take place. The framework also allows for the identification of systemic tensions that tie human activities and environments to undesired outcomes at an individual or systemic level. We identify tensions from the UTA experiences, provide recommendations for ways to better support and develop STEM UTAs, and identify future areas of research.

Topic keywords: activity systems analysis, undergraduate teaching assistant, peer educators, pedagogical development, students as partners.