New Program Fosters Teaching Excellence in Graduate Students
April 1, 2016
Simon Beck, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the first to earn the Graduate Teaching Certificate at UT Dallas.
A new certificate program offered at UT Dallas is preparing graduate students to become more effective and inspiring college instructors.
The Graduate Teaching Certificate is designed to help UT Dallas graduate teaching assistants be the best they can be, said Dr. Paul Diehl, associate provost and director of the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.
“We want to enhance the instruction of our TAs, making the best ones even better and encouraging them to be innovative, based on established best practices,” said Diehl, the Ashbel Smith Professor of Political Science in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. “We also want to provide them with the training and credentials that will serve them well in seeking future academic employment and in being successful teachers throughout their careers.”
Each semester, some 700 teaching assistants take on various roles at UT Dallas, including as graders, lab supervisors, discussion leaders and classroom instructors. More than 225 of those TAs have already signed up for the Graduate Teaching Certificate program, which was established earlier this year.
To obtain the certification, a graduate student must complete online coursework, attend teaching development workshops and receive feedback from a faculty member who observes the student in an instructional setting. A key component is requiring the TAs to write reflective, analytical essays on their teaching and learning experiences and strategies.
The program is designed so that students can complete it at their own pace, and it will not interfere with the completion of their degree programs.
Simon Beck, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the first graduate student to complete the requirements and earn the certificate.
“There is a wonderful body of knowledge about excellence in teaching that few students are taught as part of their regular graduate education. This is a special opportunity for those who strongly desire to become outstanding teachers.”
“When you start out in teaching, you tend to replicate the positive educational experiences you have had,” said Beck, who earned an undergraduate biology degree and master’s degrees in both biotechnology and cell and molecular biology at UT Dallas.
“But in teaching, you have to realize that not everyone can be taught in a singular way. What worked for you might not work for others. The Graduate Teaching Certificate program showed me that a good teacher might need to shift teaching styles in order to meet the needs of individual students. Furthermore, the program reinforced the importance of effective communication between a mentor and mentee.”
Beck said the certificate program might be especially helpful for TAs who are not always comfortable in the classroom, or who are not native English speakers.
“This program gives you time to reflect on yourself, to be aware of how you speak and ultimately enable you to communicate more effectively. Finally, the certificate allowed me to realize that students are going to have different ways of learning,” he said.
Diehl said public misperceptions about TAs — largely that they are not qualified or that they deliver lower quality instruction than faculty members — are typically unfounded.
“It is true that TAs have less experience in teaching than faculty members, but most are highly qualified in their subject matter and dedicated to their students,” he said. “The Graduate Teaching Certificate is not a remedial program, but one designed to help our TAs excel.”
While the teaching certificates are designed to work across all academic disciplines, they are not required, and they may not make sense for all graduate students, such as those planning careers in business and industry, said Dr. Marion Underwood, dean of Graduate Studies, associate provost and Ashbel Smith Professor of Psychological Sciences in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
“There is a wonderful body of knowledge about excellence in teaching that few students are taught as part of their regular graduate education,” she said. “This is a special opportunity for those who strongly desire to become outstanding teachers.”
Underwood said that offering Graduate Teaching Certificates to TAs will likely raise the quality of undergraduate education.
“Pursuing these teaching certificates is a systematic way for our graduate students to learn valuable tools and strategies, and to develop their own voices as teachers,” she said. “Those who complete the program will be better prepared to give lectures, supervise students in labs, and to challenge and inspire our undergraduates.”