The winner of the TAGSA Award for an Outstanding Conference Session Led by a Graduate Student for 2019 is Gerry Gourlay from the University of Victoria for her session titled: Culture Shift: The Four-Year Transformation of Teaching in a Biology Department. In Gerry’s session, she shared her experience of shifting the teaching culture in the biology department at the University of Victory by championing the implementation of the Teaching Assistant Consultant (TAC) program. As described by an excerpt of Gerry’s abstract: “The TAC program positions graduate students as partners (SaP) working with both institutional staff and faculty to enhance teaching and learning (Healey, Flint, & Harrington, 2014). Within four years, the program not only impacted TAs but also Senior Lab Instructors (SLIs), the department chair, and even faculty members (Gourlay & Korpan, 2018).”
Congratulations to Gerry!
Over the summer Gerry was able to share with TAGSA some of her experiences and insights on teaching and learning during her time as a graduate student.
Please tell us a bit about yourself!
I am wrapping up my PhD in Biology at the University of Victoria (UVic). I started the TA Consultant (TAC) program in Biology at UVic in 2015 since our department did not have a TAC, and was the TAC for the past four years supporting and mentoring my fellows TAs. Additionally, I am recent graduate of the accredited graduate certificate for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LATHE) here at UVic. Finally, I recently accepted a position to serve as the TA Coordinator with our Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation (LTSI) where I organize the TA conferences in September and January, and I manage the TAC program with its 28 TACs from across campus. This allows me to further integrate my love of learning with my love of mentoring and teaching others.
What is the most important aspect of the research you presented at STLHE that you would like to share?
The most important piece of my research presented at STLHE is that a graduate student can do a lot if they truly put their mind to it. Our department was not the most focused on how students learned or the significance of active learning. But after enough TAs had been through the workshops and teaching observations I put on as the TAC, not only were TAs talking to each other, but they were also talking to faculty members, and a shift in the overall culture around teaching changed in our department.
What kind of support have you received for this research project?
This research was jointly funded by the Biology department and the LTSI at UVic. In addition, I received one-on-one support from Cynthia Korpan, manager of TA programs and development at UVic within the LTSI. She trained me as a TAC, supported me as I navigated resistance in the department, and was extremely influential in me continuing this program for the last four years. Dr. Barbara Hawkins (Department of Biology, UVic) has also been a strong advocate in support of the TAC program, and the Senior Lab Instructors within Biology have been instrumental in helping me shape the TAC program to the greatest benefit of our TAs.
How did you first get involved in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)?
I got involved with SoTL through my work as a TAC but also through the LATHE program. Cynthia always incorporated SoTL into explaining to TACs why something was important to include such as learning outcomes or active learning in the classroom. Additionally, through the LATHE program, we had an exercise where we had to write a SoTL grant proposal and it was workshopped with our colleagues, and that experience truly helped me be engaged in SoTL.
What did you learn from the STLHE conference?
In addition to the amazing sense of community that I experience every year at STLHE, I learned so much about individual researchers’ interests and how so many passionate people are enacting change at their own institutions. Additionally, I took away new active learning strategies to try in both small and large classrooms, different exercises to help TAs understand the impact grades have on students, and even that improv is a good icebreaker!
Finally, what advice do you have for other graduate students interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning?
I believe that all too often students, both graduate and undergraduate, forget that they have power and that they can enact change. They also forget that their concerns, thoughts, and opinions are important. If they are passionate enough about their interests or concerns, then there is no reason they should not go forth and try – do some research, ask that intriguing question, and learn throughout the process.
Congrats again Gerry and TAGSA wishes you all the best in your future endeavours.