2014 Recipient

2014 TAGSA Award Recipient

Betsy Keating_190The Teaching Assistant Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA) Executive Committee is very pleased to announce the 2014 recipient of the TAGSA Award for Best Conference Session Led by a Graduate Student, Betsy Keating, a PhD candidate from the Faculty of Education and Academic Development at the University of Windsor. At the recent STLHE conference in Kingston, Betsy was the lead presenter for the session titled, “Not a “Real” Teacher: Undergraduate TAs’ Conceptions of Teaching (abstract below).” The reviewers of Betsy’s session found the session to be very informative with excellent slides demonstrating clarity, and original research contributions to the field.

The award recipient was announced at the closing of the STLHE conference. The award which is sponsored by the STLHE and the conference organizers at Queen’s University, includes a certificate, reimbursement of all conference registration fees, acknowledgement on the STLHE website and in the STLHE newsletter, a one-year complimentary membership to TAGSA, and a one year complimentary membership to STLHE to recognize the contribution Betsy has made to teaching and learning in post-secondary education. Congratulations Betsy!

Thank you to STLHE and Queen’s University for their generous support of TAGSA and this award.

Presentation Abstract:

At the University of Windsor, a large writing class (150 students) has been transformed into an online program that is mandatory for all students in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (approximately 2,200). The two-part course now requires a coordinator, three sessional instructors, and approximately 45-50 undergraduate teaching assistants (Singleton-Jackson, 2008). This presentation is a summary of research examining how this model affects the TAs and their conceptions of teaching.

In the Foundations of Academic Writing (FAW) program, each TA supervises 50 to 80 fellow undergraduate students. The TAs must be entering at least their third semester of university, and the main criterion for hiring is academic achievement in the FAW courses; no knowledge of teaching and learning is considered necessary. The TAs’ training consists of one four-hour orientation session near the beginning of classes, the majority of which covers “housekeeping,” such as union rules, important dates and procedures, on-line learning system protocols, timesheets, office hours, etc.

The TAs’ tasks are either teaching or teaching-related: they handle assessments and offer feedback; they facilitate peer editing, facilitate discussions, hold weekly office hours, answer students’ questions about the course material and procedures, and they are the first—and sometimes the only—point of instructor contact. In most cases, students will have minimal, if any, interaction with the sessional instructors who supervise the TAs.

What are the implications or consequences of hiring undergraduate TAs to teach first-year students? What are the TAs learning about teaching practices? What effect might that have on the students’ learning? How might this course model affect our institutions’ quality of education?

In a 2004 study, Gibbs and Coffey discuss student-focused vs. teacher-focused teaching. They demonstrate connections between conceptions of teaching, approaches to teaching, training, and student outcomes. They conclude, “Without the support of training, teachers may move in the opposite direction and reduce the extent to which they adopt a Student Focus.” They add, “Whereas the positive impact of training is easy to understand, the sometimes negative impact of no training requires some explanation (p. 98).

In pre- and post-semester surveys, I asked the FAW TAs about their conceptions of teaching, and I conducted early-semester and post-semester interviews with 10 of them. This short presentation will summarize the research results and leave time for participant questions. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the potential consequences of overburdened institutions offloading some of their pedagogical responsibilities onto untrained undergraduate TAs.


Gibbs, G., & Coffey, M. (2004). The impact of training of university teachers on their teaching skills, their approach to teaching and the approach to learning of their students. Active learning in higher education, 5(1), 87-100.

Singleton-Jackson, J. A. (2008). Peer review dos and don’ts in the electronic classroom. Compendium 2, 1(1). Retrieved August 19, 2011 from http://etc.dal.ca/ojs211/index.php?journal=C2&page=index.