For any teaching assistant who feels overwhelmed by
that stack of ungraded papers or the prospect of leading an
hourlong class discussion: Help is on the way.
The Homewood schools, in conjunction with the
Center for Educational
Resources, will roll out this week its new TA Training
Institute's second phase, a series of weekly workshops that
let all Homewood graduate students meet with faculty and
advanced TAs in order to explore teaching and learning
The first phase of the TA Training Institute, launched
this fall, was a revamped orientation/training session for
incoming TAs only.
The program is designed to substantially augment
whatever training TAs might be getting through their
The workshop schedule kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 2,
with "Starting the Semester Off Right in Engineering and
Sciences," a session led by Jason Eisner, an assistant
professor in Computer Science, and Becky Pearlman, a
lecturer in Biology. The final workshop of the spring
semester, to be held on April 27, will be "Lab Skills:
Making Students Active Problem Solvers."
Other sessions include ones on grading, WebCT,
effective lecture techniques, organizing student
interactions and "Engaging your Students with Texts."
Each one-hour workshop is limited to 20 students to
ensure ample opportunity for discussion and exchange. The
workshops are voluntary, and students can opt to take one
or all 12.
A similar training workshop program will be offered in
There are currently about 2,000 graduate students in
the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, the
majority of whom will be TAs at some point in their Hopkins
Responsibilities for TAs vary, but they typically can
be asked to hold office hours, lead a class section, grade
student papers and put together an electronic classroom
Allyson McCabe, director of the institute and a
pedagogy specialist at the CER, said that some of Johns
Hopkins' peer institutions — Harvard, Yale, Stanford
and Duke among them — have similar training programs
in place. McCabe, who came to Johns Hopkins in February
2005, said that part of her charge when she arrived was to
add pedagogical elements to TA training and supplement what
the TAs learn on the department level, which can be uneven.
Some departments offer extensive training, she said, while
others offer relatively little.
To enhance the instructional experience of
undergraduate students and to introduce TAs to sound
pedagogical theory and practice, CER, in collaboration with
departments, deans, faculty and graduate students of the
Graduate Representative Organization, developed the TA
"In the future, we would like to expand the
[institute] by repeating workshops and adding new ones, and
by working more with interested departments to enhance the
department-based training that TAs receive," McCabe said.
"We also want to offer more programming and resources to
advanced TAs in order to contribute to their professional
The new training program supports a recommendation
included in the Commission on Undergraduate Education's
final report that sought to "increase support for faculty
and graduate students in teaching effectiveness."
"The TAs here asked for more training. They want the
help," McCabe said. "One moment they are a student, and the
next they are thrown in front of the class. It can be very
Erin Ackerman, a TA in Political Science, will lead a
workshop with Marius Stan, a TA in Philosophy, called "Tips
for TAs in Social Sciences and Humanities." The two ran a
similar workshop in the 2005 TA Training Orientation, a
program that had been retooled to offer more practical
information than it had in previous years.
Ackerman said her workshop this spring will be geared
toward TAs who lead sections and perform grading duties.
"We'll focus on how to get a discussion started and
how to keep it going," she said. "Not an easy task."
One technique Ackerman learned for a class on American
politics was to ask a student to bring in an article from a
daily newspaper that had a connection with the topic they
were learning. "This way, one student is on point and
prepared, and the others can hopefully connect to the topic
and what is going on."
Ackerman said she's learned how to be a better teacher
from her faculty mentor and other TAs who have offered her
tips. She feels the TAs here will embrace the new program
and the extra coaching.
"I think this new training program is great," she
said. "Being a TA is your first experience teaching at a
college level, and it can be overwhelming. It's nice to
have a forum to exchange what works from other TAs across
disciplines and departments."
For more information on the TA Training Institute and
a full list of workshops, go to www.cer.jhu.edu and
click on the "TA Training" link. To register for a
workshop, call McCabe at 410-516-8633 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.