Thoughtful Preparation for Teaching Assistantship at CEU: A Hands-On Workshop Offered by the CTL

December 14, 2018

In the Fall term of this academic year the Center for teaching and Learning (CTL) offered a special workshop on session design to CEU Teaching Assistants. Facilitated by CTL Postdoctoral Fellows Gorana Misic and Margaryta Rymarenko, teaching assistants engaged in planning teaching sessions and designing learning activities that are student-centered, meaningful and feasible. During the workshop students applied the 'backward design' (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) to their session planning, starting from defining the learning goals for the session. Based on these goals they were able to design appropriate activities, as well as to consider how to check for student understanding throughout the session. In their own words:

"Through this workshop I have better learnt how to present what I know in a way that engages students and obliges them to reflect, using a backward plan that I believe is really functional and that I am now applying in different fields." (Elettra Repetto, PhD Candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Political Theory track)

"To me, it was really important to realize that I needed to define specific goals and assessment criteria for each study session, otherwise I could not be sure if students really learned what I wanted them to learn or we just spent time discussing policy issues without building knowledge from it." (Katalin Amon, PhD Candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy track) 

Furthermore, teaching assistants had the opportunity to receive individualized feedback on their actual teaching plans from CTL Faculty. According to workshop participants, these personalized consultations proved to be particularly useful:

"The personalized attention was specifically helpful as I could focus more on my weakness and strategies to deal with those, such as time management. Gorana also helped me to think about planning backward, making the goal of the lesson the main focus, as well as think more theoretically about pedagogy."  (Jacqueline Dufalla, PhD Candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, International Relations track)

"It was important for me to get your feedback about my session plan and suggestions how to improve it. Because of the meeting I got valuable practice on the creation of session plan - you made me think about session's goals and the activities in a more coherent manner...  After the individual session with you, it was easier to plan the other session by my own." (Vilius Kubekas, PhD Candidate at the Department of History)

In the last workshop session, teaching assistants shared their experiences, and together with CTL Faculty discussed their teaching strategies in overcoming challenges such as teaching sensitive topics, handling emotional reactions in the class, and facilitating discussions. As one of the participants highlighted:

"After the class, it was extremely beneficial to discuss with the other TAs their experiences as well as my own to be able to better prepare for the future... I now feel much more prepared for any teaching opportunities in the future and have materials for future reference on which to build."
(Jacqueline Dufalla, PhD Candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, International Relations track)

CTL supports CEU doctoral students in various ways, through individual consultations, courses on teaching and learning in higher education, and (online) mentoring. However, through this new initiative we responded to an articulated need by a very specific group of doctoral students that of teaching assistants who, in most cases, taught university courses for the first time. This new learning opportunity was well received by the initial cohort of teaching assistants from across disciplines, therefore the CTL is going to continue offering this workshop in the future. (Next iteration is scheduled for Winter 2019.)