Needs Assessment Survey Regarding Teaching and Training of Graduate Students; UPDATE: Deadline Extended to April 8

UPDATE: Please note that the Deadline for response has been pushed back to April 8.

Dr. Andrew Hamilton and CTE are co-sponsoring a Needs Assessment survey, which we hope you’ll answer, whether you are a graduate student, faculty member, or direct supervisor of TAs.

Here’s the notice, which you may have also seen in your email. Please take the time to respond at the links below, so that we can get a better sense of the campus-wide needs for TA support.  All responses will remain anonymous.

Thanks, DM


Dear Colleagues,

We’re writing to ask you to complete a needs assessment survey related to teaching and professional training of graduate students.  At present the University has no campus-wide TA or professional training requirements, even in basic policies and procedures.  While the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) offers TA training that is open to all graduate students, and many academic units also train their own TAs, these and other efforts have been largely discrete and on the basis of voluntary time, interest, and inclination. Recently, several units have expressed interest in scaling up these training efforts as a means to improving and enhancing undergraduate learning, preparing graduate students for the job market, meeting the demands of the accreditation process, and informing TAs more fully about University policies and expectations. In order to make that work fully meaningful, the first step in this effort is undertaking a university-wide needs assessment. This needs assessment is a way to determine what is working, what is not, and what faculty and TA supervisors, as well as graduate students, would like to see, if anything, from an expanded TA training program.

Please complete the survey at the appropriate link below by April 1.  All information collected through this needs assessment is and will remain anonymous.

For faculty and others who supervise TAs directly:

For faculty and central administration:

For graduate students:

Questions about the survey or its processes should be directed to Tamara Fish (tfish@Central.UH.EDU / 713-743-8040)

With best wishes,

Andrew Hamilton
Executive Director, Academic Innovation
UH Academic Affairs

Catherine Horn
Assoc. Professor, College of Education
Faculty Board of Directors, UH Center for Teaching Excellence

David Mazella,
Assoc. Professor, English
Director, UH Center for Teaching Excellence


Thanks for Attending our “Art of Managing Graduate Students” New Faculty Workshop, 2/19/13

The session’s moderator, Dr. Tamara Fish, the CTE’s TA Coordinator, kicked off the event by introducing the speakers, which included Dr. James Zebroski (English), Gordon Taylor (Engineering Technology) and Victor Gallardo (Engineering Technology).

Dr. Zebroski’s remarks were organized around the topics of “working inside the institution–teaching”; “working inside the institution–research”; and “working outside or on the edges of the institution.” Here are a few of the highlights:

  • “I try to see TFs less as advanced students and more as junior colleagues (as cheesy as that may sound).”
  • “Set up a support apparatus or better use the one you have”; stakeholder conferences; coordination; anticipate pragmatic teaching concerns of new teachers.
  • encourage your grad students to attend and present at national conferences; attend with them, mentoring them there, and then debrief afterwards.
  • Set up voluntary groups, and FEED THEM.  Feed them some more.
  • Collaborate with wherever possible: write an FDIP grant that employs them, or use them for research, or co-teach informally with them.

Because Taylor and Gallardo work so closely together as Lab Managers for ET, they gave a joint presentation about the issues that they encountered in their work with TAs.  Here are their highlights:

  • To provide consistency of expectations with performance and outcomes, it’s necessary to communicate at the outset the department’s policies, rules, and expectations for students in the course.
  • Their lab students really benefited from a hybrid style of instruction, because it allowed them to review online materials (such as the CTE instructional modules) at their leisure, then discuss them in face to face groups or review as needed.
  • The differing cultures of students coming from different parts of the world or with experiences from different disciplines or universities made teaching more complicated at the graduate level.  Clear, consistent expectations communicated early and then reiterated throughout the semester were the only ways to address those potential misunderstandings.
  • Each semester was organized like a project that had to be reverse engineered from the final deadline back through the sequence of assignments and deadlines.

Finally, Dr. Tamara Fish noted that grad instruction was a “liminal space” where students could work together but which also might inspire anxiety, resistance, or anger.   She asked attendees to consider their TAs as apprentice faculty who would benefit from being introduced into the complexities and pleasures of academic work, even with all its institutional constraints.  As faculty, we helped to model for our students the nature of academic work.

After a lively discussion of professional dress, and the difficulties of teaching and professionalizing those not directly imitating our career paths, discussion broke up around 2:30.

If you have further thoughts on this topic, or would like CTE to address other topics of interest to you or your department, please email me at or hit REPLY on the blog.


New Graduate and Professional Student Association, with Inaugural Events on Sept. 1 and 6

This message is from De’Awn Bunch, of the Division of Student Affairs. The new GPSA is planning a grad student tailgate (Sept. 1) and reception (Sept. 6).  Please pass this invitation along to all potentially interested graduate students.


In an effort to connect the students within the University’s graduate and professional programs, the Division of Student Affairs has organized the Graduate and Professional Association. The Graduate and Professional Student Association at the University of Houston will aim to provide a community that allows graduate and professional students to collaborate in order to enhance graduate student academic and social student life experiences.

Our goals are to:
* Provide a social network and support group for graduate and professional students
* Connect graduate students with resources and support services
* Build and maintain relationships among graduate students, faculty, and administration at UH
* Foster an environment in which graduate students can freely express their ideas and opinions on current academic and institutional matters
* Provide opportunities for professional development through workshops and seminars

We have planned two events for September and would greatly appreciate you circulating the electronic invite below to any graduate and professional students you may know. Students may RSVP online at Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Best regards,

De’Awn Bunch
Marketing and Communications Manager
Division of Student Affairs

VIA Chron of Higher Ed: Grim Job Talks are a Buzz Kill

In this essay in the Chron, a Chair addresses a disappointed job candidate about what kept the candidate from getting hired during a campus visit. (Short answer: communication- and especially listening skills in a high-stakes research presentation ).

Here’s a preview:

I chair a humanities department in a medical school. One of our candidates came to the podium, pulled a file of papers out of a leather folder, and started to read his talk. And kept reading. And it was all over.

A humanities department in a college of medicine might seem like a good place to read one’s paper to the crowd. After all, many papers are delivered that way at humanities conferences. But in medical schools, papers are never read to a group. In fact, to a faculty member in a college of medicine, that is so unusual as to garner confused looks.

Medical schools are moving toward interactivity, and reading a paper reveals that the applicant doesn’t know our culture or, worse, is (gasp!) part of the old guard.

That may seem unfair. It is unfair. If the candidate had known our culture, he would probably have delivered his talk differently. But he wasn’t the only candidate. And he’d been given the same chances as the others who took the time to ask us—in advance—what a good job talk might be like.

Though intended specifically for job candidates in literature departments, the takeaway is something that all PhDs entering the job market should consider: learning how to teach effectively almost always entails developing one’s communication skills.  Job candidates should therefore learn how to communicate the value of what they do in a variety of professional contexts.  For one thing, not only does this make them better, more self-assured teachers, it can also help improve their chances in a competitive job market.

So try to become more sensitive to the potential audiences for your research, and try to learn how to imagine how it would operate in a variety of professional contexts, whether these are departments, publication venues, or conference presentations.  As this story demonstrates, this kind of skill in translating your work for others can make all the difference in your job search.


VIA Sherman Dorn and Rebecca Onion: Summer Readings

Blogging will be less frequent here over the summer, but I thought it would be helpful for those who do visit to have a summer reading list to mull over.  I’m linking to two higher education bloggers who put together from their readers and Twitter followers some of the most popular books on higher ed teaching.

First of all, for first-time teachers (especially TAs), Sherman Dorn at USF assembled this “get in it and drive” list.

These are his top recommendations:

Huston is the (Benjamin) Spock of college teaching books in attitude: “Relax. You’ll be okay.” It and Rotenberg were the two books I wish had been around when I had started out as a T.A. in the late 1980s.

Rebecca Onion’s very useful list, assembled from her Twitter followers, has a more history-and-humanities orientation (she is ABD at UT working on a History diss on technology and childhood), but contains a lot of the solid, sane, read-this-and-you-won’t-go-wrong scholarship of experienced teachers/researchers like Ken Bain and Robert Boice.

For my own purposes, I’ve been enjoying this volume by two McGill scholars, Alenoush Saroyan and Cheryl Amundsen, called Rethinking Higher Education: From a Course Design Workshop to a Faculty Development Framework (Stylus, 2004).

Are we missing something?  Do you have a favorite you like to reread, or share with your friends and colleagues?  Let us know in the comments, and I’ll add.

Have a good summer,


New Faculty Workshop — Working with Graduate Students

Last Tuesday new faculty met to discuss supervising teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate students in various disciplines. The workshop was co-sponsored by the UH Commission on Women, Human Resources, and the Center for Teaching Excellence.  Dr Julia Wellner of Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Dr. James Zebroski of the Department of English, and Ms. Aymara Boggiano of the CTE shared their experience working with graduate students over the years. 16 other faculty attended this discussion in the Faculty Senate offices in 306 M. D. Anderson Library.

Dr. Wellner emphasized that faculty should establish a firm, yet open relationship. She explained that a strict professional engagement that shared concerns about the graduate student’s community worked best for both parties. Sharing one’s interests is different than sharing one’s life, for example. She also stressed that students should be encouraged to lead when they need to lead.

Dr. Zebroski suggested that teaching assistants and research assistants be introduced to the CTE’s learning modules to address many concerns with classroom management and teaching strategies. Dr. Zebroski addressed the benefits of a first-semester orientation course that demonstrates research-based teaching methods. He also recommended that faculty should not make surprise observations for teaching assistants, but schedule a pre- and post-observation meeting to discuss plans and reflection on the classroom time. When mentoring teaching assistants, faculty should have the TA focus on just one or two items and encourage the observation of other TA’s in the department. Finally, he encouraged reflection for both the TA and the supervisor — “making visible what is going on in their head.”

Aymara Boggiano, Director of TA Resources in the Center for Teaching Excellence presented this slide presentation, with commentary.

Supervising Graduate Students

Thanks to all who attended our DTAR Workshop on Error Correction and Leading Discussion, 2/17/12

On last Friday, 2/17, the UH Division of TA Resources hosted a workshop on Error Correction and Leading discussion.  Ms. Aymara Boggiano led discussion with TAs from a number of departments, including English, History, Economics, Biology, and Hispanic Studies, among others.

Ms. Boggiano began the discussion by talking about the embarrassment of making errors as both teacher and student, and how that embarrassment sometimes led to panic rather than learning.  The biggest danger comes when students (or teachers) become afraid of asking for help.

To help make her point, she referenced this TED video from Kathryn Schulz, which is about a phenomenon she calls “error blindness,” the inability to recognize when we are mistaking mistakes:

Ms. Boggiano asked TAs at each table to talk first of all about the types of errors they encountered, either in writing or in discussion.  Responses included:

  • failure to follow instructions
  • failures of processing, or sequencing
  • lack of practice
  • failure to make transition from lower- to higher-order understanding of material
  • difficulties learning how to “think like an expert,” or taking on the vocabulary, concepts, practices of the discipline being taught

Ms. Boggiano then asked TAs at each table to name some of their favorite techniques and strategies to address these kinds of errors:

  • try to identify the small part of the process that students are getting wrong, to pinpoint what’s missing in their solutions
  • try to mix assignments between “process,” where students can be rewarded for practicing solutions without penalties, and “product,” where students can practice for high-stakes projects, like Engineering projects, that demand a consistently high performance across the board
  • provide students with self-checking or self-monitoring protocols or strategies, so that they can learn how to check for their own errors
  • ensure that students are using the appropriate, discipline-specific vocabulary introduced by reading assignments
  • recasting oral errors in restatement, so that other students can hear the correct formulation; this is best done with leading questions addressed to erring students, so that they can be the ones to restate their initial, incorrect formulation

Finally, Ms. Boggiano asked the group to consider how to target which errors to correct?  Do we correct all errors?  If not, what is the criterion to intervene?  TAs came up with the following suggestions:

  • lead students to reexamine their thinking by asking, “why?”  Often this work of explanation leads students to recognize their own errors; so request clarifications when it seems like student thinking is fuzzy
  • monitor small group discussion, and if necessary ask groups to rethink and redo a particular exercise; easier in groups than with individuals
  • in large or whole group discussion, be prepared as with small groups to elicit the correct formulation, lead students to correct themselves
  • remember the importance of trust throughout: students who trust their teacher will accept correction much more easily; for this reason, make it clear that you can accept correction when you make mistakes, as teachers inevitably do
  • there is an interesting overlap between practices of correction and those of classroom management, because they are both about how the teacher makes and enforces rules in order for learning to take place; your ability as a teacher to maintain fairness, consistency, and high expectations helps to create a positive learning environment that allows students to volunteer answers and receive both encouragement and correction whenever necessary.

The workshop broke up around 12:45.