STLHE 2014

STLHE 2014 Conference

TAGSA Pre-Conference

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
McArthur Hall, Queen's University, Room A234



8:00am – 9:00am

Continental Breakfast

9:00am – 9:30am

TAGSA Welcome and Community Building

9:30am – 10:50am

Supporting innovative practice in teaching and learning among GTAs:  Fuller’s Stages of Concern model
Natasha Patrito Hannon, Karyn Olsen, and Aisha Haque, Western University
(See session description below)

11:00am - 11:50am

Second Teachers in the Classroom
Shelia Crooks, Marc Heller, and Aaron Richter, Saint Mary’s University
(See session description below)

12:00pm – 1:30pm


12:30pm – 1:20pm

AGM (grab your lunch and bring)

1:30pm – 1:55pm

Not a “Real” Teacher: Undergraduate TAs’ Conceptions of Teaching
Betsy Keating, University of Windsor
(See session description below)

2:00pm - 2:25pm

Teaching Assistant (TA) Orientations: Are we laying a transformative foundation?
Cynthia Korpan, University of Victoria, and Suzanne Le-May Sheffield, Dalhousie University
(See session description below)

2:30pm - 3:20pm

Evaluating for transformation, transforming in our evaluation: How do we envision support for Graduate students and TAs?
Carolyn Hoessler, University of Saskatchewan., and Lorraine Godden, Queen’s University
(See session description below)

3:30pm - 4:30pm

Teaching Assistant (TA) Competencies: Provoking change
Cynthia Korpan, University of Victoria, and Roselynn Verwoord, University of British Columbia
(See session description below)

5:30pm – 8:00pm

Welcome Reception at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performing Arts
(390 King Street West)

Session Descriptions

9:30 am – 10:50 am
Supporting innovative practice in teaching and learning among GTAs:  Fuller’s Stages of Concern model
Natasha Patrito Hannon, Karyn Olsen, and Aisha Haque, Western University

GTAs are constantly faced with the challenge of innovating instruction. From leading their first laboratory or tutorial, to facilitating online learning, GTAs progress through predictable stages of development on their way to mastering new dimensions of teaching. This workshop introduces participants to Fuller’s (1969) Stages of Concern model (SCM), a framework for understanding the evolution of teachers’ fears, preoccupations, and aspirations as they enter into and work through unfamiliar instructional situations. The SCM is a valuable tool for GTA developers seeking to effectively support GTAs through the process of instructional innovation. Research suggests that addressing stages of concern in the design of professional development opportunities reduces participant anxiety, lessens resistance, and promotes the transition of GTAs from teacher- to learner-centered instructors (Ferzli et al 2012). 

In 1969, Frances Fuller developed the SCM through her work with pre-service K-12 teachers. Informed by interviews, she described patterns of needs and preoccupations common to teachers at different stages of their careers. The model suggests that teachers’ concerns evolve along a continuum of stages housed within the broad categories of 1) self, 2) task, and 3) impact. In the SELF stage, teachers are pre-occupied with issues of personal survival and feelings of adequacy (Am I qualified to teach this?  Will students accept me?  Will I get good evaluations?).  In the TASK stage, instructors focus on the management of learning, and are likely to follow a prescribed teaching plan, finding it difficult to adapt to unexpected situations or diverse student needs. The IMPACT stage is characterized by increased teacher confidence and a more student-centered approach to learning in which teachers consider student needs, collaborate with peers to improve student outcomes, and redesign lessons, curricula, or entire programs (Evans and Chauvin 1993).

Since Fuller’s (1969) work, the SCM has been used as a lens to evaluate and design the professional development of faculty (Evans and Chauvin 1993) and, most recently, GTAs (Ferzli et al 2012). At Western, we are experimenting with the SCM as a means of evaluating our existing suite of GTA professional development programs, and as a guide-post for developing new initiatives. Using the Western Certificate in University Teaching and Learning and our new Lead TA initiative as case studies, workshop participants will explore ways in which the SCM can be used to identify gaps or redundancies in existing programming and inform the development of ambitious new projects.

Through case study analyses, individual and small group work, and facilitated discussion, participants in this session will a) map their home institutions suite of existing GTA professional development programs to the SCM, b) identify opportunities for growth and highlight sequencing challenges in these programs, and c) apply SCM-informed design to new or existing interventions to better support GTAs through the process of instructional innovation.

Ferzli, M., Morant, T., Honeycutt, B., Egan Warren, S., Fenn, M., and Burns-Williams, B. “Conceptualizing Graduate Teaching Assistant Development through Stages of Concern.”  In Working Theories for Teaching Assistant Development, edited by Greta Gorusch, 231-274. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, 2012.

Fuller, F. F. “Concerns of teachers:  A developmental conceptualization.”  American Educational Research Journal 6 (1969): 207-226.

Evans, L., and Chauvin, S. "Faculty Developers as Change Facilitators: The Concerns-Based Adoption Model." To Improve the Academy 12 (1993): 165-178.

11:00 am - 11:50 am
Second Teachers in the Classroom
Shelagh Crooks, Marc Heller, and Aaron Richter, Saint Mary’s University

In this presentation, each graduate student will provide a reflective account of his experience of the second teachers’ role – focusing on what he learned about his discipline, and about how it can be communicated to others. In addition, each student will give a narrative account of how he negotiated his particular identity transformation.  The course instructor will provide perspective on what it takes to make the second teachers model work in the classroom, and she will discuss the impact on the junior students of having their senior peers operate as second teachers. She will argue that the presence of the second teachers altered the nature and quality of the discourse in the classroom. Following the model of the second teachers, the junior students were considerably more willing to enter into the fray of discussion, and so moved beyond the passive reception of information, to become active developers and evaluators of ideas.

Thus, the conference theme of transforming learning will be addressed in 2 ways: via a discussion of 1. the identity transformation of the grad students; and 2. the transformation of the learning environment which occurred in the critical thinking class. The transformation theme will be grounded in research into the transformative learning theory of Jack Mezirow (1997 , 2000 ) and Patricia Cranton (1994 )

It is intended that this presentation will be interactive, and conference participants will be invited to compare and contrast the second teachers’ model with other models of graduate student work in the classroom that they may know. In addition, participants will have an opportunity to evaluate the benefits and deficits of this model along with the speakers, and will be challenged to think about how (or indeed whether) this model could work in other institutional contexts and other disciplines.

Meizrow, “Transformative Learning: theory to Practice”, New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education, Jossey-Bass Inc., 1997.

Meizrow and associates,  Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress, Jossey-Bass Inc., 2000.

Cranton, Understanding and Developing Transformative Learning, Wiley, 1994.

1:30 pm – 1:55 pm
Not a “Real” Teacher: Undergraduate TAs’ Conceptions of Teaching
Betsy Keating, University of Windsor

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

2:00 pm – 2:25 pm
Teaching Assistant (TA) Orientations: Are we laying a transformative foundation?
Cynthia Korpan, University of Victoria, and Suzanne Le-May Sheffield, Dalhousie University

Teaching assistant (TA) orientations, whether delivered within a home department or as a university-wide event, are the most common structured professional development opportunities offered to graduate students. Since these events are typically the first exposure graduate students have to professional development and to the culture of teaching and learning at their graduate institution, orientations set the tone for their future engagement in learning and teaching professional development.

This session will present results from a research project that conducted a comprehensive survey and subsequent analysis of university-wide TA orientations across Canadian post-secondary institutions. The project was initiated and undertaken by the Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA) Executive Committee and generously supported by an Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) grant. The way that TA orientations are organized across the country differs immensely. Our research closely examined the content covered at TA orientations and other indicators such as length of orientation, timing, and form of presentations, to try to understand how TA orientations are being approached as an instructional entity. Our results will highlight the range of content being covered across the country, plus evidence of the use of active and innovative learning strategies.

Disseminating our research results will enable us to show the similarities and differences in how TAs are introduced to teaching, share best practices, and help further the development of transformative learning experiences that will contribute to establishment of TAs as life-long learners and support the professional development of leaders. Additionally, with the increased concern about the quality of undergraduate education and teaching at post-secondary institutions, it is time to ensure that initial introductions to teaching are of the highest quality.

To date, there has only been one cross-institutional survey of TA orientations (Robinson, 2011). Robinson (2011) surveyed 20 institutions, two in Canada and 18 in the United States, to elicit both a broad and focused view. Although department- and university-level research exists for single institutions (Boman, 2008; Lucas, 2001; Temple et al., 2003), which can offer ideas and be useful for future planning at those institutions, such research fails to provide an in-depth analysis that works towards the identification of best practices across multiple institutions. Building from Robinson’s (2011) survey, our research adopts a comprehensive and thorough understanding of best practices across Canadian post-secondary institutions.

 Participants in this workshop will find the presentation useful as they strive to provide the best teaching preparation possible for TAs before they take up their TA role on Canadian campuses. The results of our study will serve as a useful tool within institutions to develop future instruments for measuring the efficacy of orientations and their impact on other professional development programs offered by departments, faculties, and/or learning and teaching centres. Additionally, the results of the research (a) could aid in the development of some national standards, (b) may inspire some research initiatives cross-institutionally to measure the impact of standards and programs, and (c) will further initiatives. Participants will be encouraged to contribute information, ask questions, and engage in discussion.


Boman, J. (2008). Outcomes of a Graduate Teaching Assistant Training Program (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Lucas, S. G. (2001). Departmental teaching assistant’s orientation. In L. R. Prieto & S. A. Meyers (Eds.), The Teaching Assistant Training Handbook: How to Prepare TAs for their Responsibilities (pp. 25-41). Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Robinson, S. S. (2011). An introductory classification of graduate teaching assistant orientations. Studies in Graduate and Professional Student Development, 14, 19-35.

Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA)

Temple, N. F., Isaac, L. A., Adams, B. A., Hughland, D. L., Engelstoft, C., & Garcia, P. F. J. (2003). Development of a peer based, department-specific teaching assistant manual and orientation. The Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development, 9(2), 75-80.

2:30 pm – 3:20 pm
Evaluating for transformation, transforming in our evaluation: How do we envision support for Graduate students and TAs?
Carolyn Hoessler, University of Saskatchewan., and Lorraine Godden, Queen’s University

How are graduate students supported in their transformation from students to teachers? This workshop draws on prior literature and the results of Carolyn’s recent doctoral dissertation to invite discussion on how graduate students are supported, why diverse supports can be valuable, and what their evaluation might look like.

The times are changing. Universities are challenged by increasing enrolments and demands for accountability (Ryan & Fraser, 2010) while their graduate students face fewer faculty positions demanding greater productivity and talents (Austin, 2002), or more diverse potential career paths requiring more transferable skills (Maldonado, Wiggers, & Arnold, 2013; Sekuler, Crow, & Annan, 2013). Are the supports we offer now fluid enough for these dynamic needs?

The scope of support is expanding. Formal programming for graduate students is well-documented (e.g., Marincovich, Prostko, & Stout, 1998; Park, 2004), but has shown mixed results. Trained TAs provided better grading and feedback for students and TAs with greater range of responsibilities utilized more student-centred activities in Rolheiser and colleagues’ (2013) research. However, other studies found challenges of limited awareness (Barrington, 2001), attendance (Golde & Dore, 2001; 2004) and impact on teaching (e.g., Buehler & Marcum, 2007; Morris, 2001). Informal supports including socialization (Austin, 2002), scuttlebutt (Lovitts, 2004), and communication networks (Wise, 2011) are increasingly linked with graduate students’ success.

This growing mixture of available support, and rising pressures suggest a transformation may be needed in how we evaluate support for graduate students. Evaluating this expanded vision of support requires adapting current methods and focus to encompass the full range of formal and informal supports including formally offered (e.g., workshops), facilitated (e.g., mentors), and spontaneous (e.g., chance advice).

The broader field of career development is also evolving, with people now expected to be fluid and dynamic in order to respond to ever changing work contexts (Bell & Benes, 2012; Bimrose, 2006; Coiffait, 2013; Watts et al., 1996). Therefore, to encourage graduate student self-development, support must be informed yet should also reflect fluidity and adopt a dynamic approach.

How do TA and graduate student developers provide such support?

By the end of this workshop, attendees will be able to:

  • Identify formal and informal supports for their graduate students’ teaching development.
  • State the distinct value of informal supports and formal supports.
  • Plan a comprehensive evaluation of support for TAs and graduate student instructors.

During the workshop, attendees will be invited to participate in several small and large group discussions to:

  • Brainstorm and share what supports graduate students and TAs at their institution, incorporating support identified in existing research.
  • Reflect on own experiences and critique case studies to recognize the value and limitations of each type of support (e.g., when and why beneficial or limited).
  • Select, discuss and adapt potential methods and foci for evaluation of graduate student development to be relevant for the context and goals of their institution.

Following this workshop, it is our hope that attendees will continue to reflect, design and experiment with this expanded evaluation approach in these evolving times.

3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Teaching Assistant (TA) Competencies: Provoking change
Cynthia Korpan, University of Victoria, and Roselynn Verwoord, University of British Columbia

The development of a national set of teaching assistant (TA) competencies for use by Canadian higher education institutions was initiated in the fall of 2012 by Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA), a special interest group (SIG) of the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE). As stated in the SIG’s mission statement, “TAGSA seeks to bring together as a community of practice, professionals and students who, through the sharing of resources and through active scholarship, are interested in improving and enriching the training and support provided to teaching assistants in postsecondary institutions, as well as the overall professional skills development of graduate students.”

It was in the spirit of this mission statement that a group of professionals came together last year at the Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) conference, February, 2013 to begin development of TA competencies that led to further development at the June, 2013 STLHE conference and the EDC 2014 conference. The competencies are inspired by STLHE’s (1996) Ethical Principles in University Teaching and take into consideration the needs of all TAs, independent of their experience and the discipline involved. The goal is that the competencies will guide educational developers, faculty, and departments as they design teaching assistant programming,  and TAs as they assume teaching roles.

The development of the competencies takes the following movements currently affecting teaching assistant (TA) preparation as its starting point:

  1. There is a growing expectation that graduate education programs provide professional development opportunities to complement disciplinary knowledge and more effectively support graduate students’ success (Professional Skills Development for Graduate Students, 2008), including teaching preparation.
  2. Graduate students, intent on “enhancing their human capital” (Saunders, 2010, p. 63), are seeking ways of incorporating teaching preparation skills training into their programs aiming to equip themselves for future employment.
  3. Universities are facing the pressing concern of ensuring high quality undergraduate educational experiences.

This session takes these movements into consideration as members of TAGSA and others interested,  help finalize the set of national competencies and ensure that all perspectives and voices have been consulted and addressed. Participants will confirm that the competencies are applicable to different institutions and forms of use. To attend this session, it is not necessary that you have attended previous sessions about this topic. Having new perspectives at the session will be most welcome.

The intended audience for the development of these competencies is anyone involved in the preparation of TAs for teaching duties, teaching assistants, graduate students, and other interested institutional members. The session will involve a mix of presentations, small and large group sharing, and discussion.


Professional Skills Development for Graduate Students. (2008). Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS). Retrieved from

Saunders, D. B. (2010). Neoliberal edeology and public higher education in the United States. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 8(1), 42-77.

Ethical Principles in University Teaching. (1996). Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.  Retrieved from