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Training now available to all postgraduate teaching assistants

3 September 2013

Dr Nick Grindle, Senior School-Facing Teaching Fellow in the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), explains the training provision now available to all postgraduate teaching assistants (PGTAs), drawing on the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies to demonstrate the impressive potential of the scheme.

Small seminar group at UCL

Gratulalok (congratulations) and хорошая работа (good work) to Chris Gerry and the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, who are the first department in UCL to have had all their PGTAs take part in a formal programme preparing them to teach.

Chris says, "Recognising the increasingly important role that PGTAs were playing in the learning and teaching environment at SSEES, in 2012-13 the department undertook an overhaul of its approach to recruiting, inducting, preparing, training and mentoring PGTAs. At the core of this overhaul was the professional development scheme being piloted by CALT, which SSEES undertook to encourage all of its 2012-13 PGTAs to enrol on.

“Complementing this, SSEES has introduced a new PGTA handbook, a departmental PGTA induction afternoon, greater fairness in PGTA workload, PGTA representation on Teaching Committee, tailored student evaluation questionnaires and enhanced mentoring from academic staff. The majority of our 20 doctoral students involved in teaching at SSEES were able to start the CALT lead scheme in 2012-13 and an impressive 13 completed the programme and were awarded Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.”

Chris continues, “The PGTAs (and their mentors) commented on the increased confidence they felt in the classroom and reported success in adopting, reflecting on and adapting a number of new teaching approaches. Having now reviewed the PGTA student evaluation questionnaires for 2012-13, it is clear that there has been a step-change in the quality of teaching being delivered by our PGTAs.”

SSEES's initiative comes at a time when the profile of PGTAs is changing dramatically. It's now 20 years since I went to university as an undergraduate, and while the content of the degree I studied has hardly changed at all, students arriving in late September will have a very different experience from mine.

Probably the most significant difference is the increased number of postgraduate teaching assistants. As a student I had a single seminar – 120 minutes in three years of study – taught by a PGTA, whereas students starting their degrees now are likely to count their time with PGTAs in whole course units rather than minutes.

Support and development for postgraduate teaching assistants is set to become ever more important to the running of the university. Providing opportunities to teach is a commitment made in the UCL Council White Paper.

Employing PGTAs is a pressure on departmental budgets but it enables departments to teach larger numbers of students. It provides a source of income for PGTAs and puts them on a more equal footing with their US-based counterparts, who have the benefit of being able to obtain more experience and formalised training as part of a longer PhD. Departments that provide formal programmes of training and support can also state this on their HEFCE block grant applications.

This year, for the first time in UCL, CALT is offering an introduction to teaching for all PGTAs. The schemes, run in each of the three schools as well as through the Graduate School, comprise a single-session introduction to teaching in higher education and further sessions covering topics such as assessment for learning for those who wish to learn more.

Students who complete the scheme may apply for Associate Fellowship or Fellowship (depending on experience) of the Higher Education Academy. The schemes are an extension of a pilot scheme run in the joint faculties of Arts and Humanities and Social and Historical Sciences in 2012-13, as well as the Graduate School's well-established 'Teaching in Higher Education' course (which will also run in 2013-14). In total, over 80 PGTAs were awarded Associate Fellowship of the HEA last year.

Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education), says: "The profile of postgraduate teaching assistants is increasing substantially across the HE sector, as is the significance of teaching experience as part of the PhD. We made a commitment in the White Paper to offer teaching experience to research students, and to ensure PGTAs can contribute to even better small-group teaching and project work for undergraduates. I'm delighted that for the first time, UCL is able to offer brief and extended introductions to teaching for all postgraduate teaching assistants."

Further information

Page last modified on 03 sep 13 14:07


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