Friday, 5 September 2014

Post 30: Okay: The TA Conference was Fantastic Beyond My Remembrance!!

I have had an absolute blast at the TA Conference (run by the Learning and Teaching Centre [LTC]) over the past week! I attended 2 years ago during my first year, but last year didn't go as I was still undertaking interviews for my research. In reflecting on my experience at the conference, it's clear that all of the presenters are people who care very much about how we can be better TAs, better professionals, and ultimately, better instructors.

In this post I'll briefly highlight the workshops I attended to give you a sense of why it's valuable to attend the workshop and develop your professional skills as a graduate student.  If you weren't able to make the Fall TA Conference, there is one held in early January, too, so fear not! As well, workshops for TA and Graduate Student professional development are also run all year long through the LTC. (I also recognize that there's only so much that I can put into a post, and express my excitement for the workshops; far better that you try to attend a few in the spring!)

I attended 7** workshops over the past week. Tuesday was the big day, where the most concurrent sessions are held, and where, as a byproduct of the structure of the conference, you'll miss a lot of the others. For this reason, repeat workshops were held for the rest of the week (or at least, a lot of them had repeats). And wow—very glad to be inside on Tuesday after our epic monsoon-like showers and thunder!

Clouds reflected in a rain puddle, near the Library! 
So on Tuesday, I attended two workshops whose theme was 'Preparing for a Teaching Career in Higher Education.' For one, that was the actual title, for the other, it was a discussion about the LATHE program, which is a 2 year certificate specifically focused on learning and teaching in higher ed.
The first workshop focused on the importance of preparing a teaching dossier: a document that includes all sorts of supporting documentation to show how effective an instructor you are. Some of these components include an evidence-based teaching narrative (replacing the older teaching philosophy), syllabi, TA experiences, course evaluations and reviews, guest lectures—all the things that comprise the evidence that shows that you would be a great instructor to hire! The LATHE certificate program (which will show up on your graduate certificate) is geared towards officializing that commitment to great teaching even more. Predictions from the panel of presenters (the instructors for the three LATHE courses) reiterated a couple times that while this type of certificate is an emerging phenomenon, and that it only makes sense: to teach at the secondary and elementary levels, you need to do a separate degree in that; why not for teaching at the post-secondary level, too?

A third workshop by Jill Harvey from the Department of Geography covered transitioning from being a TA to being a sessional instructor and also emphasized the importance of readying a teaching dossier, because by the time you're applying for teaching positions, it should be ready to go. You will be asked for it at some point during the hiring phase. She also included a quick discussion on pitching your own course, and why that may be useful.

The last workshop I attended Tuesday was about experiential learning with David Barrett, the TAC from Geography, and how TA's can incorporate all sorts of activities into their tutorials or lessons. Experiential learning is fantastic because it speaks to all of the major types of learners: those who primarily learn through visuals, those who learn through auditory means, and those who are kinesthetic learners (hands-on). A few examples of experiential learning (there are many) include role plays, field trips, interviews, debates, using equipment, field schools, and more.

WEDNESDAY, I learned a lot about CourseSpaces (the new Moodle) that facilitates running a class online, sharing teaching materials, and engaging with students. Last year I sent all my tutorial materials to the professor who posted them onto CourseSpaces. I learned so much more about having a run-through trial, and as a TA, saw that we can actually do a lot on the course page! Very very good. And the facilitator, from the Technology Integrated Learning folks on campus did a great job! She also pointed me to what seems like a fantastic resource: a number of support videos and other documents to help professors (and TAs) get familiar and comfortable with CourseSpaces if we haven't before. A similar set of resources exists for students

I also learned about puzzles, artefacts, and art—three different activities that can bring to life the materials that we present in class, with Iryna Matiyenko from the Political Science Department. These activities were also centred around the Kolb learning cycle, to again, make sure that we reach different kinds of learners. I found this workshop extremely engaging and found myself thinking of much more creative ways to get students engaged with the materials I would be teaching them.

THURSDAY, yesterday, I attended a workshop led by Caroline Winter from the English Department, on how to encourage students to edit their own work. The main point was simply to mention it to them, since undergrads may not know that editing and revising is a big part of writing. The LTC encourages the 40-20-40 writing model: 40% researching and planning and brainstorming, 20% writing (first draft, usually), and 40% revising and editing. This model shows just how big a part of writing the editing and revising stage is. It's one I've encountered previously, through another workshop held by the LTC. (The LTC really rocks!)
A tip here as well: maybe include one short grammar lesson as part of your tutorial every so often (as an alternative to spending an entire tutorial/class/session on a big grammar dump) especially if students will be producing reports or writing essays or other writing assignments during the semester. Even covering some of the most common errors in writing that students seem to make (according to the presenter) such as comma splices and run-on sentences and knowing how to use colons and semi-colons correctly would be great. :)

This afternoon I have one more workshop on 'Avoiding Death by Paper,'which is tips and strategies on how to survive essay marking. Very much looking forward to it.

But yes: I am definitely, definitely am very glad that I participated in the TA Conference! And, as one of the presenters mentioned: it's a great way to network and meet other TAs in other departments who also care about the things you do. :) I know I met some lovely grad students in some of my workshops!

** I made sure to attend at least 6 workshops not only because they are fun, but because on doing so, the LTC will print out a certificate of participation that you can include on your CV or as part of your work history. Being able to demonstrate that you have an interest in teaching and continual learning and skill development can be important for your work.

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