Here you are, either starting your graduate program or having landed your first academic job. As a graduate student or early career professor you might be expected to teach, either by leading a course for the first time or serving as a teaching assistant (TA) giving class lectures or facilitating laboratory activities. You may not have had any prior experience in teaching, which can result in high anxiety.
Those holding academic faculty positions within a college or university are expected to be active in teaching, discovery, and outreach. Doctoral education programs have historically emphasized preparation for research, scholarly publications, and outreach. To address this long-standing challenge for graduate students, one college’s administrative leadership and faculty decided to create a program to better prepare students for their assistantship responsibilities and future career interests as college faculty. The primary objective of the Graduate Teaching Scholars Program (GTS) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech is to prepare interested doctoral students for a rewarding academic career. The three-year, cohort-based program was created through participatory pedagogy. Students and the faculty director worked collaboratively to establish the objectives for each of the six associated courses and determine the significant program elements (Elliott-Engel & Westfall-Rudd, 2018). Each year the GTS course syllabi are updated based on the program scholars’ needs and the current teaching trends in the academy.
The program scholars contribute to the college as instructors for courses in their home departments. Over time three new courses have been developed by scholars in partnership with faculty mentors. In addition to the standing activities in the program, scholars also serve as representatives on the college committee to select the outstanding senior undergraduate, and teach courses in the university’s summer program. In the summer of 2020, multiple scholars worked with college leaders to assist faculty struggling to convert their courses to synchronized or asynchronous modalities.
This book is created based on the needs of students enrolled in the program. As students and faculty searched for affordable teaching resources to meet the needs of graduate teaching assistants, they found that it was not easy to find one resource that met their many needs. Over time program alumni and current students realized that they could write the book they sought to find. The group is excited about the opportunity to offer this textbook as an Open Educational Resource (OER) to allow all graduate students free access to the materials. It is exciting to see the twenty authors and two coeditors from the current and alumni of the GTS program sharing their experience from their graduate teaching and first employment opportunities. Each of these chapters comes from the experiences and expertise of these talented individuals who are excited to speak directly to their peers through their shared experiences and advice.
Now complete, the book will be used as a foundational resource for the GTS classes. The experiences of writing an OER item also generated interest in adding OER as an instructional topic to the program curriculum to assist scholars in learning about additional forms of scholarship and the use of OER in their future teaching plans. Other OER topics will include strategies for cocreating OER with undergraduate and graduate students and the economic value of using OER as an alternative to traditional course textbooks. As a new element of the GTS program, there are plans to develop a second volume of this book in two or three years to allow a new group of future students and alumni an opportunity to contribute new ideas and strategies to our collection.
Since the authors and editors are all new to writing a textbook, they decided that the first step in the planning process was to create personas of the anticipated readers. The personas were created by the scholars enrolled in the GTS courses in the spring of 2020 and provided the authors with clear reminders of the diversity of potential readers of their work. This exercise ignited excitement in the group as members realized that the need for this material existed well beyond the scope of the one GTS program on one university campus.
|Persona 1: A first-year faculty member with a 100% teaching appointment and no previous teaching experience beyond serving as a teaching assistant in graduate school|
|Basic demographics||Hispanic male who is 32 years old|
|Where are they teaching?||A small liberal arts college in West Virginia|
|Who are they teaching?||Undergraduate students of impoverished backgrounds|
|Their general teaching practice||- A combination of lectures and laboratory experiences
- Incorporates different pedalogical techniques other than "standard" practices that include more activities and higher student engagement but lacks access to technology beyond PowerPoint
|What questions would they like to have answered?||- How do they get on the "same page" as their students from diverse backgrounds?
- How could they tailor their teaching approach from large to small classes?
- How do they write assessments?
- How do they design a complete course from scratch?
|Persona 2: A first-year international masters student|
|Basic demographics||A female who speaks English as a second language, mostly fluent in English, but worried about connecting with students. She is excited to get teaching experience.|
|What are they teaching?||A basic, required course in their department at a land-grant university. Teaching a fairly large class of more than 100 students. Some students are engaged, while some just have to be there. It is possibility the first time the students are exposed to this material. In the past, the class has been taught using lectures. The current teacher is only thought of as average by the students.|
|Their general teaching practice||They want to be more engaged but concerned about power balance in class. The current teacher has been teaching the same way for a long time. They are teaching using mostly lectures.|
|What questions would they like to have answered?||- How does she ensure that her language is not a barrier or an issue with the students?
- Are there stylistic/cultural differences between their experiences and those of their students in the US?
- Is there anything they should know about?
- How does she have students respect her as a teaching figure and not as a peer?
|Persona 3: New faculty member with a teaching appointment, who lacks prior teaching experience|
|Basic demographics||From an underrepresented population, she is short,
and is a bit of an introvert
|What are they teaching?||A minor class with prerequisites|
|Their general teaching practice||She tries to look confident and competent. She wants students to be engaged. She wants to have an interactive classroom.|
|What questions would they like to have answered?||- How does she act to be confident when teaching?
- How can she motivate students with low
- How should she incorporate different activities in the classroom?
|Persona 4: Community college instructor with a 100% teaching appointment|
|Basic demographics||A transgender female, white, young adult (28 – 40
|Who are they teaching?||Non-traditional students from diverse cultures and
ethnic backgrounds, some international students,
some students from a local high school. Some students have low social economic status and some are working full-time jobs, including night shifts. There are also students in the class with families.
|What are they teaching?||Some of their courses are offered at night and on
weekends. The day classes are offered for those
students who work night shifts.
|Their general teaching practice||- They are energetic, use PowerPoint, and are very structured.
- They also use online course management software.
|Persona 5: New faculty member who has recently completed their doctoral program|
|Basic demographics||Female, early 30’s, with minimum previous
|What is the context in which they are teaching?||She has to teach and do research. She teaches undergraduates and graduate students. She has no budget for teaching activities and she has to come up with a new course. There is resistance from
other faculty to implement new teaching techniques.
|What questions would they like answered?||- How does she negotiate with peers/old faculty?
- What should she do to get funding for teaching?
- How does she implement in class activities?
- How does she find and use new and
affordable/accessible teaching technologies?
- How does she build an environment of trust in the
Soon after embarking on the development of the book, the editors and authors experienced the challenges of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges included juggling changing expectations of teaching in different modalities, learning how to offer instruction in online formats, and completing the work for this book. In an effort to provide author support and encouragement throughout the writing process, the editors used multiple engagement strategies. To provide more individualized support to a large team of contributors, each of the editors were assigned small groups of authors with whom they were expected to communicate to encourage progress with the writing work and assist in addressing questions regarding content and formatting ideas. The lead editor also provided multiple virtual office hours for contributors in the early months of the project, to allow individuals space to gather and discuss their ideas with others involved in the project. Throughout the project the editing team worked to provide communications recognizing the progress being made and the goals that needed to be achieved moving forward. The commitment and passion of the book editors and contributors is evidenced in the completion of thirteen chapters, in spite of the frequent hurdles that emerged from the pandemic.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. (n.d.). Graduate Teaching Scholars Program. https://www.cals.vt.edu/academic-programs/current/graduate/gts.html
Elliott-Engel, J., & Westfall-Rudd, D. (2018). Preparing Future CALS Professors for Improved Teaching: A Qualitative Evaluation of a Cohort Based Program. NACTA Journal, 62(3), 229-236. https://www.nactateachers.org/index.php/volume-62-number-3-september-2018/2769-secondary-agriculture-science-teachers.
Westfall-Rudd, D. (2022). Syllabi for Introduction to Graduate Teaching Scholars (GTS). http://hdl.handle.net/10919/108843