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Grad Student Helps Peers Strengthen Teaching Skills

July 1, 2013

Mitchell D'Rozario

As a fourth-year PhD candidate and teaching assistant, Mitchell D’Rozario is used to teaching undergraduate students. But recently he has turned his focus on graduate student TAs at the teaching workshops he helped develop with the University’s Graduate Student Association and Office of Graduate Studies.

It all started when D’Rozario, who is in the Biology Department of the College of Arts and Sciences, noticed grad student TAs struggling to be prepared to teach classes even though many expressed interest in taking faculty positions in the future.

“As a graduate student, I felt that we are trained to be good researchers and strong speakers,” the vice president for academic affairs in the Graduate Student Association said, adding that students weren’t given as many opportunities to reflect on their teaching abilities and strategies.

A three-time nominee for Drexel’s Teaching Excellence Award, D’Rozario had never attended a teaching workshop. With the help of Teck Kah Lim, the associate vice provost for graduate studies in the Office of Graduate Studies and a professor in the Physics Department, he worked to create pedagogy workshops for Drexel.

“Once the format was fixed, we reached out to several faculty that helped us with creating different workshops,” he said.

According to D’Rozario, the workshops, which were held between May and June at the Graduate Student Lounge in Main Building, “allowed TAs to come together and talk about their experiences, draft their own teaching portfolios and receive a teaching certificate through the process.”

The TAs who attended the workshops had to do some homework beforehand, as D’Rozario required them to fill out surveys asking about their TA experiences.

More than 100 responses revealed topics that TAs struggled with such as teaching outside of one’s field of experience, designing and engaging classrooms, making interactive lectures, teaching across cultures and getting student feedback.

The workshops were mostly discussion-based, although there were some in-class activities as well.

“In one of the workshops we had with Dan King from the Department of Chemistry on interactive classrooms, we talked about using clickers in classrooms. So for the in-class activity, the participants got to use the clickers in class,” D’Rozario said.

Ultimately, the series proved to be a success for both D’Rozario and the attendees. Of the total 52 TAs who attended the workshops, 36 of them went to more than three out of five workshops, and most gave positive feedback for future workshops. In general, D’Rozario said, the TAs liked being able to hold discussions and interact with other TAs.

According to D’Rozario, the Office of Graduate Studies will hold the workshops next year, but more opportunities will also be available for graduate students. The Drexel Center of Academic Excellence plans on making some of their faculty workshops open to graduate students.

“I hope that these workshops become an annual event and a part of the Drexel graduate experience,” D’Rozario said.

D’Rozario expects to graduate from Drexel next year and hopes to go for a post-doc position and eventually hold a faculty member position. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Seton Hall University, where he graduated magna cum laude.