Teaching Certificate Course for Graduate Teaching Assistants

As part of its grounding Programme, the Learning Sciences Lab offers a certificate course in pedagogical skills for graduate students. The course aims to prepare students for a Graduate Teaching Assistantship at SUTD and beyond.

This course is mandatory for all Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) who are enrolled from September 2016. Graduate students are encouraged to complete the course before their very first teaching assignment. This is so that GTAs are more prepared for their role.
Taking on the role of a Graduate Teaching Assistant is likely to be the first step to a teaching career in higher education. While PhD students spend a great deal of time and effort in their research areas, pedagogical skills may not be given as much emphasis. However this is essential for teaching at SUTD and even in their future careers - academic or otherwise.
The newly proposed GTA training course called “Teaching at SUTD: Engaging the Learners” will accept its first intake in Jan/Feb 2017. You can find more information on the course here.
Experienced GTAs are also welcome to participate in this course and share their teaching experiences. If you would like to contribute or participate in this course, do contact us.

Past participant's experience of the course

by  Tan Chee How, GTA,  Batch 1, 2017

Having spent my undergraduate years at SUTD, I experienced the cohort-based learning, hands-on learning, and designette-based learning approach. Unsurprisingly, my prior conceptions of teaching has been shaped by these experiences: (my prior conceptions is that) teaching is about engaging students in learning activities, such as active learning, collaborative discussion, and designettes, to better understand and apply fundamental principles learnt in class to real world application.   

However, having gone through this course, my conceptions of teaching is expanded to more than merely employing interactive learning activities to engage the learners. It is expanded to Bigg's model of constructive alignment, i.e. the teaching and learning activities (TLAs) employed in class, and the assessment task selected are constructively aligned to reflect the planned learning outcome. I had a chance to practice the principle of constructive alignment in preparing and the delivery of a microteaching session. I learnt that depending on the learning outcome, it requires a lot of effort to appropriately select TLAs and assessment (be it formative or summative) to be aligned to it. Hence, my conceptions of teaching changed from the naive notion of simply employing interactive TLAs to engage the learners, to the careful selection of TLAs (in conjunction with appropriate assessment) to reflect the learning outcome.  

The course also armed me with various student-centric teaching methodology, each with their unique sets of TLAs and assessments, constructively aligned to achieve a wholly different outcome of the methodology. For instance, the studio-based learning approach struck me most, as one that employs TLAS and assessments in a holistic and authentic way to mirror professional practices in creative fields.  

Beyond the Bigg's model of constructive alignment and the various student-centric learning methodology, the course also made be more aware of the skills, particularly facilitations skills necessary for me as a GTA to engage the learners. The facilitation skills includes Socratic questioning skills, active listening and communications skills. These skills are essential for teaching, for class management, and engaging the learners.

by Ng Jia Yi, GTA, Batch1, 2017

After going through this course, I see teaching differently. My greatest takeaway from this course is actually the concept of constructive alignment. Constructive alignment refers to the coherence between learning outcomes, teaching/learning activities, and assessment.

In the past, I paid little attention to learning outcomes. When the professor passed us the course syllabus, I would skip the learning objectives portion because I thought it was just customary to include it. Now, I learnt that the outcomes are closely tied to the course content and assessment methods and knowing the intended outcome can direct our learning more purposefully.

My knowledge on teaching methods has also strengthened through this course. I kept hearing terms like “hands on teaching” and “active learning” without really understanding them. From this course, I learnt about the various teaching and learning activities (problem-based, design-based, project-based, team-based, active learning), and also their differences and advantages. Many of us tried to include active learning during our microteaching session since it is the least time consuming student-centered learning activity. I tried to encourage interaction among peers by posing questions up for discussion in small groups when I was teaching about mahjong. One session taught us math through origami by getting us to fold the origami so that we learnt by thinking about what we were doing.

Right assessment methods are also important so that students can only pass if they achieve the desired learning outcomes and not by memorizing. Although there have always been complaints about grading using a bell-curve, I truly realize the flaw in this assessment method when I read Bigg’s article that says good teaching should reduce the gap between “academic” and “non-academic” students and not to create a good spread in grade distribution.

Before the course, I would think that teaching refers to the teaching and learning activities only. I never realize that clearly defining learning outcomes and assessment is just as important as the teaching and learning activities. Aligning the three of them is essential so that students will be motivated to use higher thinking processes and construct their own knowledge.