During the time of distance learning, we have built a community of good teaching practice based on the engaging physics-tutoring hub called “EPT-hub”. This hub now offers instructional and didactical support to TAs regarding the preparation of materials and activities for their exercise sessions on introductory physics. Our target audience are around 150 TAs teaching 14 courses for 3500 students in total. In this context, the hub supports TAs in providing engaging, high-quality physics classes adjusted to the specific needs of students of the various departments. Training seminars help them to develop didactical skills and to activate their students both intellectually and emotionally, fostering their active thinking and higher-level competences. The interaction via the hub established a co-working space for joint efforts of teaching assistants. Furthermore, spark activities helped to connect teachers across different Departments.
The overall concept of this project
The main goal of our project was to establish a community of good teaching practice where physics TAs (and not only) could share their teaching experiences and materials, helping each other in preparation of engaging exercise classes. We started to run the project in pandemic times which determined the establishment of an online community. However, the advantage of the EPT-hub is that it’s easily operating in any teaching mode and currently we combine both. Our tools, databases and material collections are themselves digital and can be used mostly for both formats of teaching. At the same time, also training and consolidating workshops and events play an important role in personal engagement and connection between TAs. We will continue to operate the community and related events in blended mode – with both – online and offline actions. This gives us a freedom to adjust our services to TA’s needs and availability, allowing them to improve efficiently their teaching and, consequently, the students’ learning.
In HS21 we closely followed and interacted with students of several focus groups of exercise classes (around 150 students), as well as student’s representatives among TAs and the VMP organization. Students were actively involved in discussions about the quality of exercise sessions as well as didactical materials.
In order to give the teaching community a home, the EPT hub established an interactive workspace on slack, that enables continuous communication and exchange between TAs. Dedicated channels for each course as well as common space for sharing good teaching practices established an important connection and friendly atmosphere between the TAs. As an addition we have developed a database of TA’s materials across different courses. The newly developed EPT website allows TAs to follow all the updates on common teaching achievements, training events and didactical services.
To measure the success of our project we went along three distinct dimensions:
- The number of TAs that joined the EPT community (currently 100+ TAs)
- The quality of our teaching material is evaluated via feedback online forms filled in by TAs and students which reported very positive experiences.
- To assess the learning benefits of EPT, we developed the so-called 2Q-System. According to our experiences, this system allows to estimate students’ learning gains as well as the quality of the lesson and its alignment with the learning objectives. The students are asked to answer two MC questions that are closely related to the learning objectives of a given exercise session once at the beginning and once at the end of the class (without being told the correct answer in between). In HS21 (as well as in our pilot project in FS21), comparing the answers before and after the lesson most of the time revealed substantial improvements. Moreover, students’ feedback suggests that the system helped to activate and engage them from the very beginning of the class as well as to outline the learning objectives to the students. On te other hand, the 2Q-System turned out to help the TAs to structure the lesson and to continuously monitor the students’ performance
How has teaching been optimised during the pandemic?
We started the project during pandemic times which directly suggested to focus on an online community. However, one advantage of the EPT-hub is that it is relatively indifferent whether the teaching happens offline or remote. Our tools, databases and material collections are digital and can be used mostly for both formats of teaching. In general we have learned that online events are tendentially less attractive for TAs as well as it seems to be harder to engage students online. On the other hand, our digital tools, interactive platform and events help to connect to each other also in difficult isolating times.
We switched to a short (max 45min) format of training seminars aimed at very concrete hands-on practices of engaging teaching techniques or personal/profession development tools that TAs can benefit from. The seminars do not take too much time, allow to concentrate on one method/topic and also serve examples on how one could conduct an activity or even a whole class with students.
We try to make the events interdisciplinary and socially engaging (i.e. with active involvement, not only physics topics as well participants from other Departments
Another important challenge of this project (independently if it is in an offline or remote format) is that community building and as well as engaging TAs is an art (human factor plays a crucial role).
involved professional community building experts
personal approach to TAs
offer possible attractions (i.e. time-savers with materials, opportunities of personal & professional growth, space for social interaction and self-realization)
We will continue to operate in blended mode.
Our digital spaces for community interaction as well as databases and polybook developments remain online.
Training and social/exchange events will be offered selectively in different formats – adjusted to the specific conditions and availabilites of the TAs.