How to build a master instructor

Grad 702/703 prepares University graduate students as leaders in the classroom and beyond.

Six people sit around a conference table in a bright room smiling and talking.

How to build a master instructor

Grad 702/703 prepares University graduate students as leaders in the classroom and beyond.

Six people sit around a conference table in a bright room smiling and talking.

The Graduate School and Provost’s Office are celebrating another successful year of Effective Teaching Practices in Higher Education - a two-semester course for graduate students that is a result of the University’s partnership with the Association of College and University Educators. A cohort of 19 Master’s and Ph.D. students representing over fifteen graduate programs completed the course from Fall 2019 through Spring 2020. 

The University of Nevada, Reno and ACUE partnership

While University instructors are fully prepared to become experts in their discipline, few receive formal and comprehensive training to effectively teach at the college level. To meet this need, the University of Nevada, Reno partnered with the Association for College and University Educators (ACUE) to facilitate the 25-module online course. Since 2016, the University of Nevada, Reno has successfully offered this course to over 300 University faculty. 

Lack of formal training in evidence-based best teaching practices is even more acute for graduate teaching assistants, who rarely receive more than a few hours of training in preparation for their teaching assignments. So, this same initiative was first brought to graduate students as a pilot program in 2017, receiving extremely positive feedback from participants. Starting in Fall 2018 the Graduate School began offering GRAD 702/703 to graduate student teaching assistants. The now four-credit course is a combination of the 25 module ACUE online course in Effective Teaching Practices in Higher Education along with several additional components such as monthly course meetings and the requirement to create a teaching philosophy statement and draft syllabus.

A lasting impact

Data from initial implementations show how graduate students transformed their beliefs about students and teaching to become more confident and learner-centric. Specifically, participants noted profound improvements in their ability to utilize active learning techniques, deliver engaging lectures and address microaggressions. In addition to learning, implementing, and reflecting on a wide variety of evidence-based teaching practices, faculty and graduate students that complete the ACUE course earn certificates in effective college instruction endorsed by the American Council on Education.

“I honestly would have no idea what I would do if I didn't have this course guiding me through proper teaching practices.”

After only one semester in the course, one graduate student participant noted, “I honestly would have no idea what I would do if I didn't have this course guiding me through proper teaching practices. I have felt comfortable asking my students for feedback and ways I can improve the teaching…. ACUE was a great roadmap to use during my first teaching experience.” An end-of-course survey found that 100% of the graduate student participants would recommend the course to a colleague and that the modules were helpful in refining their teaching practices.

Students also reflected on their ability to engage their class and improve performance. Another course participant shared, “I had students help me create the rubric for their first paper and use it to evaluate a sample paper (an exemplar). Students were really into this and, as a result, grades were excellent. The students were much more engaged because they were active participants in creating the rubric and were able to see examples of what I was looking for.” 

Lia Schraeder, Ph.D., the Grad 702/703 lead course facilitator in 2019-2020 observed, “It was a privilege to witness students in the course as they tried out new teaching techniques, reflected on their learning process and grew in confidence in their teaching over the course of the year-long program.”

“It’s been truly rewarding to help graduate students gain the foundational skills necessary to become exceptional instructors. Graduate students who successfully completed the ACUE Course reported becoming more learner-centric and confident in their teaching, which ultimately will benefit their students for years to come,” stated Charity Peak, Ph.D., Academic Director with ACUE. Peak has worked with the University and the graduate course facilitators for the past several years to develop the course implementation to best serve graduate teaching assistants.

“Graduate students who successfully completed the ACUE Course reported becoming more learner-centric and confident in their teaching, which ultimately will benefit their students for years to come,” stated Charity Peak, Ph.D., Academic Director with ACUE.

The most striking finding of the survey of graduate students completing the course sequence was the extent to which GRAD 702/703 altered graduate teaching assistant perceptions of their ability to promote student success and capacity to learn. Before taking the course, only 54% of graduate students believed that students in their courses could be successful. After taking GRAD 702/703, this increased to an impressive 92%, highlighting the central role of the courses in developing the next generation of impactful and motivated instructors.

How do graduate students interested in taking GRAD 702/703 sign up?

Graduate students interested in taking the course a must meet eligibility criteria and submit an application of interest. To enroll in the GRAD 702/703 sequence, graduate students will need to secure a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) or instructor position for both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters. Also, students will be charged for course registration fees (2 credits per semester), as they would be for any other graduate course. To indicate your interest enrolling in the ACUE GRAD 702/703 course sequence, please complete the application by July 1, 2020. Graduate students selected to participate in the course must be available to attend a 3-hour course launch on Wednesday, August 19, 2020.

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