ERIC Identifier: ED358812
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Smith, Rosslyn M. - And Others
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington
Univ. Washington DC. School of Education and Human Development.
Crossing Pedagogical Oceans: International Teaching Assistants
in U.S. Undergraduate Education. ERIC Digest.
Changing scientific and technical education demographics have led in the late
20th century to the appointment of significant numbers of international students
as graduate teaching assistants at U.S. institutions. Many American students
turn to careers that do not require graduate study. Research universities have
learned that international students often are outstanding graduate students--and
they sometimes are better prepared in mathematics and other scientific and
technical areas than their American peers.
For many U.S. students, parents, and academic and political leaders, the
demographic change is viewed as part of the crisis in undergraduate education,
the overvaluing of graduate education, and the research function of the
university and its faculty. Critics call for the use of regular full-time
faculty in undergraduate courses rather than graduate teaching assistants.
For other educators and political leaders, the increased use of international
teaching assistants (ITAs) implies a deflection of funding from American
minority students. These critics support the use of graduate teaching assistants
but would replace international students with American minority students.
The debate about the basic purposes and methods of the research university
continues as institutions appoint ITAs to teach undergraduate courses. Although
institutions may be interested in international exchange, the primary reason for
selecting ITAs is the continuing shortage of qualified American students.
WHAT IS THE LEGISLATIVE AND ACADEMY RESPONSE TO COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE USE OF IT AS IN UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION?
In the 1970s and early
1980s, student complaints about ITAs appeared in articles in campus and national
newspapers. These complaints led some parents to pressure legislators and
university administrators to take action to "do something" about the
"international TA problem."
Since 1992, 18 states either have passed laws or implemented system-wide
mandates to assess the language skills of ITAs. Some of these mandates also
require ITAs to complete training programs or short courses to develop language
and pedagogical skills. The academy, in turn, has responded by addressing this
issue in professional meetings, journals, workshops, and seminars, and by
establishing specialized programs for ITAs.
WHAT PROGRAM MODELS ADDRESS THE TRAINING NEEDS OF
Although the specific features of individual programs vary widely,
many fit the typology that categorizes ITA programs as orientation, pre-term, or
Orientation programs are the shortest--lasting one to five days--and focus on
the immediate survival and instructional needs of the ITAs. Pre-term models last
from two to eight weeks in the summer preceding the fall term and are intensive
in nature. Concurrent programs occur during the regular terms but are not
normally intensive. Pre-term and concurrent programs generally address aspects
of communicative competence by including instruction in language skills,
pedagogical skills, cross-cultural issues, and microteaching practice. Some
programs focus on the discipline-specific as well as the cross-disciplinary
needs of ITAs. No single design is the best for all institutions; the most
effective programs take into account a thorough understanding of the structure,
culture, and needs of the institution.
WHAT ASSESSMENT INSTRUMENTS ARE USED TO SCREEN AND EVALUATE
Faculty and teaching assistants for years have been evaluated using
various instruments such as student evaluations, peer evaluations, and
self-evaluations. However, it is apparent that additional or modified
instruments are needed to assess the linguistic and pedagogical skills of ITAs.
These new or modified instruments include (1) commercially produced tests such
as the Test of Spoken English and its locally administered version, the SPEAK
test, (2) oral interviews, (3) oral communicative performance tests, and (4)
teaching simulations. One or more of these instruments often are used to screen
prospective ITAs prior to training, at the conclusion of the training program,
or to "certify" for the classroom.
ITA programs are evaluated using several techniques, including:
* Students' evaluations;
* Surveys of ITA training program participants and staff;
* Surveys of the ITAs' department heads or supervisors;
* Evaluations of the amount of progress made by students of the ITAs as
measured by course grades.
WHAT TYPE OF RESEARCH HAS SUPPORTED AND INFORMED ITA TRAINING PROGRAM DESIGN AND CONTENT?
Research in the form of dissertations and
other quantitative and qualitative studies has focused on the areas of
pronunciation, effective teaching, ITA training programs, the tasks ITAs
perform, and the concerns of ITAs. Although this research has informed program
design and implementation, many gaps exist within the knowledge base.
The research studies provide a relatively consistent pattern of factors
related to ITA pronunciation and effective teaching behaviors, showing that
pronunciation is only one of many factors influencing communication between ITAs
and U.S. undergraduates. However, a broad spectrum of research is needed in the
following additional areas:
1. The characteristics of the undergraduate classroom, including topics
related to the effects on students of internationalization and multiculturalism
in the classroom, the level of English proficiency necessary for effective
instruction, and the effectiveness as teachers of ITAs compared to U.S. TAs.
2. Methods and materials that facilitate successful ITA training and
assessment, including specific curricular components of training programs, the
appropriateness of the testing systems and instruments that evaluate the
linguistic, pedagogical, and cultural knowledge of ITAs, and the selection of
assessment instruments that best fit a specific training program.
3. The personal and professional results of training for international
graduate students themselves, including the possible "Americanization" of the
ITAs, and the cultural adjustment processes or internal conflicts experienced by
the ITAs during their training program and subsequent classroom experiences.
4. The features of effective intercultural orientation for U.S.
undergraduates, including their orientation to different cultures, to cultural
and pedagogical differences in classroom dynamics, to strategies for more
effective learning from an ITA, and studies on how U.S. undergraduates might
change over time as a result of exposure to ITAs and/or exposure to
5. Appropriate assessment and training for international faculty members,
including the collection of data on how many non-native speakers of English now
teach in U.S. colleges and universities and what subjects they teach, the
characteristics of their relationships with undergraduates compared to those
developed between ITAs and their undergraduate students, the political and legal
ramifications of training and assessment for international faculty, and the
nature of the assessment and training that should be made available to
6. Policy planning issues, including how institutions define and identify
ITAs, the impact of ITA training and assessment on institutional goals for
internationalization and multiculturalism, strategic planning regarding the
future role of ITAs in undergraduate instruction, and funding for assessment and
HOW CAN UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF ITA TRAINING AND ASSESSMENT PROGRAMS?
A successful ITA
training program depends in large measure upon the quality and quantity of
administrative support it receives. Administrators can support ITA training
programs by (1) developing clearly defined, fair policies for assessing ITAs and
implementing and enforcing these programs; (2) providing stable and adequate
funding for the programs; and (3) supporting scholarship focusing on the various
issues raised by ITA assessment and training.
Additionally, administrators should recognize and respect the needs and
rights of ITAs as well as the undergraduate students they teach. Top
administrators also must articulate both within and outside of the university
community a balanced view of ITAs that acknowledges legitimate concerns without
overlooking the important contributions that these international scholars make
through their research and teaching to American universities.
Bailey, Kathleen M., Frank Pialorsi, and Jean
Zukowski-Faust, eds. 1984. Foreign Teaching Assistants in U.S. Universities.
Washington, D.C.: NAFSA.
Brown, Kimberley, Phillip F. Fishman, and Nancy L. Jones. 1990. "Language
Proficiency Legislation and the ITA." In Preparing the Professoriate of Tomorrow
to Teach: Selected Readings in TA Training. Jody D. Nyquist, Robert D. Abbott,
Donald H. Wulff, and Jo Sprague, eds. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co.
Chism, Nancy Van Note, ed. 1987. Institutional Responsibilities and Responses
in the Employment and Education of Teaching Assistants. Columbus, Ohio: Center
for Teaching Excellence, The Ohio State University.
Douglas, Dan, ed. 1990. English Language Testing in U.S. Colleges and
Universities. Washington, D.C.: NAFSA.
Nyquist, Jody, Robert D. Abbott, and Donald H. Wulff, eds. 1989. Teaching
Assistant Training in the 1990s. New Directions in Teaching and Learning Series
No. 39. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
----, Robert D. Abbott, Donald H. Wulff, and Jo Sprague, eds. 1991. Preparing
the Professoriate of Tomorrow to Teach: Selected Readings in TA Training.
Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co.
This ERIC digest is based on a new full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series, prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and
published by the School of Education at the George Washington University.