Leveraging teaching assistant potential and scaling-up high-intensity experiential learning

Awardees: Erin Baumann, Carolyn Wood, and Allison Pingree (HKS)

Summary: Awardees will conduct and analyze the data of faculty interviews to surface best practices in teaching team management, with particular attention to the role of teaching assistants in the development of high-intensity experiential learning environments.

Erin Baumann, Carolyn Wood, and Allison Pingree, all members of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Strengthening Learning and Teaching Excellence (SLATE) team, observed that some faculty cultivate particularly effective experiential learning environments. After an initial analysis of course evaluations and observations, they found that the teaching assistant was a common factor in the success of these instructors’ courses – their involvement in the development of the course, evidence of robust training materials and cooperative feedback structures, and the perception on the part of students that the teaching assistant was an integral part of the teaching team.

Baumann and team applied for HILT funding in order to advance the investigation and explore the question: how can faculty leverage the potential of teaching assistants to increase capacity for developing high-intensity experiential learning environments? They identified additional faculty from across the University who successfully cultivate experiential learning environments and conducted an analysis of interview data and their course and training guides toward documentation of best practices for the Harvard community.

Awardees have constructed an easily digestible and interactive website resource for faculty who want to leverage the power of teaching assistants to support experiential learning and to learn from the work of faculty who have a record of creating high-impact experiential learning environments with the help of teaching assistants who have been carefully selected, trained, and managed. The resource includes small and actionable practices and principles based on their findings, as well as synthesis of an extensive literature review and references to further resources and materials.