A Multiple-Case Study Exploring the Experiences of International Teaching Assistants in Engineering
MetadataShow full item record
Many international graduate students serve as teaching assistants at US universities. As teaching assistants, they carry out significant responsibilities such as leading lab sessions, grading student work, holding office hours, and proctoring exams. When these international teaching assistants (ITAs) cross national boundaries to teach at US universities, they may experience significant differences in the educational cultures. Teaching in a new educational culture offers ITAs both challenges and opportunities for growth. To better understand the experiences of this population within engineering, data were collected from seven engineering ITAs using a multiple-case study approach with each ITA representing a case. Data were collected in the form of weekly reflections and in-person interviews at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester, at an R1 university representative of national averages in terms of international graduate student population in the US. The participant pool represented diversity in the form of nationality, gender, prior teaching experience with the same course, and engineering discipline. Data were analyzed using both a priori codes and inductive coding emerging from the data, with particular attention given to experiences specific to engineering. Based on data analysis, codebooks were developed that operationalize ITAs' experiences and navigational strategies in the context of engineering. While illuminating the intersections of ITAs' teaching experiences with their international and GTA identities, the results point to the complexity and variations in participants' experiences based on various social and contextual factors such as gender, cultural background, prior exposure to the English language, prior engagement with the course material, and interaction with the teaching team. The results point to several contributions, and implications for engineering departments and universities, faculty, and ITAs to better engage ITAs in the process of undergraduate engineering education. In terms of contributions, this study uses intersectionality, a critical framework, which accounts for the complexity of engineering ITAs' experiences to provide systematic accounts of their experiences and navigational strategies while illuminating the nuances related to social, cultural, and disciplinary identities. Implications for the engineering departments and universities include creating an educational environment that values the cultural and linguistic diversity brought by ITAs, and collaborating with ITAs to organize training programs that help ITAs strengthen their communication, workload management, and intercultural skills; those for faculty include helping ITAs manage their teaching and research requirements by allowing for flexibility in ITAs' schedules, and treating ITAs as budding colleagues by using ITAs' existing pedagogical knowledge and scaffolding them when needed; those for ITAs include resisting the institutional pressure to "fit" into the US educational norms by using the pedagogical and cultural knowledge they bring from their home countries to better support student learning, and develop students' intercultural skills; and those for undergraduate students include engaging with ITAs to learn the engineering course content and simultaneously develop intercultural competence.
- Doctoral Dissertations