TAs assist students in recitation.

Researchers Look to Transform TA Training with Google Community Grant

Google is helping to advance training for teaching assistants (TAs) who are essential to delivering undergraduate computing courses at Georgia Tech and Georgia State University (GSU).

The corporation has provided the universities with a Google Community Grant of more than $394,000 over three years.

Researchers will use the funding to develop, test, and implement scalable training programs that reflect responsible and inclusive teaching practices for TAs supporting computer science (CS) courses.

"Google is proud to support Georgia Institute of Technology's efforts to broaden participation in computing," said Anona Shugart Walker, Google's tech education outreach lead for Atlanta. "We're excited to sponsor this collaborative effort to help equip university computer science teaching assistants with the skills and knowledge they need to create inclusive learning environments for all learners."

Researchers led by principal investigators Georgia Tech CS Regents' Professor Ellen Zegura and GSU Assistant Professor Ben Shapiro will use the programs they develop through the Google grant to create sharable resources for each university and beyond.

"This work underscores the growing importance and impact of TAs in CS and illustrates new ways that schools of education and computer science can collaborate to broaden participation in computer science," Shapiro said.

Students listen intently during a computer science class at Georgia Tech in a large modern auditorium-style classroom
The School of Computing Instruction employs about 500 teaching assistants each semester to keep pace with growing enrollment. 

Zegura and Shapiro have a history of working together on undergraduate ethics education and TA support. CS Professor Anu Bourgeois and lecturer William Johnson from GSU and Georgia Tech School of Computing Instruction (SCI) lecturer Rodrigo Borela Valente are also part of the core research team.

"We have research faculty and instructor faculty because we think this is the best way to get some of these ideas and pilot-type efforts into practice and our TA training," Zegura said. "The instructors are on the front lines of training TAs and using them in undergrad classes."

TAs play an essential role in delivering course content, running study sessions, tutoring, and setting course culture. And this role is growing. Georgia Tech's SCI employs about 500 TAs each semester to keep pace with the growing enrollment.

Borela Valente knows first-hand that TAs are vital to successfully managing a large class and creating a sense of community among the students. He works with several TAs supporting his undergraduate courses. He says that with so many students, it's unfeasible for the instructor to grade assignments and offer help to all students in an effective way.

"TAs play such an important role: they create a liaison between the instructor and the students, giving you more insight into what they need," Borela Valente said. "They also tutor students, helping target their challenges."

In addition to improved training for TAs supporting computing courses, the research team aims to strengthen collaboration between Georgia Tech and GSU more broadly to expand access to computing education.

"We're finding ways to work together to enrich our projects, research, and teaching by taking advantage of our geographic closeness but otherwise our institutional difference," Zegura said.

"The kinds of things we want to do we hope will contribute to broadening participation by making more people feel that they belong in the field."

With support from corporations like Google, philanthropic organizations, alumni, parents, and friends, Georgia Tech is securing the resources to help achieve the most ambitious goals in the Institute's history as part of Transforming Tomorrow: The Campaign for Georgia Tech.

Donor to Match Contributions for TA Scholarship Fund

An anonymous donor has committed to match new contributions in support of the School of Computing Instruction’s (SCI) Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Scholarship Endowment.

The donor will match every contribution dollar-for-dollar, up to $25,000, now through the end of the year. This is expected to result in a $50,000+ impact for the scholarship, which was established by SCI Associate Chair Mary Hudachek-Buswell in 2022.