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TAPcast S1E8: Neeta Yousaf and Amy Gage on Being a TA in General Biology

In this episode of TAPcast, we sit down with Neeta Yousaf and Amy Gage, PhD students in Food Science and Ecology, respectively. Continuing the conversation about General Biology at Rutgers from the last episode, Neeta and Amy share their experiences being TAs for the course. Additionally, Neeta shares some insights from her experience as the current head TA. We discuss the role of TAs in the course, including weekly training, expectations of the students during their class meetings, and expectations of the TA before, during, and after class. At the end, Neeta and Amy share some advice for new TAs and offer suggestions on balancing teaching and research.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

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TAPcast S1E7: Dan Stern Cardinale and Christy Beal on General Biology Course Transformation

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Dr. Dan Stern Cardinale and Dr. Christy Beals about the recent course transformation of Intro Biology. They tell me about the course structure both pre- and post-transformation, as well as the factors that provided the push for change. I ask them about how active learning is incorporated in the new model and how that is reflected in the course assessments. Finally, they share some insights and advice for other programs looking to revamp their mega-courses.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

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S1E6: Eva Erber and Eilis Kierans

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Eva Erber and Eilis Kierans, PhD students in the German and Italian Departments respectively, about their experiences teaching language classes. After describing some of the activities they use, they tell us about some of the differences and similarities between teaching in their native language or another language. Finally, they both offer some advice for new TAs.

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TAPcast S1E5: Teaching Tips with Darcey Searles

In this episode of TAPcast, Darcey Searles shares some teaching tips for TAs. At the time of the recording, Darcey was a PhD student studying Communication. As of the release of this episode, Darcey has completed her doctoral studies. Throughout the episode, Darcey shares some of her teaching experience such as strategies for starting the semester on the right foot. She shares some of her syllabus policies and the philosophies behind them. Finally, we talk about balancing teaching with research and she shares some of her tips for new TAs.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

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TAPcast S1E4: Matt Charnley and Sandra Medina on Active Learning

In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Matt Charnley and Sandra Medina about their experiences with active learning. We discuss some potential difficulties in using active learning techniques as well as their strategies for overcoming those challenges. They share some of the activities they’ve incorporated into their classes that have gone well. Finally, they share some advice for new TAs who want to try using active learning.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

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Active Learning: What it is, Why we Care, and Resources at Rutgers

Active learning has had growing popularity in recent years, with departments and educators touting its importance and professional societies calling for broader implementation of it. But what is active learning? What evidence exists for its effectiveness? And what resources are available at Rutgers for those who want to incorporate more active learning strategies into their classrooms? This piece will provide some answers to those questions.

What is Active Learning?

There’s little consensus in the education literature on a concrete, self-contained definition of active learning – or of lecturing for that matter, as Hora (2014) points out. It tends to follow the paradigm of “I know it when I see it.” In most instances, however, teaching methods that involve student participation during class time outside of taking notes or listening to the instructor tend to be those considered “active.”

Even without a comprehensive definition of active learning, one can discuss some of the many forms it can take. The active learning spectrum is wide, with options for every type of class. Active learning can be used by the most hesitant educators looking for a small activity to incorporate into their lectures, staunch supporters eager to expand its use, and everyone in between. The American Mathematics Society has an article summarizing many of these options. Though the intended audience is Mathematicians, much of the content of the article is applicable to other fields. For more information and ideas on types of active learning, the challenges to implementation, and resources at Rutgers, check out the teaching tools from the Rutgers Active Learning Community or see Resources below.

Making the Case for Active Learning

Like any new teaching method, active learning needs to be scrutinized for its effect on student learning outcomes. Thankfully, there is a mountain of educational literature studying exactly this. Some examples include Prince’s 2013 literature review and McCarthy and Anderson’s (2000) study of role-playing in History and Political Science. Of particular note is the meta-analysis in Freeman et. al. (2014). In this study, the authors analyzed hundreds of research projects which compare active learning to traditional lecture in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses. The results are dramatic, and they are best illustrated by the oft-quoted line on page 4 of the article:

“If the experiments analyzed here had been conducted as randomized controlled trials of medical interventions, they may have been stopped for benefit—meaning that enrolling patients in the control condition might be discontinued because the treatment being tested was clearly more beneficial. ” (Freeman et. al., 2014 page 4)


Resources for Active Learning

Excited to give active learning a try, but don’t know where to start? Have you used active learning already and want some fresh ideas to incorporate into your teaching? Here’s a few resources at Rutgers that may help.

TAPcast S1E3: Michael Weingart on Math for Non-Majors and Flipped/Hybrid Courses


In this episode of TAPcast, we talk with Associate Teaching Professor Michael Weingart from the Department of Mathematics. We discuss selected math courses  for non-majors and his efforts to create hybrid and flipped models of those courses. Specifically, I ask him about the pros and cons of such approaches and what goes into creating them. Finally, he offers some advice for those interested in creating flipped or hybrid courses.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

TAPcast S1E2: Kristina Howansky on Controversial Topics and Diversity in the Classroom


In this episode of TAPcast, we talk to Kristina Howansky, a current PhD candidate in the School of Graduate Studies at Rutgers University studying Social Psychology. Our conversation focuses on her strategies for and experiences with classroom discussions about controversial topics. I ask her about strategies for setting the right tone early in the course, ways to moderate the discussion with as little bias from personal feelings as possible, and tips for helping students to feel comfortable sharing their personal experiences. We also talk about diversity in the classroom and how that can affect these difficult conversations, as well as what these conversations look like in a hybrid course. Finally, Kristina tells us about getting students engaged and motivated though growth mindsets and comedy, such as her “potato project.” 

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TAPcast S1E1: Senior Associate Dean Barbara E. Bender and the TA Project


In this inaugural episode of TAPcast, we hear from Senior Associate Dean Barbara E. Bender, the Director of the TA Project. We talk about what the TA Project is and how it got started. We discuss how it has evolved and what it looks like today. Finally, we spend some time talking about the motivation behind training new graduate student TAs.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode