TOGA to benefit grad students
by Kristine Hamlyn
Graduate student Vikrant Adsool, left, and undergraduate
student Mark Tobin. (Photo by Chris Hammond)
These days, if you hear the term TOGA around Memorial, chances are it is not in reference to the popular theme party. Rather, it refers to the new possibilities available to graduate students through a program called Teaching Opportunities for Graduate Assistants (TOGA).
Initiated as a pilot project in winter 2005 by the School of Graduate Studies in co-operation with Distance Education and Learning Technologies’ Instructional Development Office (IDO) and faculties and academic departments at Memorial, TOGA’s purpose is to provide professional development to support grad students in their role as teaching assistants (TA) and to extend the TAs’ knowledge regarding teaching and learning.
Dr. Chet Jablonski, dean, School of Graduate Studies (SGS) said the whole idea of enhancing the academic component of the graduate program through systematic professional development is new to the university, one that provides many benefits and is very necessary.
“The program is aimed at producing four crucial results: graduate career enhancement; academic success; support for faculty and enhanced learning for undergraduates; and a positive correlation with graduate recruitment initiatives.”
The program is completely voluntary and offers three classifications of progressively challenging teaching responsibilities: TOGA 1 - teaching assistant, TOGA 2 - teaching associate and TOGA 3 - teaching apprentice. The level at which a student enters, and the duties assigned to a particular classification may differ across academic units due to differing departmental structures and individual student needs. Those who successfully complete the TOGA 2 or TOGA 3 classifications receive an additional TOGA fellowship as well as a certificate from the School of Graduate Studies. The Graduate Program in Teaching (GPT) is a prerequisite or concurrent requirement for the TOGA 3 classification.
Dr. Maureen Dunne, manager, IDO, described the project partnership between the IDO and SGS as ideal. “Our objective in the IDO is to build an infrastructure that supports teaching and learning across the university”, she said. “The TOGA project complements student success objectives, the university’s strategic plan and the goals of the IDO and SGS. It further provides a teaching support to the departments involved and its graduate students. It’s really a win-win situation for everybody.”
Dr. Elaine Crocker a teaching consultant with the IDO, believes that TOGA is a unique program due to its comprehensiveness in terms of classifications, professional development components and the corresponding remuneration.
On a national scale, Dr. Jablonski said the
initiative places Memorial on the leading edge. “TOGA puts Memorial on the front of the graduate student professional development curve. The TOGA program is a value-added component of graduate programs at Memorial that offers career enhancement and additional financial support opportunities for graduate students and assists faculty to provide an enhanced learning environment for undergraduates. I’m very proud of TOGA and think it will gives us an edge that will help Memorial attract the very best students for their gradate training.”
Dr. Crocker, however, noted the project is still in the pilot phase and has not been without its challenges or criticisms. “Through ongoing work with students and faculty as well as continuous program evaluation, we have made revisions and improvements to TOGA. The result is an even more beneficial program as the pilot goes campus-wide this fall.”
Evaluation has also revealed the great majority of participating students, faculty members and university administration report having had positive experiences with TOGA and support the project implementation.
“The experience I gained from TOGA has not only proven to help me in my teaching opportunities, but also with my own studies,” said Lindsay Babcock, graduate student, Department of Linguistics. “For me, TOGA is an excellent program that aids in developing tutoring skills. I definitely feel more confident as a tutor and I feel this program immensely improved my abilities to help others, which is not limited to academics alone.”
Units that have participated in the pilot project include Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Linguistics, Mathematics and Statistics, Physics and Physical Oceanography, Psychology, Engineering and Applied Science, Music, Human Kinetics and Recreation and the Writing Centre. Graduate students interested in participating in the program should contact their respective departments. To learn more contact Dr. Crocker at email@example.com or 737-6726.