Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence Toward the Best in the Academy (2010-2011) 22(1)

Editor: Elizabeth O’Connor Chandler, University of Chicago


Copyright 2011, Bill Rando. Used by permission


Conflicting goals define university life. Luckily, conflicting goals sometimes inspire creative innovation. The Associates in Teaching Program is one such example.

At research universities, administrators must balance the needs of graduate students and those of undergraduate students – graduate students need practice teaching to prepare them for faculty life; undergraduates (and their parents) would prefer instruction by more experienced faculty members. Nearly all universities meet the needs of graduate students through teaching assistant positions in labs and sections. Some go further by allowing graduate students to teach independent courses, which benefits most graduate students, but frustrates others who feel that excessive teaching primarily serves the institution. This practice can also annoy undergraduates, and invite scorn among the general public. Other universities, such as mine, have chosen to limit independent teaching by graduate students due to a long-held commitment to using faculty rather than graduate students in undergraduate classes. While laudable in its intentions, this approach, some would argue, limits graduate students’ preparation for faculty life and hinders their chances on the academic job market.

In an attempt to find a solution to this dilemma, we have piloted program called The Associates in Teaching (AT) Program that creates a new, transformative role for graduate students –that of co-instructor. Through the AT program, graduate students co-design and co-teach undergraduate classes with a faculty partner. The program, now in its third year, is growing in popularity, and our assessments indicate that AT courses are creating an exceptional teaching experience for graduate students and their faculty partners, and a unique learning opportunity for undergraduates. In addition, the program seems to be encouraging the development of courses that enrich our curriculum. This essay reflects on some of what we’ve learned by assessing this program.