Background and Rationale
The proposition that teaching a subject is a pathway to a better understanding of it for oneself is not a controversial idea. Many institutions of higher education, including several colleges at Penn State, offer opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in teaching-related activities. For example, undergraduates at University Park have served as “teaching assistants” or “teaching interns” for courses in sociology, engineering, and human development & family studies, among others, with duties that include answering student questions about course material (up to and including peer tutoring), assisting in administering in-class activities, and running pre-exam review sessions. In addition to becoming more engaged with discipline-specific intellectual material, undergraduate assistants also learn to handle responsibility, gain time-management, leadership, and communication skills, and receive an introduction to the practical arts of teaching. Opportunities for this kind of student engagement occur in the laboratory and the field as well as in the classroom, and faculty are regularly encouraged to incorporate opportunities for undergraduate participation in their teaching and research. At Penn State Altoona, many faculty are eager to extend such opportunities to their undergraduate students.
However, despite these benefits, undergraduates are not put into these roles of responsibility without some risk. Undergraduate assistants may face competing pressures from or feel conflicting loyalties to peers and faculty supervisors, who may expect more from them than is justified by their age, experiences, or job description. Undergraduate assistants in the classroom may come into conflict with other students, particularly those who have concerns or complaints, and they may have access to information about student performance, which invokes Federal privacy concerns.
Therefore, the introduction of undergraduate assistants at Penn State Altoona requires careful institutional consideration and monitoring to ensure that the best interests of students, faculty, and the College are upheld. To that end, the committee recommends the following framework for proposals to approve the introduction of Undergraduate Assistant positions on a case-by-case basis.
Proposal Review Process
The Academic Affairs committee recommends the following procedure to submit proposals for the introduction of Undergraduate Assistants (UAs) at the Altoona College.
- Undergraduate assistantships should be developed and first approved at the level of programs or departments rather than by individual instructors or for individual courses. In order to make this opportunity available for a wide variety of students, all disciplines are invited to develop and submit proposals for the introduction of Undergraduate Assistant positions.
- The Division is the first level of review for undergraduate assistantship program proposals. The Division Head will assess the faculty proposal in light of the following criteria:
- Does the position enhance the academic experience of both the prospective UAs and the students working with, being supervised by, or receiving instruction from the UAs?
- Does the position entrust the UA with a suitable level of responsibility without going beyond what it is appropriate to expect of undergraduate capabilities?
- Does the proposal provide for adequate training for the UAs? In particular, does it address FERPA training?
- Does the proposal detail reasonable minimum qualifications for the UAs?
- Does the proposal include an appropriate compensation model, including limits on the number of credits that UA can earn each semester and towards graduation?
- Does the proposal include a UA grievance procedure that is consistent with the College’s grade mediation and adjudication procedure?
- Does the proposal include a mechanism for reporting UA outcomes and potential problems to the Division Head?
- Is the proposal consistent with other division, college, and university policies?
- The Faculty Senate will review the faculty proposal with the Division Head’s statement of support, and make its recommendation to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Within the Senate, the Chair may entrust the proposal to either the Academic Affairs or the Curricular Affairs Committee or both to review and make recommendations. The full Senate will vote to recommend for or against approval of the proposal. The Senate-level review should consider broader questions about the implementation of the UA position.
- Does the proposal demonstrate an awareness of faculty members’ responsibilities as mentors and supervisors of UAs?
- Is a plan in place or in progress to provide UAs with training in terms of their duties and responsibilities as well as appropriate procedures for dealing with problematic classroom behavior, confidentiality of student information, and other potential areas of professional concern related to the UA’s expected duties?
- Are there appropriate minimum qualifications detailed for the UAs and an appropriate compensation model that includes limitations on the number of credits that UAs can earn each semester and towards graduation? Does the proposal include a student grievance procedure that is consistent with the College’s grade mediation and adjudication procedure?
- Is a plan in place or in progress to monitor and report student outcomes and potential problems or issues with the administration of the UA position?
- Is the proposal consistent with other college and university policies?
- The Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs will approve or deny the request.
- Once a proposal has been approved, the policy will remain in effect for the program or department whose faculty authored the proposal until it is canceled by the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs or modified by the faculty in the program or department. Programs or departments will modify their UA policies by submitting a new proposal and having it approved through the above process.
Once approved, the Division Heads and/or Department Chairs are responsible for the assignment and supervision of undergraduate assistants. These positions should be granted on a semester-by-semester basis and a report should be submitted to the corresponding academic unit outlining the activities in which the undergraduate assistants were engaged. The frequency and format of such reports are to be determined by each discipline.
Definition and Title. Proposals must provide a concise definition and purpose of the position with a clear description of the expected learning objectives of the undergraduate assistants. Position titles like course assistant, learning assistant, laboratory assistant, teaching intern, or undergraduate research assistant, as appropriate, are encouraged. If the title “teaching assistant” is proposed, it must be clearly stipulated to be an undergraduate teaching assistant (UTA) to avoid conflating them with graduate-level teaching assistants, whose responsibilities and duties are of greater scope and weight.
Requirements. Proposals must provide a comprehensive list of the qualifications needed by the prospective undergraduate assistants. This list may include academic standing (number of credits completed), minimum GPA, course prerequisites, concurrent course enrollment, safety training, letters of recommendation, and any other discipline-specific requirements. Undergraduate assistants should be required to undergo training regarding FERPA.
Duties and Limitations. Proposals must contain a complete and carefully articulated list of duties to be performed by the prospective UAs. Tasks should be of academic nature, aimed primarily at enriching and enhancing the learning experience of all students involved. The UA position should not be used to substitute faculty instruction. Any form of grading by the UAs should be kept to a minimum. In such cases, proposals should contain clear rules to resolve confidentiality issues and should describe the impact of such duties. In order to minimize misuses of the position, as a best practice, proposals should include a list of specific tasks that are inappropriate for the UAs. Under no circumstances should students be allowed to act as UAs for courses in which they are enrolled.
Supervision. Undergraduate assistants are to perform their duties under strict supervision of a faculty member, in particular and foremost, when working directly with other students.
Compensation. Proposals must clearly specify the options for compensation. Forms of compensation may include credits, stipends, or a combination of both. An agreement detailing all expectations from the students, including credit hours and/or stipends, should be signed for every semester. When deciding about the options for compensation, it is important to emphasize the academic nature of the position. There should be a clear distinction between work-study and undergraduate assistant positions. Proposals must detail limitations on the number of credit hours that students may earn each semester and towards graduation.
Dispute Resolution. Proposals must contain a UA dispute resolution procedure that is consistent with the College’s grade mediation and adjudication procedure.
Committee Members of Academic Affairs 2013-14
Matt Evans (Vice Chair) David Hurtubise (Chair) Mohammed Kurdi Paula Kustenbauder Christine McCombie Xuebing Yang
Committee Members of Academic Affairs 2012-13
Mihai Comanescu (Vice Chair), Matt Evans, Juan Gil (Chair), Mark Johnson, Jill Kargo, William White, Frank Zaffino