Envisioning a Future Where TAs are Trained to Teach!
I have been P.I. on several NSF sponsored geoscience projects, first in tectonics and geoinformatics, and more recently in geo-education collaborations (CCLI, TUES-2, TUES-3, GEO, and IUSE-GEO-EXTRA(Co-PI)). My colleagues and I have strived to develop digital resources to help students learn via engaging visualizations and interactive mobile device applications. However, no progress can be made if students fail prerequisite STEM courses in large numbers.
I teach in a large public research university on the east coast. Our administrationﾒs institutional research data shows that a sizable number of students enter freshman year intending to pursue STEM careers, judging by their course choices. By sophomore year, most have switched to non-STEM majors. The main stumbling blocks students face are math pre-requisites, but several STEM courses have high failure rates.
In many large-enrollment (>100 student) classes, there are dramatic differences in failures rates amongst different sections of the same course. Failure rates also vary wildly from year to year. The dfwi rate in Math 307 (ordinary differential equations) went from 47% in Fall 2012 to 53% in Fall 2013 to 61% in Fall 2014. In Spring semester, on the other hand, the same course had dfwi rates of 50%, 42%, and 45%, respectively. In CS250 (C++ Programming), 76% of students failed or failed to complete in Fall 2012, 40% in Fall 2013, and 35% in Fall 2014, whereas in Spring the rates were 30%, 40%, and 46%, respectively.
It is highly unlikely that aptitudes or study habits averaged over hundreds of students would vary from year to year or from course section to course section in such a roller-coaster manner. What does change is the identity of the instructor, especially the TAs, who change almost every year.
The university holds a two-day training session called the Graduate Teaching Assistantship Institute immediately before Fall semester. In many STEM departments, TAs arrive in the U.S. from non-English-speaking countries with no concept of teaching beyond ﾓchalk and talk,ﾔ and sometimes even with disdain for the scientific abilities of women and minorities. Graduate students spend two semesters earning their support by teaching and then are transferred to their advisorsﾒ sponsored research projects. Thus there is a constant flow of poorly-prepared GTAs and little incentive for pedagogical professional development.
Math pre-requisite courses face a particular challenge when it comes to engaging students and motivating them to learn. Learning math skills in advance of the studentsﾒ chosen science or engineering topic is like studying a dictionary as a prerequisite to reading a novel.
The solution is for NSF to fund the training of TAs, not just RAs.
Keep up with rapid rate of change of Google Earth and related digital mapping technologies
 De Paor. D.G., 2015. Virtual Rocks. GSA Today, (in review).
 Dordevic, M.M., De Paor, D.G., Whitmeyer, S.J., Bentley, C., Whittecar, G.R., and Constants, C., 2015. Puzzles Invite You to Explore Earth with Interactive Imagery. EosﾗTransactions American Geophysical Union, Vol. 96, No. 14, p. 12ﾖ16. doi: 10.1029/2015EO032621.
 Whitmeyer, S.J. and De Paor, D.G., 2014. Crowdsourcing Digital Maps Using Citizen Geologists. EosﾗTransactions American Geophysical Union, Vol. 95, No. 44, p. 397ﾖ399. doi:10.1002/2014EO440001.
4 others in review. Others by Co-PIs without me as co-author