The Biology Teaching Assistant Project: Theory of Change for a Network

Thursday 4:00pm - 4:30pm Woodlawn I
Oral Presentation

Elisabeth Schussler, The University of Tennessee
Grant Gardner, Middle Tennessee State University
Gili Marbach-Ad, University of Maryland-College Park
Kristen Miller, University of Georgia
Judith Ridgway, Ohio State University-Main Campus
The Biology Teaching Assistant Project (BioTAP) is an NSF-funded research coordination network with a goal to support evidence-based institutional change in biology graduate teaching assistant (GTA) teaching professional development (TPD) by increasing research on GTA TPD programs. GTAs are critical instructors in the movement to reform undergraduate biology education. They teach a large number of gateway biology courses, including laboratories, that are critical for the success of undergraduates. Despite this important role, GTA TPD offerings continue to be limited or nonexistent at many institutions. For widespread, multi-institutional improvement of biology student learning, research must be conducted to identify effective GTA TPD models and communicate how those models impact GTA instructional effectiveness in multiple institutional contexts. The planning and development of BioTAP were rooted in a core assumption that networks can be effective institutional change mechanisms. Our theory of change assumes that institutional transformations will occur via a strong focus on our network outcomes by the PIs and Steering Committee, a BioTAP Scholars program to increase the capacity for research among network members, and multiple mechanisms to advertise and disseminate network activities and results. These assumptions are similar to the eight essential features of a network proposed by Rincón-Gallardo and Fullan (2015). For example, stakeholders critical to the network outcomes were identified early in the project, and the PIs and Steering Committee meet regularly to build trust and accountability. The creation of the BioTAP Scholars Program started cycles of collaboration that sustain and support the network outcomes. Finally, the BioTAP listserv (170 members), website (, and recent online virtual conference (attended by over 100 people) make connections outside the network to form new partnerships. By enacting our theory of change and disseminating the outcomes of BioTAP, we hope to sustain the network as an effective national change agent.