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Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO)

What is TAO?

“I appreciated the balance of concrete advice and review of institutional policy, topics, resources, rules and regulations, teaching techniques, role responsibilities, common problems and situations that TAs face. The engaging activities and the Expert TA panel were especially helpful. It was well prepared and presented. It felt like good use of my time.”

– 2014 TAO Participant

Many graduate students are awarded teaching assistantships, and while teaching assistant (TA) duties vary across departments, they all demand considerable skill and knowledge.  These duties can include grading, consulting with students during office hours, leading discussion or problem sessions, teaching labs, or giving lectures.

To assist new TAs as they prepare for their duties, the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching offers its Teaching Assistant Orientation (TAO) each August.

  • Sessions at the orientation offer effective strategies for the varied teaching duties assumed by TAs and provide information on campus resources available to TAs.
  • Participants at TAO also receive an opportunity to practice their teaching skills and receive feedback on their teaching from experienced teachers.
  • Participation in the orientation can make students’ work as TAs easier and will be a valuable addition to their curriculum vitae, especially if they intend to pursue an academic career.

Goal-driven course design refined by data on students’ learning is a cornerstone of CFT philosophy and practice. Ethan Joll, a graduate student in Biomedical Engineering, offers a compelling description of his own data- and goal-driven course design for a section of TA Orientation called “Building an effective teaching assistant orientation using a data-informed backward design approach.” It’s a fantastic case study that highlights the value of gathering information from your students to help shape learning experiences and the benefits of gathering post-instruction to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.

 TAO will be held remotely and will include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities spread across three days. New TAs will work in a small disciplinary cohort led by a Teaching Affiliate to learn about the skills and knowledge needed to be an effective TA in face-to-face and online learning settings. Participants should plan to dedicate approximately 3 hours each day to complete all synchronous and asynchronous activities via Brightspace, Vanderbilt’s learning management system.


Who Should Attend TAO?

  • Graduate students who will begin teaching assistant (TA) duties during the 2023-24 school year are invited to attend TAO.
  • You may be required to attend TAO by your department.  Please check with your department to find out its TAO attendance policy.
  • If you do not know if you will begin your TA duties during the 2023-24 school year, then you should check with your department to find out.
  • If you will not be a TA during the 2023-24 school year, then you should defer your attendance of TAO until the beginning of the academic year in which you actually begin your TA duties.

When is TAO?

TAO is being held remotely via Brightspace and Zoom, August 14-16, 2023. Synchronous sessions will be from 9:00-11:00am on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Students will be expected to work asynchronously in the afternoons of those days between 12:30-2:00pm.

How do I Register?

Open this link to register

For any questions about accessing the registration drop-in session, or if you experience problems, please contact the CFT at or 615-322-7290.

How do I Access the TAO Brightspace Course?

After you register, your TAO facilitator will enroll you into your TAO Brightspace course. You will receive an email from your TAO facilitator with a link to the Brightspace course.

For those who are registering via the TAO Registration drop-in session, you will be added to your Brightspace course and given instructions on how to access your first synchronous session.

Where Can I Find Out More?

For more information, contact the CFT at 615-322-7290.