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Uncovering Barriers to Teaching Assistants (TAs) Implementing Inquiry Teaching: Inconsistent Facilitation Techniques, Student Resistance, and Reluctance to Share Control over Learning with Students

    Authors: Cara Gormally1,*, Carol Subiño Sullivan2, Nadia Szeinbaum3
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    Affiliations: 1: Gallaudet University, Department of Science, Technology, and Mathematics, Washington, DC 20002-3695; 2: Georgia Institute of Technology, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, Atlanta, GA 30332; 3: Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology, Atlanta, GA 30332
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 04 May 2016
    • ©2016 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    • [open-access] This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode), which grants the public the nonexclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the published work.

    • Supplemental materials available at http://asmscience.org/jmbe
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave, Washington, DC 20002. Phone: 202-651-5219. E-mail: [email protected].
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2016 vol. 17 no. 2 215-224. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1038
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    Abstract:

    Inquiry-based teaching approaches are increasingly being adopted in biology laboratories. Yet teaching assistants (TAs), often novice teachers, teach the majority of laboratory courses in US research universities. This study analyzed the perspectives of TAs and their students and used classroom observations to uncover challenges faced by TAs during their first year of inquiry-based teaching. Our study revealed three insights about barriers to effective inquiry teaching practices: 1) TAs lack sufficient facilitation skills; 2) TAs struggle to share control over learning with students as they reconcile long-standing teaching beliefs with newly learned approaches, consequently undermining their fledgling ability to use inquiry approaches; and 3) student evaluations reinforce teacher-centered behaviors as TAs receive positive feedback conflicting with inquiry approaches. We make recommendations, including changing instructional feedback to focus on learner-centered teaching practices. We urge TA mentors to engage TAs in discussions to uncover teaching beliefs underlying teaching choices and support TAs through targeted feedback and practice.

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References & Citations

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2016-05-04
2019-10-21

Abstract:

Inquiry-based teaching approaches are increasingly being adopted in biology laboratories. Yet teaching assistants (TAs), often novice teachers, teach the majority of laboratory courses in US research universities. This study analyzed the perspectives of TAs and their students and used classroom observations to uncover challenges faced by TAs during their first year of inquiry-based teaching. Our study revealed three insights about barriers to effective inquiry teaching practices: 1) TAs lack sufficient facilitation skills; 2) TAs struggle to share control over learning with students as they reconcile long-standing teaching beliefs with newly learned approaches, consequently undermining their fledgling ability to use inquiry approaches; and 3) student evaluations reinforce teacher-centered behaviors as TAs receive positive feedback conflicting with inquiry approaches. We make recommendations, including changing instructional feedback to focus on learner-centered teaching practices. We urge TA mentors to engage TAs in discussions to uncover teaching beliefs underlying teaching choices and support TAs through targeted feedback and practice.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1

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FIGURE 1

Comparison of pre and post scores from the Knowledge Survey (KS): inquiry-related items only. Teaching assistants (TAs) indicated their confidence for each item on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 indicating the most confidence. The scores shown represent averages for the 20 inquiry-related items. The pre and post Knowledge Survey questions were identical. TAs completed the pre-test prior to beginning the TA Prep course and the post-test on the final day of the course ( Appendix B , Knowledge Survey questions and instructions).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2016 vol. 17 no. 2 215-224. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1038
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Learning Portfolio Artifact Analysis. We calculated the representation of assignment artifacts that teaching assistants (TAs) chose to include in their learning portfolios as compared with the actual representation of the items in the class. For example, while Active Learning was approximately 14% of the actual assignments offered during the class, TAs selected Active Learning assignments for 19% of the items in the learning portfolios. TAs chose to include more items about Inquiry, Active Learning, and Grading, indicating that TAs valued these content units. Alternatively, TAs rarely chose to include artifacts related to Policies/Professionalism.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2016 vol. 17 no. 2 215-224. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1038
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Image of FIGURE 3

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FIGURE 3

Average pre- and post-semester scores from the Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI) ( 27 ). The ATI measures items on two key dimensions of teaching on a five-point Likert scale (5 being the most): Information Transmission/Teacher-focused (-axis) and Conceptual Change/Student-focused (-axis). Each teaching assistant’s average score is shown as well as the group average. Higher numbers indicate a stronger orientation towards a respective set of beliefs. Teaching assistants (TAs) made slight shifts, becoming slightly more learner-centered and teacher-centered in their beliefs.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2016 vol. 17 no. 2 215-224. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1038
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

Overall EQUIP scores from classroom observations made in fall 2012 and spring 2013. No score was available for Hai in fall 2012 due to poor video quality.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2016 vol. 17 no. 2 215-224. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1038
Download as Powerpoint

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