Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Quality Enhancement: Teaching Preparation for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Quality Enhancement: Teaching Preparation for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Article excerpt

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) occupy a unique position in teaching and learning in higher education. Typically, individuals arrive at graduate school already socialized into disciplinary ways of knowing. GTA pedagogical professional development offers opportunities for GTAs to engage with current "best practices" and different pedagogical ways of knowing, and to initiate new and innovative practices. Research has demonstrated that as content knowledge and expertise develop, experienced instructors do not always recognize the ways that their expertise (e.g., how they organize materials or knowledge) can interfere with student learning (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010). GTAs are therefore well positioned to scaffold learning for content novices such as undergraduate students. The teaching preparation and pedagogical development of GTAs is not just a resource to support learning; in fact, the teaching and instructional skills that GTAs acquire can be transferred to professional domains outside academia (Osborne, Carpenter, Burnett, Rolheiser, & Korpan, 2014; Rose, 2012). GTA professional development has never been just training to fulfill a particular niche or to achieve a singular goal such as teaching; however, the current post-secondary climate of accountability and quality enhancement does bring the goals and purposes of GTA professional development into view.

In current practice, quality assurance and quality enhancement are being differentiated in terms of focus. Quality assurance, like summative evaluation or quantitative methodology, has an outcome focus. On the other hand, quality enhancement, like formative evaluation or qualitative methodology, has a process focus (Kinzie, 2013). An argument can be made for suggesting that neither approach is better or worse than the other; instead, it is important to reflect on the alignment between the approach and goals, which includes the processes. An approach that focuses on both outcome and process, the whole of a project, "promotes deeper understanding of the nature of complex change" (Fleming, 2013, p. 22). To promote quality enhancement more fully, perhaps it is time to give significant consideration to how we frame research, in terms of aligning the goal (outcome/ process) with the methodology, rather than focusing on the limitations of each piece of research. Similar to research and teaching, quality enhancement is not like ticking off boxes on a checklist; rather, it is a process of ethical judgments, questions, and meaning (Moss & Petrie, 2006). Readers will see throughout this special issue a variety of methods that help to address "enhancing the quality of graduate student teaching."

Through these papers, readers will learn about the use of reflective practice, feedback, mentorship, and engagement in teaching practice-each of which are qualities recognized as fostering learning. It is evident from the research contained in this volume that the aforementioned components are indicators of the processes that enhance GTA teaching and professional development.

The value of the experience of teaching is highlighted throughout the manuscripts, whether this experience is gleaned in an online environment (Sheffield, McSweeney, & Panych), as part of a role-play activity (Lekhi & Nussbaum), via micro-teaching (Meadows, Olsen, Dimitrov, & Dawson; Troop, Wallar, & Aspenlieder), or through independent course instruction (Starr & DeMartini). The importance and central role of feedback and reflective practice to effective teaching is evident in the works across this special issue, particularly feedback, and reflections that feed back into the teaching and learning processes (Parker, Ashe, Boersma, Hicks, & Bennett).

The Papers

The first paper in this special issue, "Exploring Future Teachers' Awareness, Competence, Confidence, and Attitudes Towards Teaching Online: Incorporating the Blended/ Online Experience into a Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Course for Graduate Students" (Sheffield, McSweeney, & Panych), addresses an area of graduate student development that has previously been unexplored-how to prepare graduate students to teach online. …

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