Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Applying the Geoscience Education Research Strength of Evidence Pyramid: Developing a Rubric to Characterize Existing Geoscience Teaching Assistant Training Studies

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Applying the Geoscience Education Research Strength of Evidence Pyramid: Developing a Rubric to Characterize Existing Geoscience Teaching Assistant Training Studies

Article excerpt

LITERARY CONTEXT AND INTRODUCTION

Within this special issue on "Synthesizing Results and Defining Future Directions of Geoscience Education Research," graduate teaching assistant (GTA) training carries special importance for several reasons. First, effective undergraduate instruction at many institutions is directly dependent on the effectiveness of GTAs: at researchintensive universities, GTAs instruct most laboratory classes (Travers, 1989; Luft et al., 2004; Sundber et al., 2005), and in some science disciplines, up to 91% of undergraduate students study in laboratories or courses taught primarily by GTAs (Sundber et al., 2005). As the instructors of record for their laboratory sections, GTAs may make decisions about what should be taught and how and how to assess student performance, often without input or guidance from faculty (Kurdziel and Libarkin, 2003).

Many authors have asserted that departmental GTA training is necessary to contextualize teaching approaches within the discipline-based education research (DBER) specific to that field, as well as to signal that teaching is valued within the departmental culture (Black and Bonwell, 1991; Hammrich, 1996; Hardre, 2003; Buskist, 2013). Without that training, GTAs are likely to teach using the practices they themselves experienced as undergraduates, i.e., "teaching as they were taught" (Halpern and Hakel, 2002; Oleson and Hora, 2013). Most published geology laboratory manuals are not inquiry-oriented (Ryker and McConnell, 2017), further reinforcing the likelihood that GTAs will teach using outdated and ineffective methodologies (Ryker and McConnell, 2014) that do not align with research on effective instruction and calls for reforms in teaching undergraduate courses (AAAS, 1990; NRC, 1996, 2000, 2012).

GTAs often have smaller class sizes (especially in laboratories), may be perceived as more approachable than instructors with doctoral degrees, and are potential nearpeer role models for undergraduates aspiring to take the next step in disciplinary study (Rushin et al., 1997; O'Neal et al., 2007). Therefore, GTAs have more-frequent personal interactions with students, which can influence attitudes toward, and beliefs about, the nature of science and the process of learning. In this way, GTAs have a widespread effect on undergraduate students, many of whom are not science majors, including future K-12 teachers. For future teachers, those attitudes affect the practices they rely on for teaching and learning in science contexts (Hardre and Chen, 2005).

Because of their closer relationships with undergraduates and their role in instruction, GTAs hold significant sway over determining student reactions to new instructional methods. Thus, in a department seeking to respond to the broader national movement encouraging active, evidencebased instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), GTAs can reinforce or subvert attempts to shift instructional norms, depending on their understanding of, and investment in, those shifts (Wood, 2009; Bautista et al., 2014; Linenberger et al., 2014; Ryker and McConnell, 2014). For example, GTAs being asked to implement relatively unfamiliar models, such as inquirybased laboratory classes, benefit from specific training to help them adapt to a nontraditional role in the classroom (Krystyniak and Heikkinen, 2007; Gormally et al., 2009; Sandi-Urena and Gaitlin, 2013).

Ultimately, changes in practice without supporting changes in beliefs are often short lived, inconsistent, or ineffective (e.g., Yerrick et al., 1997; Turpen and Finkelstein, 2009; Andrews et al., 2011; Henderson et al., 2011). Although beliefs about teaching and learning are remarkably resilient to change (Yerrick et al., 1997), effective professional development can affect both teaching beliefs and practices (e.g., Kane et al., 2002; Ebert-May et al., 2015). Therefore, GTA training programs must target both beliefs and practices to maximize their effect. …

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