TA Teaching Effectiveness: The Impact of Training and Teaching Experience

By Shannon, David M.; Twale, Darla J. et al. | Journal of Higher Education, July-August 1998 | Go to article overview

TA Teaching Effectiveness: The Impact of Training and Teaching Experience


Shannon, David M., Twale, Darla J., Moore, Mathew S., Journal of Higher Education


As full-time faculty positions become less stable, graduate teaching assistants (TAs) will continue to increase their responsibilities in the instruction of undergraduate students. These increased responsibilities are most evident at large research universities, where full-time faculty have been drawn away from undergraduate instruction in order to teach graduate courses and fulfill increasing research demands (Boyer, 1991a, 1991b; Diamond & Gray, 1987; Stokely, 1987; C. J. Sykes, 1988). As a result, a great deal of responsibility for undergraduate instruction has been handed over to graduate teaching assistants. Generally, research assistantships offer better funding and more opportunities to work closely with faculty mentors. Therefore, the prestige of teaching assistantships becomes jeopardized as the best graduate students seek research assistantships so that they will gain the research skills and experiences necessary to become successful college faculty members. Sullivan (1991) describes this as "skimming the cream" off the top of each group of graduate students and diverting their talents away from teaching.

Faculty and administrators at research universities are the gatekeepers for successive generations of TAs, providing them with their primary training for college faculty positions. However, since socialization into the university research function has become the major focus of graduate assistantships in what C. J. Sykes (1988) refers to as "the historic escape from teaching (THEFT)," teaching becomes a secondary faculty pursuit. Faculty have little time to devote to mentoring their teaching assistants. Furthermore, little extra time exists in a TA's schedule to become socialized thoroughly and effectively in the teaching function (Davis & Minnis, 1993). Therefore, graduates entering careers in higher education typically lack the training and experience necessary to perform their instructional duties (Boyer, 1991b).

In many instances, department chairs assign TAs with no training or teaching experience to teach undergraduate classes. In Bomotti's (1994) study nearly half of the TAs had attended no teacher preparation courses nor workshops. However, nearly three-fourths (73%) of these TAs expected to pursue a teaching career. In a national study of 240 graduate deans, Buerkel-Rothfuss and Gray (1991) revealed that very few institutions (26%) offered some form of university-wide TA training, while approximately 56% offered some type of training at the departmental level. In a more recent national study of 65 research universities, Butler, Laumer, and Moore (1993) found that nearly 70% of the TAs were provided with some type of formal training either at the university or department level.

In a national study of TAs, 53% indicated having received some form of training, but over 75% indicated that their training amounted to less than one week (Gray & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1991). The majority of such training efforts are limited to one day or less usually at the beginning of the term or semester (Buerkel-Rothfuss & Gray, 1991; Ronkowski, 1989). Lack of training or ineffective training is often the case due to an incongruence among the following factors: When training should occur, who should conduct it, how long it should be, what it should include, whether native and international TAs should receive identical training, and how training should be evaluated (Weimer, Sviniki, & Bauer, 1989).

When formal TA training is offered, it is typically provided at the university or departmental levels. At the university level it typically deals more with university policy and procedures rather than effective instructional delivery techniques (Gray & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1991). State mandates and university policies often force hurried and ineffective training. University training is usually limited to a one-day workshop, delivered primarily through workshop presentations by university faculty and administrators. …

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