Perceptions of Graduate Student Teachers at a Midwestern University

By Nadler, Joel T.; Swanson, Jane L. | North American Journal of Psychology, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Perceptions of Graduate Student Teachers at a Midwestern University


Nadler, Joel T., Swanson, Jane L., North American Journal of Psychology


Graduate education programs are increasing the number of teaching experiences available to graduate students (Buskist, Beins, & Hevern, 2004). As a result, undergraduate students are encountering graduate students as teaching assistants and instructors of record with greater frequency compared to years past. Wimer, Prieto, and Meyers (2004) reported 70% of social science graduate students have had experiences as teaching assistants, yet approximately 30% of those teaching assistants report having no formal training. Myers and Prieto (2000) found that more than 50% of psychology departments have graduate students teaching as instructors of record. Although some departments provide instruction and support for graduate student teachers, many graduate students report not being aware of or not using these programs. Myers and Prieto (2000) found significant differences between department chairs and graduate students in terms of perceptions of training opportunities. The department chairs reported significantly higher rates of teaching support for graduate students compared to the perceptions of graduate students.

Careers in academia are the most common career choice for graduate students obtaining a PhD in the social sciences (Buskist et al., 2004; Buskist, 2013). Within academic positions, teaching and scholarship are routinely listed as the core responsibilities, and teaching experience and skill have gained in importance as to hiring criteria (Bailey, 2004; Buskist et al., 2004; Clark, 1997). Wimer (2006) detailed the importance of providing structured training and teaching experiences to graduate students to ensure they had the needed skills for early career success. Boice (1992) found that many early career academicians experienced potential career delays because of insufficient teaching experience, which led to teaching and class preparation dominating the first few years in a faculty position. Myers, Reid, and Quina (1998) supported Boice's findings in a survey of graduate students who reported feeling unprepared for the teaching expectations of an academic position. In a qualitative review of graduate student training, Renn and Jessup-Anger (2008) identified the importance of early development of a professional identity as an academic. Additionally, the graduate students cited the importance of graduate training leading to an easy transition from graduate education to early career. Given the importance of teaching, specifically in academic careers, graduate students are well served by seeking out opportunities to teach during their graduate training.

With the increasing focus on providing teaching opportunities and training to graduate students, the need to examine the influence of such changes has also increased. An increase in the number of graduate student instructors teaching courses may have effects on the graduate students, undergraduate students, faculty, administrators, and external perceptions of the unit or institution (Nadler & Cundiff, 2009; Park, 2004). The present study evaluated the effect of an increase in graduate student teaching in the curriculum at a large state university by assessing perceptions of the previously mentioned interest groups.

The researchers conducted a program evaluation using Carol Weiss' (1979) theoretical evaluation perspective of providing enlightenment to all relevant stakeholders with attention paid to the contextual complexity of a potential department-wide policy change. The study intended to accomplish three objectives. The first objective was to examine the assumptions made by various stakeholders (groups affected by the program). The second objective was to further assess the validity of each groups' perceptions. The final objective was to examine how the results of this evaluation were utilized by the department and how the findings could generalize to other departments facing similar demands.

This study consisted of three sections mirroring the three main objectives. …

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