Putting Research into Practice: Pedagogy Development Workshops Change the Teaching Philosophy of Graduate Students

By White, Peter J. T.; Syncox, David et al. | The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Putting Research into Practice: Pedagogy Development Workshops Change the Teaching Philosophy of Graduate Students


White, Peter J. T., Syncox, David, Heppleston, Audrey, Isaac, Siara, Alters, Brian, The Canadian Journal of Higher Education


ABSTRACT

Teaching competence is an important skill for graduate students to acquire and is often considered a precursor to an academic career. In this study, we evaluated the effects of a multi-day teaching workshop on graduate teaching philosophies by surveying 200 graduate students, 79 of whom had taken the workshops and 121 who had not. We found no difference between groups (workshop attendees versus non-attendees) in their beliefs that (a) it is important to focus on in-depth learning of core concepts when teaching and (b) "memorization" is a poor learning strategy for students. On average, however, respondents who had taken the workshop allocated more in-class time for student-to-student discussions (interactive engagement) and placed less emphasis on lecturing. These results suggest that graduate students are generally aware of the importance of conceptual learning, but workshop attendees have clearer ideas on how to teach for effective learning.

RÉSUMÉ

La capacité d'enseigner est une compétence importante pour les étudiants en formation doctorale et est souvent considérée comme un attribut nécessaire à la poursuite d'une carrière académique. Lors de cette étude, nous avons évalué les effets d'un atelier de développement pédagogique de plusieurs jours sur la philosophie d'enseignement des étudiants en thèse en interrogeant 200 sujets - 79 qui avaient assisté aux ateliers et 121 qui n'y avaient pas participé. Nous n'avons trouvé aucune différence entre les groupes (ceux qui ont participé à l'atelier par rapport aux non-participants) dans leur croyance que (a) lors de l'enseignement, il est important de se concentrer sur l'apprentissage en profondeur des concepts principaux et (b) la «mémorisation» est une mauvaise stratégie d'apprentissage pour les étudiants. Cependant, en moyenne, les répondants qui avaient participé à l'atelier ont consacré plus de temps à des discussions entre étudiants (engagement interactif) et ont accordé moins d'importance aux cours magistraux. Ces résultats suggèrent que les étudiants de niveau doctoral sont généralement conscients de l'importance de l'apprentissage conceptuel, mais que ceux qui ont participé aux ateliers ont des idées plus claires pour faciliter un tel apprentissage.

Over the last decade, North American universities and colleges have taken a new direction in graduate education by implementing professional development programs for their graduate students. In 2008, the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS), the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and the Canadian federal government's Tri-Council funding agencies supported this initiative by starting a discussion of priorities, necessary skills, and actions to move the dialogue forward. This group promotes the development of programs for graduate students to ensure they acquire by the end of their degree the skills to perform well in what has become known as the knowledge economy (CAGS, 2008). In a 2010 benchmarking activity (Jenkins, 2010), more than 30 institutions were surveyed to assess the support for developing such skills. It was found that each of the schools surveyed had initiatives that ran parallel to the academic program and aimed at improving the graduate student skills identified by CAGS. Many of the institutions offered activities to help graduate students build the teaching skills enumerated as the characteristics of a Highly Qualified Person (CAGS, 2008).

Teaching competence is increasingly recognized in academics as a complement to research skills (Brew, 2003; Prince, Felder, & Brent, 2007). The definition of teaching competence can vary from one discipline to another, but it broadly involves the facilitation of collaborative and cooperative learning among students (McKeachie, 2007). For newly graduated PhDs, an expectation of teaching competence generally emanates from teaching experiences completed during their degree. Graduate students become involved as teaching assistants, assistant/guest lecturers, lab instructors, teaching fellows, and even full course instructors. …

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