Date of Award

1-1-2010

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Studies

Sub-Department

Educational Psychology / Research

First Advisor

Kellah M Edens,

Abstract

The science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education community advocates for instruction at all levels of education based on psychological research that emphasizes student-centered teaching methods such as inquiry teaching. However, a majority of practicing teachers have not learned science in this way and existing research indicates that modifying teachers’ beliefs is prerequisite to changing practices. Empirical studies, however, have often not supported a direct belief-practice relationship.

This study explored STEM Graduate Teaching Assistants’ (GTAs) beliefs about teaching and teaching practices as they represent an important and under-researched link in the STEM pipeline. This study also explored how STEM GTAs’ beliefs and knowledge about teaching developed across an academic year and factors that were associated with change. The teaching orientation literature provided a conceptual framework for investigating GTAs’ beliefs and knowledge about teaching.

Interviews were conducted with 68 STEM GTAs at the beginning and end of an academic year. GTAs’ teaching practices were also assessed twice annually using two validated instruments that capture student-centered teaching practices. Thus this study extends research on graduate student development to include empirical assessments of GTAs’ teaching practices.

Findings indicated a non-significant relationship between GTAs’ teaching orientations and teaching practices. Interview data provided information about barriers to implementing student-centered teaching practices which may explain, in part, why the researcher did not observe a stronger belief-practice relationship. The primary barrier that GTAs in this study reported was a lack of control over curriculum or instructional methods. The researcher was generally unable to confirm the hypothesis that there was significant growth in GTAs’ teaching orientations across an academic year.

The researcher hypothesized that four factors would be associated with growth in GTAs’ teaching orientations. Only the relationship between university/departmental training/support for teaching and teaching orientation change was significant and in the hypothesized direction. Training and support typically included weekly meetings lead by a lab coordinator or faculty member and usually provided opportunities for interaction with other GTAs. The value of on-going discussions with other GTAs also emerged from qualitative analyses. The researcher also discusses study limitations and suggestions for future research.

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