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Study on teaching highlighted by Science

Recent work by grad student Denise Kendall and assistant professor Beth Schussler was selected as an Editors’ Choice by Science

Article abstract: Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are used extensively as instructors in higher education, yet their status and authority as teachers may be unclear to undergraduates, to administrators, and even to the GTAs themselves. This study explored undergraduate perception of classroom instruction by GTAs and professors to identify factors unique to each type of instructor versus the type of classes they teach. Data collection was via an online survey composed of subscales from two validated instruments, as well as one open-ended question asking students to compare the same class taught by a professor versus a GTA. Quantitative and qualitative results indicated that some student instructional perceptions are specific to instructor type, and not class type. For example, regardless of type of class, professors are perceived as being confident, in control, organized, experienced, knowledgeable, distant, formal, strict, hard, boring, and respected. Conversely, GTAs are perceived as uncertain, hesitant, nervous, relaxed, laid-back, engaging, interactive, relatable, understanding, and able to personalize teaching. Overall, undergraduates seem to perceive professors as having more knowledge and authority over the curriculum, but enjoy the instructional style of GTAs. The results of this study will be used to make recommendations for GTA professional development programs.