ERIC Identifier: ED433193
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Garcia-Barbosa, Tamara J. - Mascazine, John R.
ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education
Guidelines for College Science Teaching Assistants. ERIC
Graduate students are often assigned teaching responsibilities as part of an
assistantship, but most have had very little or no formal teaching experience.
This digest summarizes some of the literature and resources available to support
graduate assistants in their teaching roles. Some major considerations when
teaching college students include: effective instructional strategies,
characteristics of college learners, and finding resources that provide a
background for understanding the teaching and learning process.
ATTENTION TO HOW STUDENTS LEARN
At the college level,
cognitive approaches to learning tend to be favored. These approaches are based
on the assumption that complex cognitive factors promote or hinder one's ability
to learn and act on information. The content is often complex and cognitive
processes are often emphasized in science courses. Therefore cognitive
psychologists suggest that instructors focus on integrating new information into
existing frameworks that learners have already constructed for themselves based
on previous experience and education. When there is little prior exposure or
experience with the subject matter, new frameworks are constructed by learners.
Bruning (1994) and Casazza & Silverman (1996) outline useful applications of
learning theory to college teaching.
Svinicki (1991) described six central ideas of cognitive learning theories
and their implications for instructors. Briefly, they can be summarized as:
1. Instructors should emphasize and be clear about the information to be
learned and why it is important.
2. Learners and instructors should strive to act on new information to make
such information more understand-able. This includes the use of numerous
examples, illustrations, extended assignments, and references to previous
content and experiences.
3. Learners commit information to long term memory according to their current
understanding of major concepts. The instructor should facilitate ways of
organizing knowledge by demonstrating ways they have organized content for
greater understanding. Instructors can also encourage learners to create their
own ways of organizing new information.
4. Learners need to revisit and re-evaluate new knowledge with an emphasis on
refining and revising concepts that should be retained. Instructors can offer
opportunities for learners to self-check and evaluate their understanding of new
concepts and ideas.
5. Transfer of learned material is not automatic but can be facilitated by
continued application of new knowledge and by applying it to new situations and
6. Learning is greatly enhanced when people are aware of specific strategies
that work for them. Learners also benefit by monitoring their use of such
strategies. Instructors should emphasize strategies that help translate new
information into memory.
Svinicki (1994) also advocates the activation of prior knowledge by using
pre-assessment checklists, pretests, and brainstorming to discover learner
misconceptions and level of understanding. Instructors can give examples of
organizing content into outlines, flowcharts, concept maps, and diagrams that
link concepts using descriptive words. Instructors can encourage learners to
describe how they use specific problem solving steps and how they organize new
information into their existing frameworks for themselves.
The role of social communities and
internal motivation is also emphasized by cognitive psychologists. Pintrich
(1994) and Perry, Menec, & Struthers (1996) state that motivation is
influenced by classroom environmental factors, as well as by internal
characteristics of learners. Student beliefs and perceptions do influence their
ability to learn in college situations. The ability to have some input in the
learning environment, an understanding of the expectations and goals of the
course and instructor, the use of suitable and varied instructional strategies,
and the instructor's own behavior all impact learner motivation. Some students
require greater attention and emotional support from instructors (Wlodkowski
& Ginsberg, 1995).
McLoed (1996) describes "deep learning states" or more effective periods of
learning that are often facilitated by a decrease in stress and an increase in
interpersonal exchanges in learning situations. Instructors can strive to create
learning environments that promotes "open reflection" where learner ideas may be
expressed and questions may be asked. Superficial learning does not offer many
such interactions or opportunities for learner - instructor interactions.
Using a variety of instructional
strategies provides opportunities for students to learn new and difficult
information in their preferred learning modalities. By varying instructional
methods, teachers are more apt to increase the engagement and motivation of
students. Typically, the major instructional strategies used in college
classrooms are discussion, lecture, experiential learning, and case studies.
Following is a summary of the advantages of using each strategy:
"Lectures" are used to update information on current research relevant to a
topic, summarize knowledge scattered over a variety of sources, convey factual
information, provide structures to help students read more effectively, or hone
note-taking skills. Research shows that students who take notes remember
material better (McKeachie, 1994).
"Discussion" is used to give students an opportunity to apply principles,
formulate problems, and learn to evaluate the logic and evidence for their own
positions and those of others. Participating in meaningful discussions helps
students think about relationships among concepts by talking, explaining,
summarizing or questioning the relationships (McKeachie, 1994).
"Experiential learning" is used in a variety of science settings, including:
field work, internships, and cooperative learning situations. Experiential
learning episodes have specified transferable outcomes which help students
describe and understand real-life problems. This strategy links learning,
thinking, and doing. Useful related strategies include peer learning, peer
tutoring and student led discussions (McKeachie, 1994).
"Case studies" are used to represent a particular principle or type of
problem. Cases are used in a variety of fields, along with simulations and
games, to involve students in solving actual problems. Case studies involve
acquiring, recalling, and using information, or applying theory learned in class
in order to solve problems (McKeachie, 1994).
Instructional media comprises the tools
a teacher has available to enhance his or her presentation. The use of media is
determined by an instructor's objectives. Researchers have found that the use of
media can motivate students to learn. Some guidelines and uses of media follow.
"Video" is an excellent tool to demonstrate or illustrate a point or
procedure that can not easily be replicated in the classroom. When using video,
study the program in advance and create a set of questions to encourage critical
viewing by your students. Provide an outline of the video's main points. Project
only the segments of the video that pertain to the points being made, and
discuss the program with your students (Hacbarth, 1996).
"Visual aids" such as transparencies, models, or slides are standard in
college instruction. When using transparencies it is best to prepare them in
advance, keeping the content simple by presenting one idea per slide.
Information should be limited to six words per line and six lines per
transparency, always making sure that images are clear and the text is legible.
Leave the light on in the classroom since students will need to take notes from
the transparencies, and consider giving students a paper copy of the
transparencies in advance (Hacbarth, 1996).
Use of the Internet provides many unique opportunities and resources to
facilitate learning. The Internet enables greater collaboration, communication,
and informational support through use of e-mail, listservs, newsgroups, search
engines, and World Wide Web sites. The Internet can be used to create a virtual
learning community within your classroom through and active exchange of ideas
Typically, the main concern of graduate
students is how to become scholars in their disciples of choice. While teaching
assistantships are seen as a source of financial support, graduate teaching
associates have a responsibility to improve their teaching skills, as all good
professional educators do. Reading about teaching, attending workshops and
seminars, joining conversation groups to talk about teaching, and exploring
educational resources on the Internet are all excellent ways to improve one's
Resources for Teaching Assistants
Guidelines for Teaching Assistants
Reading List for Teaching Assistants
Notes and Suggestions for TAs
Guidelines for Web Based Instruction
Bruning,R.H. (1994). The college classroom from
the perspective of cognitive psychology. In K. Prichard and R. Sawyer, (eds.). "The handbook of college teaching." Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Casazza M. E. & Silverman F. L. (1996) "Learning assistance and
developmental education." San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Hacbarth, S. (1996) "The educational technology handbook: A comprehensive
guide, process and products for learning." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational
McKeachie, W.J. (1994). "Teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for
college and university teachers (9th ed.)." Lexington, MA: DC Heath.
McLoed, A. (1996). Discovering and facilitating deep learning states. "The
national teaching and learning forum," 5 (6) p. 1-7.
Perry, R. Menec, V., & Struthers, C. (1996) Student motivation from the
teacher's perspective. In R. Menges & M. Weimer, (eds.) "Teaching on solid
ground." San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Pintrich P.R., (1994). Student motivation in the college classroom. In K.
Prichard & R Sawyer, eds. "The handbook of college teaching." Westport, CT:
Svinicki, M. D. (1991). Practical implications of cognitive theories. In R.
Mengis & M. Savinki, (eds.) "College Teaching: From theory to practice." New
Directions for teaching and learning, #45. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Svinicki, M. D. (1994). "Lecture handout: Teaching with the learner in mind."
Office of Faculty and TA Development, The Ohio State University.
Wlodkowski, R.J. & Ginsberg, M.B. (1995). "Diversity and motivation:
Culturally responsive teaching." San Francisco: Jossey Bass. [ED 387 036]