Monday, August 31, 2015


A graduate teaching assistant has asked for training on how best to go through a proof on the chalkboard. This is a little troubling because, while we ask and expect TAs to do many things in tutorials, workshops and labs, they shouldn't be spending much time, if any, on their hind legs in front of a chalkboard (or whiteboard or flip chart for that matter). On the other hand, when talking to a group of more than two or three, and the flip chart and marker pen is there, perhaps it's a sensible choice. And if they're going to do it I'd rather they did it well. So I did a search and found a few blogs and web sites offering advice which I'll hand on to the students with the suggestion that they make their own mash up. I could do it for them, but then I'll have learned more than the students. I'm generally against that sort of thing.

The problem is a pervasive belief in the transmission model of teaching. How do we challenge this belief and replace it with knowledge from the PER evidence base? We can, and we do, present the logical case against the empty vessel model but research shows that even if we change the beliefs of early career teachers they can't change their practice. Although early career teachers, given the opportunity, are more likely to change their beliefs about teaching and learning than colleagues who have been teaching for a long time they are less likely to change their practices. The barriers to change are inflexible institutional structures and the traditional beliefs of colleagues (Metastudy by Henderson et al, 2011). In addition, TAs cling to intuitive beliefs about UG learning that stem from their perceptions that they themselves were 'typical' undergraduates and yet at the same time are toe-curlingly negative about their UG students' motivational levels and abilities.

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