Graduation Year

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Chemistry

Degree Granting Department

Chemistry

Major Professor

Santiago Sandi-Urena, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

George Bodner, Ph.D.

Committee Member

George Bodner, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Allan Feldman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer E. Lewis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Potter, Ph.D.

Keywords

Epistemology, Graduate education, Laboratory instruction, Phenomenology

Abstract

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) play a prominent role in chemistry laboratory instruction at research based universities. They teach almost all undergraduate chemistry laboratory courses. However, their role in laboratory instruction has often been overlooked in educational research. Interest in chemistry GTAs has been placed on training and their perceived expectations, but less attention has been paid to their experiences or their potential benefits from teaching.

This work was designed to investigate GTAs' experiences in and benefits from laboratory instructional environments. This dissertation includes three related studies on GTAs' experiences teaching in general chemistry laboratories. Qualitative methods were used for each study. First, phenomenological analysis was used to explore GTAs' experiences in an expository laboratory program. Post-teaching interviews were the primary data source. GTAs experiences were described in three dimensions: doing, knowing, and transferring. Gains available to GTAs revolved around general teaching skills. However, no gains specifically related to scientific development were found in this laboratory format.

Case-study methods were used to explore and illustrate ways GTAs develop a GTA self-image - the way they see themselves as instructors. Two general chemistry laboratory programs that represent two very different instructional frameworks were chosen for the context of this study. The first program used a cooperative project-based approach. The second program used weekly, verification-type activities. End of the semester interviews were collected and served as the primary data source. A follow-up case study of a new cohort of GTAs in the cooperative problem-based laboratory was undertaken to investigate changes in GTAs' self-images over the course of one semester. Pre-semester and post-semester interviews served as the primary data source. Findings suggest that GTAs' construction of their self-image is shaped through the interaction of 1) prior experiences, 2) training, 3) beliefs about the nature of knowledge, 4) beliefs about the nature of laboratory work, and 5) involvement in the laboratory setting. Further GTAs' self-images are malleable and susceptible to change through their laboratory teaching experiences.

Overall, this dissertation contributes to chemistry education by providing a model useful for exploring GTAs' development of a self-image in laboratory teaching. This work may assist laboratory instructors and coordinators in reconsidering, when applicable, GTA training and support. This work also holds considerable implications for how teaching experiences are conceptualized as part of the chemistry graduate education experience. Findings suggest that appropriate teaching experiences may contribute towards better preparing graduate students for their journey in becoming scientists.

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