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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring teaching assistants’ conceptions of teaching Johnson, Janice B.


As academics interested in the improvement of post-secondary teaching, we are challenged to understand andarticulate our differing conceptions of teaching. As a processof personal discovery, this can lead us to make our beliefs andactions more congruent, and thus ultimately to improve ourpractice. As a focus for research, it can provide us with asolid foundation from which to begin to understand and discussthe contrasting and often apparently conflicting beliefs andpractices of others. As a goal for practitioners, meeting thischallenge can suggest improvements to our teaching trainingprograms which will help others to reach that goal. This phenomenographical research, Exploring TeachingAssistants' Conceptions of Teaching, inquired into theconceptions of teaching held by nine teaching assistants, andidentified changes in their conceptions over time. Four qualitatively different conceptions of teaching wereidentified: (1) Communicating Content--Sharing Concepts, (2)Contextualizing Learning--Knowledge in Action, (3) DevelopingScholars--Advancing a Discipline, and (4) Inspiring Learning--Honouring Curiosity. These conceptions were defined as uniqueprofiles of seven constituent dimensions: (1) LearnerDiversity, (2) Learner Autonomy, (3) Orientation of Learning,(4) Expected Outcomes of Learning, (5) Knowledge and Meaning,(6) Teaching-Learning Process, and (7) Focus of Teaching.Changes in the combinations of conceptions of teaching held bythree of the TAs during the research period were identified. iiiNo changes were identified in the combinations of conceptions held by the remaining six TAs. This research showed that numerous similarities existbetween the conceptions held by this group of TAs, and thoseidentified by other researchers working with faculty membersand adult educators. It confirmed that changes do occur in thecombinations of conceptions held. Further, this researchcontributed methodologically to the study of beliefs aboutteaching, by demonstrating the benefits of using profiles ofcommon constituent dimensions to define and compareconceptions. Finally, it identified gaps in our knowledge,suggested improvements to our practice, and highlighted areasworthy of more in-depth investigation which will contributetoward improving teaching in post-secondary education.

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