Respect My Authority

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Science  22 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6088, pp. 1483
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6088.1483-a

Graduate teaching assistants (TAs) are regular fixtures in science classrooms; however, their status and authority as teachers remain ambiguous. Kendall and Schussler present a thorough comparison of TAs and professors from the perspective of undergraduates in order to enhance TA professional development. Online surveys designed to evaluate skills such as leadership, personalization, involvement, and task orientation were sent to students enrolled in major and nonmajor biology courses that had a laboratory component taught by TAs, with lectures taught by faculty. Weakness in one instructor type appeared to be balanced by the strengths of the other: Although professors were perceived as confident, organized, boring, and out of touch, TAs were perceived as uncertain, hesitant, approachable, and able to personalize teaching. Additionally, although undergraduates perceived professors as having more knowledge of the curriculum, they favored the instructional style of TAs. Professional development programs can capitalize on these findings by increasing opportunities for TAs and professors to teach collaboratively, which should help both parties address perceived weaknesses.

CBE—Life Sci. Educ. 11, 187 (2012).

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