Helping International TAs Excel in the Classroom
Bridging the Gap: The Impact of the 'Teaching in the Canadian Classroom' Program on the Teaching Effectiveness of International Teaching Assistants (ITAs)
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International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) play an important role in the education of undergraduate students at Western. In a recent study, we compared the impact of two training programs offered by the Teaching Support Centre on the teaching effectiveness of ITAs. We wanted to find out whether a TA training program with substantial intercultural content better facilitates the transition of international graduate students to Canadian academia than our general TA program.
The programs featured in the research include the two main approaches to ITA preparation in Canada. The first is a general Teaching Assistant Training Program (TATP), in which ITAs participate in 20 hours of preparation for teaching in an interdisciplinary cohort, together with Canadian graduate students. The second program, Teaching in the Canadian Classroom (TCC), is a program of similar length but designed specifically for ITAs. What makes the TCC program unique is that it includes substantial intercultural communication components that address cultural differences in the role of instructors and students, expectations for student engagement in Canadian classrooms, and communication strategies that may help ITAs bridge cultural differences in communication styles with their students and their supervisors.
The differences between the impacts of the two programs were assessed using a combination of self-report surveys, observer ratings of effective teaching behaviours, and focus group interviews. Changes in self-ratings of teaching self-efficacy and communication apprehension were measured before and after each program. In addition to surveys, TAs were video-recorded during two ten-minute lessons (microteaching) at the beginning and near the end of each program. Changes in effective teaching behaviours between the first and second lessons were later assessed by the research team.
Summary of Findings
Overall, the impact of the two programs were similar, demonstrating that participating in TA training makes a big difference. Both TATP and the TCC program contributed to greater teaching self-efficacy among ITAs and both programs helped reduce their communication apprehension. However, analysis of the microteaching videos indicates that the group of ITAs who participated in a program enhanced with intercultural components (TCC) made greater gains in their overall teaching effectiveness. Focus group interviews with participants also revealed considerable differences between the two programs in terms of long-term impact. ITAs in both TATP and TCC described a shift towards more student- centered approaches to teaching, and demonstrated an increased ability to promote inquiry and facilitate active learning activities in their classrooms.
The study provides evidence that TA training programs for Canadian and international TAs at Western can be very effective and may make an important contribution to the quality of undergraduate education. The findings also suggest that a program enhanced with intercultural communication components may help ITAs interact effectively, not only in the classroom, but also in other academic settings.