A Contextual View of Support for Graduate Students’ Scholarly Teaching
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Graduate students' teaching contributes to undergraduate education throughout North America (Park, 2004), the United Kingdom (Muzaka, 2009), Australia (Kift, 2003), and New Zealand (Barrington, 2001), particularly in first-year courses. Mandatory and voluntary training programs, courses, workshops, and certificate programs have been implemented centrally (Mintz, 1998) and departmentally (Ronkowski, 1998) to develop graduate students’ knowledge and skills and improve their teaching. Research assessing outcomes of these programs indicates improvements in individuals’ conceptions about teaching (Saroyan, Dagenais, & Zhou, 2009), but limited impact on practice (Buehler & Marcum, 2007). A potential explanation for this discrepancy is that current individual-focused support for graduate students is not sufficient; rather, teaching and teaching development are influenced by local disciplinary and institutional culture (Taylor, 2010; Trowler & Bamber, 2005). Literature on graduate studies completion further indicates the role of informal supports in graduate students’ academic success (e.g., Lovitts, 2004). This mixed-method research sought to widen the traditional research focus regarding support for graduate students’ scholarly teaching by examining: (1) how support is characterized and described in official visioning documents, policies, and websites at a single institution; (2) how graduate students at this institution generally viewed department and institution-wide supports listed on past surveys, and (3) how current graduate students and supportive individuals from the same institution described available and desired supports. Four themes emerged during analysis of the survey and interview data: formal support, informal support, communication/collaboration, and feedback. These themes were sometimes echoed and sometimes absent in the official documents and existing literature on graduate students’ teaching, which primarily focused on formal supports. Throughout this research, support was explored within the contextual reality in which graduate students learned and taught by examining the sources of such support across the social ecological layers of sector, institution, department, courses, faculty members, peers, and the individual. By broadening the conceptualization of support beyond formal programming, a single social ecological layer, a small group of official support providers, or a one-time event, this study expands both the depth and breadth of possibilities for resource planning within institutions, and future research on teaching supports and graduate student experiences.