Perceptions of graduate teaching assistants about inclusive teaching

Date of Completion

January 2006


Education, Special




Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) are graduate students at research universities who hold office hours, grade papers, conduct labs and discussion sections and teach university courses. GTAs frequently have the full responsibility for teaching undergraduate courses. As the use of GTAs as university instructors has increased, the postsecondary student population has become more diverse. Undergraduate learners bring a variety of backgrounds and experience levels to the university classroom, such as different language and cultural backgrounds, ages, educational readiness for university study, and ability/disability status. An increased interest in the ways of teaching that include a wider range of learners has emerged as a response to diversity among postsecondary students. An increasing number of diverse learners are being instructed by GTAs, thus it is important to understand GTAs' beliefs about including these learners in their teaching.^ This study was designed to examine GTAs beliefs about inclusive teaching and the ways in which they described their methods of teaching diverse learners. The study also explored the teaching practices used by the participants and the relationship between their teaching practices and their beliefs about teaching diverse learners.^ A qualitative method was used to conduct the study. GTAs from varied disciplines were interviewed about their beliefs on inclusive college teaching. Their teaching was observed and material culture was collected, in the form of written instructional products such as syllabi, handouts, and quizzes. ^ Participants said they wanted to teach in ways that included all learners. Their awareness of inclusive teaching included some areas of emerging skills and understandings. They were observed to use some inclusive teaching practices. They also made statements that suggested they lacked knowledge about how to teach inclusively. In addition, participants were observed to use inclusive practices which they did not mention when discussing inclusive teaching.^ The study suggests that effective faculty development for GTAs should include an orientation to inclusive teaching. Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) provides a framework for describing inclusive teaching that can be used across disciplines. An introduction to university teaching that incorporates the Principles of Universal Design for Instruction© is recommended for GTAs.^