Do students explicitly value the self-efficacy of their teaching assistants? If so, how does the self-efficacy of their TAs affect how students engage in their courses? This study explores these two questions in a variety of TA-intensive undergraduate engineering courses through qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted with 30 students from those courses.
Student interviews were first coded to identify references to how important a TA’s self-efficacy was to students in their choices to engage and participate in the learning experience. Almost 50% of students interviewed explicitly spoke to how important it was for TAs to be confident in their teaching. Students’ use of the terms confidence, confident, or self-confident were interpreted to mean self-efficacy given the task-oriented context in which these terms were used.
A second coding pass with the interview data looked at the implications and potential benefits of building teacher self-efficacy among TAs to better serve student learning and engagement. Teachers with high teacher self-efficacy are known to exhibit certain behaviors more often or more effectively than those teachers with lower self-efficacy. Previous research studies have identified these behaviors, allowing the second phase of this study to use these behaviors as a basis for further deductive coding of student interview data. The second phase of this study evaluated the impact and importance of these self-efficacious behaviors as discussed by students in our interview pool. Of those behaviors that result from high teacher efficacy, many students look for indications that the TA puts effort into teaching, teaches with clarity and organization, will support students through difficulty, and demonstrates enthusiasm. Although mentioned by fewer students, other valued teacher efficacy behaviors that emerge from this study include refraining from criticizing student mistakes or knowledge gaps, preparing adequately for class, being willing to experiment instructionally, facilitating small-group work, and being fair. These results reinforce existing research by confirming that content knowledge is only part of what students seek in good teachers, and also provides insight into which behavioral benefits of high teacher efficacy are most salient to undergraduate students in engineering.
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