Purdue University Graduate School
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Understanding Graduate Teaching Assistants' Experiences and Pedagogy

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posted on 2020-05-15, 14:43 authored by Meng-Yang WuMeng-Yang Wu

Although there have been efforts to advance undergraduate chemistry laboratory learning, how graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) negotiate their teaching within-the-moment is still underexplored. This dissertation addresses this gap by foregrounding GTA experiences and pedagogies as foci of interest. The present study is divided into two phases. The first phase consisted of understanding the contextual meaning of eleven GTA participants’ self-recognized experiences via Communities of Practice and capital D Discourse analysis. The findings suggest that although participants recognize obligations to become better chemists as opposed to better teachers, they are active sensemakers of their pedagogies. However, due to obligations, the pedagogies they enact may inadvertently hinder learners’ sensemaking in their attempts to mitigate learners’ failures. Participants’ reliance on accuracy, completion, and efficiency within the laboratory led me to delve deeper into the theoretical conceptualizations of learning from successes and from failures. After creating the Play First, Reflect Later (PFRL) conceptual framework, I endeavored to better understand the extent that the chemistry laboratory can be integrated with productive failure. Thus, the second phase takes a more fine-grained approach in which nine participants were video recorded during their teaching and were later prompted to explain their rationale via video-stimulated recall interviews. Combining both the video and interview analysis conveys overlaps and incongruities. On one hand, participants effectively enact teaching practices that draws their learners’ attention to target concepts, leverage prior experience, and boosts affects. On the other, participants must not compromise learner agency and better prepare learners for long-term learning. Theoretically, errors and direct instruction should also be reconsidered for the laboratory context. I conclude by drawing implications for both researchers and practitioners. Namely, spaces in which GTAs learn to teach should be modified to be more learner-centric, collaborative, and inquiry based like the laboratories they are expected to teach. Furthermore, laboratory curricula (e.g., protocols and experiments) can be redesigned to facilitate learners to explore the hows and whys of their experiments with both their failures and successes. Changing the context of the chemistry laboratory itself, both in terms of teaching and curriculum, may be a more sustainable approach to enhance learners’ chemistry experiences.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Minjung Ryu

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Marcy Towns

Additional Committee Member 2

Jake Burdick

Additional Committee Member 3

William Watson

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