Does teaching help TAs develop their research skills?

Welcome back, everyone.  Hope you had a relaxing yet productive summer.

For the first post of the semester, I’m linking to a Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on the importance of teaching to research for graduate TAs.

For me, this is the most important passage in the whole piece:

Mr. Feldon cites two reasons that teaching seems to improve research skills. The first is that a graduate student who teaches, for example, 20 undergraduates how to develop a laboratory study ends up practicing those same skills him or herself. “It’s a straight practice effect,” he says. “You’re getting more opportunities in more situations.”

The second reason is that people who have to explain to someone else how to carry out a task are quicker to develop their own abilities to do that same task.

Teaching’s benefit to research depends on a certain kind of educational experience, Mr. Feldon continues. The educational experience for both instructor and student must involve what he calls “active inquiry,” the investigation of open-ended questions, in which students must figure out which areas deserve exploration and what data to collect.

So teaching has the potential to refine and consolidate one’s research skills, but the effect seems to be greatest where the teaching itself involves open-ended inquiry.  This means centering the class on the generation and pursuit of authentic questions, rather than just transmitting a predefined “content.”

To get the full intellectual and professional benefit from your teaching, however, you must also think about how to make your own teaching more open to your students’ questions, and more responsive to their needs.  Listening to your students in this should help you learn many more ways to solve the “same” problems, while forcing you to really master the material as you address their specific concerns.

The whole piece is worth reading, and the comments are valuable too.

Best,

DM

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