Maximising the impact of postgraduate students’ training for their first teaching experiences – Alex Shum

The University of Hong Kong relies heavily on tutors and teaching assistants to form the essential backbone of the teaching workforce. Despite the prevalence of the role, these teachers are often MPhil and PhD students whose teaching approaches are mostly informed by their learning experiences as undergraduate students. On the other hand, being closer in age and experience, these teachers are often viewed to be more approachable to students.

To mitigate the gap in teaching experience, CETL facilitates a mandatory certificate course for postgraduate students. Participants attend 24 hours of face-to-face training which includes observing and analysing the teaching of a more experienced teacher in their faculty, receiving instruction on teaching and learning in higher education, practicing and designing active learning strategies, and facilitating two short teaching demonstrations (five and ten minutes in length) to their peers.

In terms of impact for HKU, the course develops the teaching and learning of postgraduate students and subsequently the learning of the undergraduate students they eventually teach. To objectively measure the effectiveness of the course, teachers of the course conducted studies to answer, 1) How have the participants’ actual teaching abilities developed? And 2) How have their intended teaching and learning approaches and self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to succeed in a task) in teaching developed across the course?

To answer the first question, we developed a rubric to retroactively grade presentations based on comments given by the teachers of the course and supplementary materials (e.g. slides, handouts, reflections etc.). We identified six areas to evaluate (each between Level 0 to Level 3): Learning Outcomes (including constructive alignment), Active Learning Strategies, Presentation Skills, Structure and Time Management, Supporting Materials (slides, videos, whiteboard work etc.) and Explanations. Level 2 represented the expected standard of participants by the end of the course while Level 3 represented exceeding expectations. For the study, teachers evaluated both teaching demonstrations for 40 students (belonging to a range of different faculties) using the rubric. The results indicated that participants underwent a large (effect size) increase, with either moderate or large increases observed in each area described above. Through employing the techniques taught in the course, participants improved in their second teaching demonstration. The findings support the effectiveness of the course, and that participants can have meaningful development in teaching even across a short course.

The second question provides insight towards their future development beyond the short course. Trigwell, Prosser and Ginns (2005) described two general approaches to teaching in higher education measured on the Approaches to Teaching Inventory: Information Transfer Teacher-Focused and Conceptual Change Student-Focused. Those who hold strong beliefs in Teacher-Focused teaching would more likely attribute good teaching as efforts made by the teacher (in effective lecturing, organised class notes, good time management etc.). Student-Focused teaching described teachers who prioritise the demonstration of student understanding which draws parallels to Biggs’ (1999) description of what the student does as the highest level of conceptions in teaching. In practice, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. The Teaching Self-Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001) measured self-efficacy of participants in teaching, which provides an indication of their likelihood to exert effort and persist in teaching. Participants completed surveys that described these teaching aspects at the beginning and end of the course. Analysis of the longitudinal data from 252 participants revealed moderate increases in self-efficacy in teaching and in the student-focused teaching approach across the course. Furthermore, teacher-focused teaching had a moderate effect on student-focused teaching, suggesting that participants accustomed to employing and having some mastery in a teacher-focused approach may be ready to explore the student-focused approach. As the course focuses on active learning strategies (student-focused teaching), its moderate prediction of teaching self-efficacy supports that participants who view student-focused teaching as important are more likely to develop in confidence in teaching. These together suggest that providing training in both teaching focuses would promote an eventual development of self-efficacy in teaching. As a result, the course was revised to include more training in communication skills (teacher-focused teaching). This further motivated participants as it allowed them to develop their research presentation skills as well, especially for those who did not have immediate teaching duties.

We presented these findings at two conferences in August 2018 organised by the Special Interest Groups of the European Association for Research in Learning and Instruction in Higher Education (Shum, Lau & Fryer, 2018a) and Motivation and Emotion (Shum, Lau & Fryer, 2018b).

The results are encouraging and have led to conducting a larger scale study that combines both research questions to investigate the interplay between course participants’ interest, self-efficacy, and teaching approaches with their performance in the teaching demonstrations. The results are expected to further inform our practices in both curriculum reform and facilitation of the course.


  • Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development,18, 57-75. DOI: 10.1080/0729436990180105
  • Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Ginns, P. (2005). Phenomenographic pedagogy and a revised approaches to teaching inventory. Higher Education Research & Development, 24, 349-360. DOI: 10.1080/07294360500284730
  • Tschannen-Moran, M., & Woolfolk-Hoy, A. (2001). Teacher-efficacy: Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 783–805. DOI: 10.1016/S0742-051X(01)00036-1
  • Shum, A., Lau, P., & Fryer, L. (2018a). Longitudinal development of teaching assistants‘ teaching ability in a mandatory training course. EARLI SIG 4 (Higher Education) Biannual meeting. Poster Session. University of Giessen, Giessen, Germany, August 29-31, 2018. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.27498.00961
  • Shum, A., Lau, P., & Fryer, L. (2018b). Strengthening self-efficacy in teaching for non-teachers through training student-focused teaching. 16th International Conference on Motivation, 2018 (EARLI SIG 8, Motivation and Emotion). Poster session. Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. August 15-17, 2018. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.30853.45288
Dr. Janet Wong
Dr. Alex Shum

Faculty of Science
The University of Hong Kong
Please cite as: Shum, A. (2019, January). Maximising the impact of postgraduate students’ training for their first teaching experiences. Teaching and Learning Connections, 8. Retrieved from

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