Utilising graduate teaching assistants to implement active learning at university level

David Read, Stephen Michael Barnes, Charles Kenneth Harrison, Rachel Koramoah, Iveta Ivanova


Active learning is recognised as a crucial component of university courses in enhancing performance and retention. However, universities face numerous challenges in broadening the provision of active learning, including time constraints, and a lack of staff training and confidence to develop appropriate activities.  This article outlines an approach taken at the University of Southampton to engage a team of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) in the process of developing, delivering, and evaluating active learning resources to support small-group teaching in chemistry on a Science Foundation Year programme.  A team of four GTAs developed nine activities during the 2015/16 academic year, with evaluation supporting their enhancement for 2016/17.  The article outlines the progress of this work over two academic years, providing evidence of a positive impact on students and teachers alike.

Keywords: Active learning; peer-assisted learning; GTAs


Active learning; peer assisted learning; GTAs

Full Text:



Bonwell, C. C. & Eison, J. A. (1991) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] https://www.ydae.purdue.edu/lct/hbcu/documents/Active_Learning_Creating_Excitement_in_the_Classroom.pdf

Coate, K., Barnett, R., & Williams, G. (2001) Relationships Between Research and Teaching in Higher Education in England. Higher Education Quarterly, 55(2), 158-174. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]

DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.11.211

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111(23), 8410-8415. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111,

Gray P. J., Froh, R. C., & Diamond R. M. (1992) A National Study of Research Universities: On the balance between research and undergraduate teaching. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University, NY.

Haak, D. C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E., & Freeman, S. (2011) Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology. Science, 332(6034), 1213-1216. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] DOI: 10.1126/science.1204820.

King, A. (1993) From Sage on The Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] http://www.jstor.org/stable/27558571

Matthews, D. (2017) Academics ‘fail to change teaching due to fear of looking stupid’. The Times Higher Education. [Accessed Sept 15¬th 2017] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/academics-fail-change-teaching-due-fear-looking-stupid

Michael, J. (2006) Where’s the evidence that active learning works? Advances in Physiology Education. 30(4) 159-167. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] DOI: 10.1152/advan.00053.2006

Milner-Bolotin (2001) Creating community among the graduate teaching assistants: benefits, challenges and lessons learned. Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development, 8(2), 65-70. [Accessed on Sept 15th 2017] https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ637461

Muzaka, V. (2009) The niche of Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs): perceptions and reflections. Teaching in Higher Education. 14(1), 1-12. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]

DOI: 10.1080/13562510802602400

Park, C. (2004) The Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA): Lessons from North America. Teaching in Higher Education, 9 (3) 349-361. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]

DOI: 10.1080/1356251042000216660

Prince, M. (2014) Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017] DOI: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2004.tb00809.x

Roberts, E. (2016) Active Learning in higher education as a restorative practice: a lecturer’s reflections. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 10, 1-15. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]


Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999) Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Review of Educational Research, 69(1) 21-5. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]

DOI: 10.3102/00346543069001021

Young, S. & Bippus, A. (2008) Assessment of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Training: A Case Study of a Training Program and Its Impact on GTAs. Communication Teacher, 22 (4), 116-129. [Accessed Sept 15th 2017]

DOI: 10.1080/17404620802382680

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.29311/ndtps.v0i12.2367

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences

eISSN: 2051-3615