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Jia, Zhigang
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Middle Tennessee State University
A significant number of international graduate students teach undergraduates in science departments as teaching assistants, often as laboratory instructors. The compelling cultural differences between international teaching assistants (ITAs) and their students in the U.S. have led to profound communication problems, which was often referred to as the “ITA problem”. The findings from this dissertation provide insights into this persistent problem by examining science ITAs’ cross-cultural teaching experiences in U.S. classrooms from the lens of cultural competence and teaching self-efficacy. Following a brief introduction of the problem (Chapter 1), this dissertation starts with a literature synthesis on ITAs’ development of cultural competence using a cultural competence framework from healthcare (Chapter 2). The result of this synthesis was an adaptive framework for ITAs’ cultural competence development, which was used to construct a STEM GTAs’ teaching self-efficacy model into science ITAs’ context (Chapter 3), and as analytical framework to examine science ITAs’ teaching-related experiences (Chapter 4). Adopting a sequential explanatory mix-methods design, I conducted a cross-sectional survey and follow-up interviews to explore science ITAs’ development of teaching self-efficacy (Chapter 3). The results showed that science ITAs can develop their teaching self-efficacy with sufficient training for teaching and with ample teaching experiences. High-quality teaching professional development (TPD) in which ITAs can establish supportive teaching relationships with peers and supervisors is the key factor for science ITAs’ development of teaching self-efficacy. A phenomenological study was conducted to gain insight into science ITAs’ cross-cultural teaching experiences by conducting semi-structured interviews with ITAs with different cultural backgrounds (Chapter 4). The results provided validity evidence for the ITA cultural competence framework in Chapter 2 of this dissertation. Consistent to the findings in Chapter 3, cultural encounters, including ITAs’ experiences in teaching and TPD, were also the central components and the driving force for science ITAs’ development of cultural competence. This study draws attention to science ITAs’ unique, profound and variable challenges and conveys the urgency to support them in TPD that focuses on cultivating critical cultural skills such as English proficiency, pedagogy, and cross-cultural communication skills. This dissertation concludes with a brief summary of all the three studies and their collective implications for international graduate student instructional development (Chapter 5).
Cross-cultural teaching, Cultural competence, International graduate students, International teaching assistants, Professional development, Teaching self-efficacy, Science education