Mathematics Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) have a significant impact on the teaching and learning of mathematics in post-secondary contexts through their work as instructors of record, tutors, graders, and recitation, laboratory, or discussion session leaders for mathematics courses. Perhaps more importantly, GSIs are future teachers of mathematics: more than 60 percent of Mathematics PhDs take academic positions that involve post-secondary teaching. In recent years, professional organizations representing the mathematics community have made multiple calls to action for instructors to adopt evidence-based teaching practices and to challenge the status quo of undergraduate mathematics teaching. If there is going to be systemic change in how mathematics is taught, this effort needs to include GSIs.
In many cases, GSIs receive brief and limited training for teaching, and researchers have struggled to implement professional development for GSIs that has a lasting positive effect on their teaching practices. Further, there is limited research that specifically attends to GSIs growth as teachers. Therefore, to improve professional development for GSIs, we first need to better understand how they are learning about teaching.
For this presentation of my dissertation research, I will describe the study I conducted investigating how seven GSIs at a doctoral-granting university developed as teachers over one academic year. I will also introduce complexity science as the theoretical perspective informing this work and explain the framework of five conditions necessary for a complex system to learn. Then, I will present my findings, namely that while all five conditions necessary for growth and expansion of possibilities for teaching are present in the complex system of GSIs, there are components that are not currently as robust as they could be. I will conclude by using the language of the five necessary conditions to provide suggestions for how researchers and educators could structure professional development in the future to better support GSIs’ growth.