Developing teaching self-efficacy – what makes a difference for postgraduate researchers?

Catherine Lillie, SFHEA, Teaching Enhancement Advisor (Scholarship of Teaching & Learning), Teaching Excellence Academy

The Teaching Excellence Academy introduced the Professional Practice in Teaching and Learning in HE module in 2018 following feedback from Postgraduate Research students (PGRs) in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey and in consultation with the Doctoral College and the PGR rep. The rationale for setting up the module was twofold; to provide a vehicle for research students and research staff to gain supported teaching practice and to ensure that they were supported in the fundamentals of teaching. During the module participants explore aspects of effective teaching practice through engaging with relevant pedagogic literature and models, and discussion with peers and academic colleagues. They take part in a Microteach session to practice an aspect of their teaching, and undertake further observations of the teaching of colleagues. They design and deliver their own teaching, some of which is peer observed, and provide evidence of all of these practices, together with two case studies in a reflective portfolio. The module was accredited by AdvanceHE in 2020 at the Associate Fellow descriptor.

Teaching self-efficacy

The main theme underpinning the design of the module was that through these activities participants would develop their sense of teaching self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s perception that they have the relevant capabilities and skills to undertake a particular task or action (Bandura, 1997). Developing self-efficacious beliefs is especially important for researchers who teach (RWT) as they can experience role conflict and often low confidence in teaching which the development of self-efficacy can help to address (Cho et al, 2011). There is evidence that those who have high self-efficacy beliefs tend to provide effective teaching and a better learning experience for their students (Bandura, 1997; Prieto & Meyers, 1999; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001; DeChenne et al, 2015).

Building self-efficacy development into the module

Teaching development programmes for RWT – such as the Professional Practice module- have been shown to impact positively on both their own sense of teaching self-efficacy and also on their teaching performance (Chiu & Corrigan, 2019) as they provide support and structure during the ‘fits and starts’ of initial teaching practice. The structure and contents of the Professional Practice module were therefore designed to support the development of all four elements of self-efficacy- performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, social persuasion and what Bandura (1997) refers to as ‘physiological reactions’ (i.e. the emotional state and personal feelings of the individual) - and formed the basis for the module’s design and this evaluation [see table 1].

Participants on the 2018-19 cohorts of the module were invited to complete a survey to explore whether their experiences on the module had a positive impact on the development of their teaching self-efficacy. In this evaluation, participants were asked to rate the impact each aspect of the module had on the development of confidence in their abilities.

Table 1: The role of different aspects of the module on teaching confidence and competence:

Aspect of the module

Element of self-efficacy

Average (out of 10)

Teaching practice

Performance accomplishments


Peer observation of others

Vicarious experiences


Engagement with scholarly literature

Social persuasion


Peer observation of and feedback on their own teaching

Performance accomplishments


Discussion with peers

Vicarious experiences


Engagement with the UKPSF

Social persuasion


Microteach session

Performance accomplishments


Panel discussion with academic colleagues

Vicarious experiences


Reflection / reflective practice

Physiological reactions


Which aspects had a positive impact?

As Bandura’s self-efficacy theory suggests it was the direct experiences of the task- in this case teaching or observing others- which had the highest positive impact on the participants. Through these experiences RWT not only build up skills and behaviours which will be of practical use in their future teaching, but the attendant development of their self-efficacy beliefs will itself contribute to more effective teaching practices and learning experiences for their students.

Participants were also asked to rate their confidence (0-100) using 29 statements grouped under four headings [table 2].

Table 2: The self-efficacy beliefs of module completers


Average score (out of 100)

Efficacy for instructional strategies


Efficacy for student engagement


Efficacy for classroom management


Efficacy to influence the teaching context


All but one of the respondents felt that overall their confidence had increased as a result of taking the module and 100% felt that their teaching competence had increased. The evaluation highlighted that RWT feel more confident as they increase their teaching practice and engagement with students, but also revealed a lack of ownership and agency they feel they have over their teaching context and perceptions of them.

What else makes a difference?

The support of peers and sharing of practice is hugely valuable as a significant predictor of teaching self-efficacy in novice educators (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2007; DeChenne et al, 2015). Their lack of personal teaching experiences to draw from means that the vicarious experience of learning from peers and colleagues becomes more significant in contributing to efficacious beliefs. Gaining supportive and developmental feedback from colleagues in their department- through regular teaching conversations, a facilitating environment, and supervisory and peer relationships- is therefore key. Providing regular opportunities to teach and support learning beyond the module will also enable RWT to maintain and develop their teaching self-efficacy. As one participant noted,

I feel that I am already a more effective teacher than when I first started this module however I have taken on board comments from experienced lecturers that teaching is “a continuous learning process” and as a teacher “you are always learning how to do things better”’.

Bandura, A. (1997) Self-Efficacy: the exercise of control, New York: Freeman

Chiu, P.H.P, & Corrigan, P. (2019) A study of graduate teaching assistants’ self-efficacy in teaching: fits and starts in the first triennium of teaching, Cogent Education 6: 1579964

Cho, Y.J., Kim, M.,Svinicki, M.D. & Lowry Decker, M. (2011) Exploring teaching concerns and characteristics of graduate teaching assistants, Teaching in Higher Education, 16:3, 267-279

DeChenne, S.E., Koziol, N., Needham, M. & Enochs L. (2015) Modeling sources of teaching self-efficacy for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduate teaching assistants, CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(3):ar32

Prieto, L.R. & Meyers, S.A. (1999) Effects of training and supervision on the self-efficacy of Psychology Graduate Teaching Assistants, Teaching of Psychology, 26:4, 264-266

Tschannen-Moran, M. & Woolfolk Hoy, A. (2001) Teacher efficacy: capturing an elusive construct, Teaching and Teacher Education 17: 783-805

Catherine Lillie wishes to thank all the RWT who completed the survey which formed part of her doctoral study at Lancaster University. Ethical approval for the evaluation was granted by Lancaster University in August 2019.

The Teaching Excellence Academy provides support for RWT at the University of Hull through the Passport to University Teaching workshop and the credit-bearing Professional Practice module. For further details, visit SharePoint or email

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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