Exploring student and demonstrator perspectives of the teaching and learning provided by demonstrators during undergraduate laboratory practical sessions


  • Victoria Palumbo University of Bristol
  • Christopher Cammies University of Bristol




Feedback, GTA, Higher Education, Learning environments


Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) such as demonstrators are integral to higher education teaching. However, undergraduate student perceptions on the impact of demonstrators to their teaching and learning is understudied. Similarly, demonstrator perceptions on the quality and value of their teaching also remains largely unexplored. We addressed both students’ and demonstrators’ perceptions of demonstrator teaching and learning within undergraduate Biology practical sessions at a UK research intensive university. We combine quantitative and qualitative data to explore students’ ideas around where their learning and feedback comes from, and the effectiveness of demonstrators during their practical sessions. This was paired with analogous data from demonstrators derived from the same concepts, thereby helping to assess their dynamic. Most students considered demonstrators to be important for teaching and learning in the laboratory setting by delivering high quality pedagogy, creating a positive learning environment and by being their primary source of feedback. Conversely, a small number of students raised issues regarding demonstrator consistency and lack of knowledge when compared with a lecturer. Students largely considered demonstrators to have sufficient knowledge and to be more approachable than lecturers. Demonstrators also recognised their valuable contribution to teaching and learning and largely mirrored the ideas undergraduate students had about effective demonstrators. Many demonstrators believe they need to be allocated more paid time to fully prepare for teaching and maximise their potential. Finally, we reflect on lessons learnt from both students and demonstrators regarding how demonstrators can improve their teaching and how universities can support this. 


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Author Biographies

Victoria Palumbo, University of Bristol

Victoria Palumbo is a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol. Her role has included working as a demonstrator in undergraduate practical sessions, invigilating lab-based exams and captioning undergraduate lectures for staff and students. At the start of this year, she graduated from the University of Bristol with a Master’s by Research degree in Biology. Her thesis began to look into the role of root exudates in limiting soil erosion as she is motivated by sustainable agriculture and novel techniques in these systems. Moreover, from her past experiences of working as a GTA she aims to improve the teaching and learning experiences of both students and demonstrators in the laboratory setting. 

Christopher Cammies, University of Bristol

Christopher Cammies is a teaching associate based in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol. He is responsible for laboratory and practical teaching on the Biology and Zoology BSc programmes and the management and training of GTA demonstrators who are teaching on these programmes. His current research endeavours to determine the role of nematode assemblages in novel and sustainable agricultural systems. In addition, as a qualified science teacher and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy his education research and interventions aim to improve teaching by improving assessment, critical thinking and by enhancing the quality of teaching delivered by GTAs.