TA use, training and expectations

First a quick reminder: CTI has drop-in help on CANVAS in 191 Rhodes from 11:00-1:00 today

The Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council (EDAC) met with students and discussed broadly the elements of instruction that are most effective for their learning.  Teaching assistants, both undergraduate and graduate, were identified as one of the strongest and most critical components in the teaching infrastructure.  These tips are for those of you who are fortunate enough to have such TAs.

Suggestions for coordination with TAs to maximize their impact and minimize complaints:

  • Emphasize that TAs are a critical part of the teaching team.  It may help to let TAs discuss their own experiences and identify the most positive characteristics of an effective TA.
  • Be intentional and understand your TAs’ background and teaching experience.  Identify areas where you may need to provide them with additional support.
  • Emphasize the need for a common notation in the class, especially if you use something different from the textbook, or if there are multiple notations in use in the field.  It is fair to require TAs to follow your lead.  Student may ultimately need to deal with multiple notations, but it increases the cognitive load for students learning new material.
  • Remind TAs that questions must be answered professionally both in class, office hours, and online.  In particular, answers should not be being dismissive, judgmental, or condescending.
  • TAs should normally work problems in advance of section and office hours.  Discuss how TAs can reach out for help if they cannot solve problems (you, head TA, etc.).  Students understandably get frustrated when they hear different answers from the professor and TAs. 
  • Discuss homework and grading policies, especially consistency if there are multiple graders.  How can TAs find the most recent (corrected) assignments and how are grading rubrics developed? 
  • Encourage TAs to voice any concerns they might have, and to act as a voice for students in the class.  Students may be more likely to express issues to the TAs and not directly to you. 
  • It goes without saying, but still probably worth being explicit about potential conflicts of interest (same fraternity, boyfriend/girlfriend, same sports team, friends, etc) and about prohibitions on budding relationships with students in the class.
  • Similarly, remind TAs to be proactively inclusive, definitely not showing favoritism to certain groups, races, or genders of students.  These issues commonly show up on course evaluations.
  • Remind TAs of FERPA requirements (e.g. no stacks of graded papers, no grades on the front cover, etc.).
  • Set your expectations for recitations if your TAs formally present.  What is the nature of the interactions you expect, how much problem solving versus content explanations, assisting students in solving problems versus showing solutions, etc.

Have a great semester and enjoy introducing students to the joys and power of the topics you are teaching.