Most TAs in Computing Science will be expect to perform these duties:
- Mark assignments.
- Mark tests and exams.
- Have office hours to help your students and, if you have time, other CMPT students.
- Supervise midterms and the final exam.
For some courses, they might also be expected to:
- Run tutorials.
- Help the instructor prepare assignments and tests and solutions.
- Answer email.
- Give or assist in lectures.
- The course instructor is your immediate supervisor. Any problems or concerns with your position should be discussed with him/her.
- You are expect to be available from the first day of classes until the final grade deadline (4 days after the final exam). This is the period of work you agree to when becoming a TA.
- If you want to make changes to your duties, you should discuss it with the instructor as early as possible. For example, leaving before the end of the course or reducing your workload during a critical time in the semester. Depending of the course, instructor and other TAs, it might be possible for arrangements to be made.
Dealing with Students
A lot of your time will be spend dealing with students, both face-to-face in office hours and by email. Most students will come to you looking for help with the course material—that's what you're there for.
You may have some problematic students. These are most often either students who want a little too much help with an assignment, so you're basically doing it for them, or students arguing for marks that they don't deserve. It's sometimes hard to realize this is happening—usually there is a slow shift from honest questions to asking a little too much.
If you realize that you are talking to one of these students, don't let them continue. If they are asking for answers, feel free to tell them that you can't help them any more; they have to figure it out on their own.
You might want to ask your course instructor how much help he/she considers too much in the particular course. For marking questions, send them to the course instructor.
In a lot of courses, the TAs have more direct contact with the students than the instructor. If a lot of students are having problems with some of the material, tell the instructor; they might not have noticed.
You are expected to be familiar with the course material and software tools; you should be able to answer student's questions. That having been said, you aren't expected to have super-human knowledge of every detail. If you can work things out quickly and learn as you go, you'll be fine. Also, ask the instructor early for any topics you can prepare for, whether or not you are expected read the text or lecture notes, etc.
If you don't feel comfortable with the course material, talk to the course instructor. You could be asked to sit in on the lectures or given time to do some reading.
You should look through the course readings and assignments as soon as possible. You will be getting questions about them and should be able to give answers. The instructor might have solutions to assignments if you want to look at them.
Before your office hours, have a look at any readings or upcoming assignments. It will make things go a lot smoother (and you won't look like you don't know what you're doing).
While you're in office hours, treat the students well. Deal with them the way you would want to be dealt with. Try to remember that they're coming at the material for the first time—you will probably have to answer a lot of "obvious" questions.
If you have problem students, suggest that they talk to the instructor. Don't be afraid to say "no".
Some tips to help things go smoothly:
- Write things down. Students often can't deal with the information all at once. If you write some things down as you're talking, they can read it again later. Some concepts are easier to explain on paper anyway, especially with a picture.
- Don't spend all of your time with one student. If someone is monopolizing your time, tell them you need to deal with others before coming back to them.
- If you get the same question from several students, it might be more efficient to answer for all of them at once. Most of the rooms where you'll have office hours have a chalkboard or whiteboard for this purpose.
- If there are questions that are very common, you should bring this to the attention of the course instructor. If appropriate, you could also send a note to the course email list to try to clear up the confusion.
Marking will probably be a big part of your job. It's not terribly exciting, but keep in mind that it's probably the most important part of your job as far as the students are concerned. Depending on the course, you may be asked to mark all of the assignments for a group of students, or a few assignments for the entire class.
Every course and instructor has their own guidelines and expectations for the work that students submit. Talk to the course instructor to find out what is expected for each assignment or test you're marking. The instructor might provide you with solutions or might expect you to come up with the solutions yourself. You might want to mark a few students' work first and discuss those with the course instructor to make sure you agree on the number of marks particular answers receive.
When marking, don't rush through it. If you rush the marking, you'll just spend the time dealing with problems later. Take the time you need to do it right. Remember that there can be correct answers that don't look exactly like the answer key.
If you encounter academic dishonesty (students with too-similar assignments; work copied from outside sources, etc.), talk to the course instructor to find out how it should be handled. Don't deal with academic dishonesty yourself.
After the work is handed back to the students, you will probably get questions about the marks the received. These questions can be anywhere from "I don't understand what I did wrong here" to "I deserve more marks for this." Feel free to discuss what the students did wrong and why you gave them the mark you did.
Different instructors have different policies on changing marks; some ask the TAs to reevaluate marking if necessary, some do it themselves and ask the TAs not to. Ask your course instructor.
If you are asked, to reevaluate a student's work, remember that...
- The number of marks an answer deserves is your decision, not the student's. It's not a negotiation.
- Realize that it is somewhat unfair to give marks back to one student and not others. You can say "all students were marked this way, and though you may feel it's harsh, it was evenly applied and I can't change it easily now."
- You are assigning a mark based on the work they handed in, not their explanation of it after the fact.
- It's okay to be wrong—if you gave less marks than the student deserved, don't deny it, fix it.
If you get persistent complaints about marking from particular students, send them to the course instructor.
There are several thing that you shouldn't tell/show anybody. For example: Gradebook password; student marks; class lists with student IDs; answer keys/instructors text. In addition, make sure any marked work goes either to the student or instructor.
Other places you can send students for help, or go yourself:
- Go to TA/TM day.
- The Learning and Instructional Development Centre (LIDC) gives many seminars and presentations on different topics.
- Others? For students?