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Teaching Assistants

Preamble

Programming and using a computer are obviously integral parts of a sound education in computing - TAs play an essential and valuable part in the teaching of computer science to undergraduates. This laboratory teaching function complements the formal lectures, and is vital. However, it is not the total function of the TA, the other functions being less tangible. TAs can often bridge the gap between first and second year students and the faculty. First year students in particular may find it easier to relate to a TA, who is a fellow student, than to faculty. Thus TAs have a pivotal function in setting an example, as a role model. Many students will pattern their behaviour and approach to programming and problem solving on their TA's attitude and philosophy. The TA's enthusiasm and their techniques of imparting their knowledge of programming and problem-solving are thus very important. A TA is expected to know the work that is being covered in the associated lecture sessions, and it is the TA's responsibility to obtain all necessary information (assignment, what has been taught, package being used, ...) prior to the laboratory.

General Guidelines for a TA

  • A TA should assist students to the best of his/her ability. Assistance is subject to the guidelines regarding the degree of help that a TA can or should provide (see the following section).
  • A TA should always be present at the time and place that is specified in their contract. This includes being on time for their laboratory.
  • In the case of illness or accident, the TA shall inform the supervisor as soon as possible (email, phone call) so adequate alternative arrangements can be made. Medical note may be requested to produce proof of sickness.
  • If a TA is unable to be present for other reason (e.g. dentist's appointment, having to work on the TA's own assignment), the onus is on the TA to inform the supervisor well in advance, and to assist in finding a replacement.
  • The TA's responsibility first and foremost is the students in the laboratory. Thus TAs should refrain from doing personal work (assignments, essays, ...) while the laboratory is in progress. Doing one's own work is only acceptable if there is no one in the laboratory.
  • The TA should be active in the laboratory, not passive.
  • The TA's presence should be made known by routinely walking around the laboratory, looking for students with assignment/programming problems.
  • A TA may be asked to help in the maintenance of the equipment and software in the laboratory (such as reformatting and loading a hard disk) during their laboratory period.
  • It is expected that a TA will attend all meetings scheduled with the course instructor/coordinator. These regular meetings are intended for feedback from the TAs to the instructor, as well as information sessions regarding what is due to be taught, what needs special explanations, what has not yet been covered in lectures, and marking expectations.

General Guidelines for a Marker

  • A marker should complete their marking of assignments in the time period (usually one week) specified by the course instructor/coordinator.
  • All assignments must be clearly initialled by the marker.
  • The marking scheme must be read completely and carefully first before any assignments are marked. If you have any difficulty with interpretation, please consult with the Course Coordinator or the faculty member involved.
  • Assignment submissions are the result of a lot of sweat and possibly tears on the part of the students -please do not be facetious in your comments, but be fair and constructive.
  • If a student has a genuine grievance or concern with the mark received for an assignment, the student should see the instructor, who will investigate the mark allocation and possibly consult with the marker. Only the instructor can change the mark.

Guidelines Regarding Assisting Students

  • The TA is responsible for helping the students in the laboratory with course related material, which may include instruction, coaching, and problem solving.
  • When student is having trouble solving an assignment problem, it is the TA's responsibility to give direction to that student and lead them toward an understanding of the difficulty.
  • A TA is not required to, nor is it suggested that they, provide the solution to an assignment problem.
  • It is acceptable for a TA to suggest small code segments (no more than a few lines of code) in addition to correcting that code which a student has already written, in order to get the student on to the right track.
  • The TA is encouraged to prompt the student with questions that, when answered, will lead the student to a better understanding of the problem.
  • A TA should always fully explain what they have done when giving help to a student.
  • If there is general difficulty in a laboratory, the TA is encouraged to air the problem and a pointer to its solution, in front of the whole laboratory. This makes better use of a TA's time and is less repetitive. The TA should make notes of these general difficulties and communicate them to the course instructor/coordinator.