Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TA Mentor Program

I found out yesterday that I got an interesting new job for September! Instead of being a TA for specific courses, as I have done in the past, I will be what they call a TA Mentor:
The TA Mentorship Program, now in its second year, was designed by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR) to provide department specific information for incoming TAs. The program employs experienced TAs from eleven participating departments [...] who act as mentors passing on their knowledge, skills and sense of professionalism to new TAs.

This year, the program is expanding to include computer science, and that's where I come in. To give an idea of what I hope to do with this position, let me share a couple of the mini-essay responses I gave for my application.

As a mentor, what kinds of activities and support do you think might help TAs in your department? Be as specific as you can.

Many TA's in our department just hold office hours and grade assignments/tests. As a result, they may start to feel somewhat disconnected from the course. The most useful TA's I ever had were the ones who took the time to add somewhat detailed comments on tests and assignments. Some encouragement to do this, and some suggestions on how to mark quickly even with this extra work, would probably go a long way.

For the TA's that do lead tutorials, workshops with ideas for different activities and teaching styles would likely improve the variety of the course for students. TA's can be shown specific methods that appeal to various learning styles in terms of teaching computer science topics.

All TA's would benefit from workshops about getting feedback from students, communication skills (how to relate ideas that you know well to students who are lost and confused), and technology suggestions (course blogs, online office hours, etc). These are all topics covered more or less by EDC training for all TA's, but most computer science TA's assume these workshops aren't useful to them and don't attend.

Lastly, to touch upon the low number of women in computer science: I just finished reading the book "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing", which details how Carnegie Mellon University managed to raise its female enrolment from 7% to over 42% (as of the year 2000). One of the suggestions made was to hold specific workshops for TA's regarding gender equity. Most people don't even realize that they can be gender biased (for example, always calling on the guys in tutorials). Beyond that, though, there are ways of behaving and teaching that appeal to women and help them succeed (as well as certain types of male students). It may be tricky to promote this as a topic on its own, though, given that it might make some people uncomfortable. More research into this is needed.

Write about what you would hope to learn as TA Mentor.

I am very interested in computer science education, and have a career goal of becoming an instructor in the field. I believe that being a TA Mentor would provide me with the opportunity to research more deeply into this topic, including effective teaching techniques and methods that work well to reach the TA's themselves.

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Suggestions? Concerns? Ideas? Please feel free to write them down in comments!

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