Sunday, May 3, 2009

TA Workshops for Computer Scientists

I recently wrote this article for Carleton University's TA Talk newsletter as part of the requirements for a Certificate in Teaching Skills. I wanted to give some ideas for computer science TA's on how they might take advantage of the workshops offered at Carleton, since many of them figure the workshops are not designed for our discipline. There might be similar training opportunities at your school, so have a look and take advantage!

Useful Workshops for Computer Science TA's

On more than one occasion, I've heard computer science teaching assistants mention that there weren't any TA workshops geared toward them. Many were most useful for business and arts programs, they said, since we don't have discussion groups or mark essays. Even the lab speed grading workshop didn't really apply to us, since marking scientific lab reports are very different from marking computer programs.

After completing 14 hours of workshop training for the Certificate in Teaching Skills, I can honestly say that I found something useful in each and every workshop I took. I'd like to share some ideas of how you might be able to apply the concepts you learn at these training sessions.

In Soliciting Useful Feedback From Students, you can think about how you might start a feedback loop between you and your students. This is probably most useful if you are leading tutorials and want to get an idea of how effective your teaching style is, but you can even get feedback on your office hours and marking abilities.

Teaching Millennial Students is a bit of an eye-opener, especially when you see some of yourself in the description of 'kids these days'. It really helps prepare you for the kinds of things students might expect of you, and where you can draw the line. For instance, did you know that some students' parents actually contact TA's directly? It's rare, but it's good to be prepared for such a situation!

Any workshop that talks about technology will have concepts that work very well with computer science students. Having a course blog or online office hours, for example, might be the perfect way to engage the many students who never come to visit your office hours in person.

Finally, even though discussion groups are rare in computer science, the techniques used in them can be very applicable to how you run tutorials or office hours. You can learn about various activities that allow you to avoid speaking up at the chalkboard each and every tutorial. For example, I've used some of the techniques for a first year game development class, giving students a break from the usual exercises at the computer.

These are just some brief ideas on how to make the best of your training as a computer science TA. Give it a try, and with the right perspective going in, you'll be sure to find some of your own.

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