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Regardless of the source of monies that fund their time in the graduate program, all doctoral students in the department have teaching responsibilities, as teaching is considered a major part of graduate training. Most students will be Teaching Assistants (TAs) in each of the three terms of their first year. In rare instances, teaching responsibilities may be delayed until later (e.g. if a student wins a prestigious OSU Provost Distinguished Graduate Fellowship). Finally, depending on how a student’s graduate education is funded after the first year, a student may be assigned additional teaching responsibilities in lieu of Research Assistant (RA) funds.
We would like to stress that teaching is an exceptional learning opportunity, and should not considered a “necessary evil”. To properly teach any course, one needs to know substantially more about a topic than the students one educates. Thus, often an instructor will learn more by teaching a course than a given student will learn from taking the same class! Students may thus want to volunteer for additional teaching, if that is the primary reason for getting a higher degree. It should be stressed here that this must be discussed with the mentoring professor BEFORE students sign up as TAs.
At the end of each TA assignment, professors are required to complete a form evaluating the student's performance. A copy of the evaluation form can be found as Appendix 3 at the end of the handbook and online here. Evaluations are discussed with the student, and signed by the professor and the student. Like the rotation evaluations, TA evaluations become part of the student's record and are considered for the general evaluation after the first year. In addition, each TA will receive feedback from students taking the class in the form of standardized “Student Evaluation of Teaching” (SET) surveys.
Teaching duties for each term are assigned by the Department Chair. Students are informed of their assignments and encouraged to contact the class instructor early.
Teaching falls into two categories, lecture courses and laboratory courses. As a TA, you have responsibilities that are general for all courses and that are specific to certain courses.
1. Meet with the instructor(s) responsible for teaching the class. This should be done at least one week prior to the start of the term. If TAs plan to be out of town until the start of the term, they should contact the instructor(s), ideally prior to leaving.
2. Obtain a syllabus for the course. This outlines the basic information concerning the course (instructors, text used, chapters covered, exam dates, etc.).
3. Obtain an outline of subjects and material to be covered in the course. Most of this should be in the syllabus. In some cases, the instructor will have a specific set of class notes, but not always. If a course is taught by more than one instructor, TAs need to find out what topics each instructor will cover.
4. Determine the grading protocol and standards. How will the course be graded (exams, quizzes, problem sets, lab reports, lab notebooks, etc.)? Will deliverables be graded on a B average or C average? Will grades be strictly from the total points each student earns, or will it be curved? These are questions that the students who take the class will ask the TAs.
5. Obtain instructions for how to instruct students in a specific class. What is a TAs part in instructing? What are the responsibilities of the TAs (e.g. recitations, office hours, proctoring exams, grading, etc.)?
6. Set office hours and location. In most classes, TAs are the first contacts for helping students on a one-on-one basis. TAs need to set office hours and BE PRESENT DURING THE TIME AND AT THE PLACE INDICATED. Typically these times are added to the syllabus or class information that the instructors make available to students on the Blackboard web pages for the class. TAs need to tell Barbara Hanson in the departmental office what their office hours are and where their office is located. TAs need to make sure the enrolled students get this information. Most instructors require at least two hours per week of office hours from TAs. If TAs cannot be available for office hours they must let the instructors know at least a day in advance.
7. KNOW THE MATERIAL!! This cannot be stressed enough. One cannot teach unless one is more knowledgeable than the students. For this, TAs also need to know how instructors are presenting the material, and what they think is important for students to know. If TAs do not understand the material or how the instructor is presenting the material, it is useful to sit in on some lectures to develop a sense of the instructor’s teaching style.
When assigned to a lecture course, TAs will primarily be responsible for helping students during recitations and office hours with their problems, as well as grading and proctoring exams. TAs need to:
1. Be prepared to participate in the grading. TAs need to know when all the exams are given AND communicate with the instructor as to when to meet to start grading, when grading must be completed, and who grades what parts of the exam.
2. Prepare and present material in the subject outline during recitation. Each instructor has ideas as to how recitation should be run. TAs should abide by their preferences. Usually, there will be problem sets to review during recitation. TAs should get these in advance and complete them on their own. If there are any questions about answers or how the problem is to be solved, TAs must ask the instructor for assistance.
3. Be aware of grading policies. Corrections to grading (due to errors or perceived errors) are the final responsibility of the instructor.
4. COMMUNICATE ANY TIME CONFLICTS WITH THE INSTRUCTOR! This is important in terms for proctoring, grading exams, and assigning recitation sections.
When teaching in a laboratory course, TAs have a different set of responsibilities. As laboratory classes (BB 493/494) are taught by different instructors each term, the responsibilities of the TAs vary from term to term. Thus, the first responsibility is to contact the instructor to clarify expectations and obligations of TAs. This is also a good time to decide how much "teaching" TAs are expected to do in working with the students who are registered for the course. If two TAs are assigned to the course, they need to meet the other TA to work out the shared and individual responsibilities so that the needs of the class are met, and the responsibilities are EQUALLY shared. In general, TAs in the teaching lab courses are required to:
1. Obtain a key to the teaching lab (ALS 0023).
2. Prepare reagents and equipment in a timely manner for experiments assigned for the course. TAs need to keep a brief written record of reagent preparation in a permanent notebook.
3. Stock reagents and supplies (Kimwipes, Parafilm, pipet tips, etc.) that are used in the day-to-day functioning of the lab. This may also require placing orders for supplies and chemicals, and the instructors can help with this as needed. TAs maintain a supply of purified water. All of this must be done LONG BEFORE the lab runs out of these supplies. If there are not enough materials for the students to perform assigned experiments, then TAs failed in their jobs.
4. Maintain equipment and supplies so that subsequent users will find these materials, and find them in working order. TAs are not expected to, and should not, repair broken equipment, but should notify the current instructor or the main office when repairs are needed.
5. Be aware of safety. This is everyone's concern (the instructor, the TAs and the students). This includes environmental as well as personal safety.
6. Clean the laboratory at the end of the term, including the proper disposal of unnecessary reagents and student samples, and storage of equipment no longer in use. TAs properly dispose of all broken glassware and generally leave the lab in good working condition for the next term. It would be helpful to assemble a file of handouts, midterms, etc. to be available for future TAs responsible for the lab courses.