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TA Support | Community
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What do Students most want from TAs?
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When asked to identify one action that teaching assistants (TAs) could take to best number of students overall responded with requests for TAs to increase their availability outside of class. Overall, student expectations of TAs increased during the remote learning period accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic. Students had a wide range of ideas as to how TAs could improve the educational experience during emergency remote teaching which extended well beyond increased availability. Examples of these "best practices" as identified by students are described below.

Increase Availability outside of class (21% of responses in emergency remote teaching; 9% in traditional learning)

"Hold more office hours online for students to ask questions and respond to students' questions on Canvas or email more often." (undergraduate student, signal processing course)

"Offer teacher's equivalent of office hours or at least extend their willingness to help over email and/or Zoom when needed." (undergraduate student, signals and systems course)

"TAs must be available as much as possible to answer questions, whether that be through hosting office hours on Zoom or being readily available on discussion platforms like Piazza.." (undergraduate student, signal processing course)

"They (TAs) can do the same as the professor, and just in general provide as much help outside of classes through office hours and emails." (undergraduate, linear circuit theory course)

Be Responsive to Students (10% of responses in emergency remote teaching; 2% in traditional learning)

"Be clear about their office hours and be responsive on email." (undergraduate student, computer aided design course)

"They (TAs) can also answer questions via email quickly." (undergraduate student, introductory circuits course)

"Maybe a more timely update on lab report grades. So that students know about their mistakes earlier and have time to make changes for the rest of the reports." (undergraduate student, linear circuit theory course)

"… a TA could reply quicker because I tend to have questions later in the week, not during the lab session." (undergraduate student, signals and systems course)

Ask and Facilitate Questions in Class (6.6% of responses in emergency remote teaching; 4.2% in traditional learning)

"TAs can maybe try to get some more discussion out of students during quiz/lab sections because it would definitely help everyone's learning more rather than the TA just talking and then letting the students work." (undergraduate student, signals and systems course)

"Understand the students questions better." (undergraduate student, microelectronic circuits course)

"Providing lots of time for questions. I think the best format for this is with questions the whole class can attempt, engage with, and ask questions on." (undergraduate student, introductory circuits course)

"Ask questions which test our knowledge of the circuit being designed/built. Whether we have the answer or not, it becomes more clear to the student how robust their knowledge is." (undergraduate student, microelectronic circuits course)

Provide Examples in Class (5.5% of responses in emergency remote teaching; 14% in traditional learning)

"I think going over test-style questions in lab section would be really helpful since there are not traditional practice tests for the online platforms." (undergraduate student, introductory circuits course)

"Reinforcing what the teacher is doing in lecture with either alternate explanations or more examples." (undergraduate student, signals and systems course)

"TA to do practice problems, so we can practice it with them. They can give us practice problems that can help us understand the material more.." (undergraduate student, microelectronic circuits course)

Provide Good Lab Support (4.9% of responses in emergency remote teaching; 1.3% in traditional learning)

"Help with labs." (undergraduate student, introductory circuits course)

"Be more active in the class and work students through parts of the lab instead of just talking about it." (undergraduate student, linear circuit theory course)

"Maybe like being available for a bit before lab and after lab to deal with any extra questions related to the lab." (undergraduate student, linear circuit theory course)

Shifts in Student Expectations
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In transitioning from traditional in-person learning to emergency remote teaching, many students appeared to have swapped their expectations for in-class delivery (47.2% of responses in traditional learning vs. 19.1% in emergency remote teaching) with expectations for out-of-class interactions (28.4% of responses in traditional learning vs. 47.6% of responses in emergency remote teaching). Rather than expecting more during class, students appealed to TAs for more frequent out-of-class interactions. This reflects a larger shift in student expectations from getting help during specific times to having help available when they need it. To compensate for the loss of the traditional classroom session, many TAs offered help most if not all days of the week to students who needed it. Heading back into the traditional classroom, this expectation for more and more frequently availability may be here to stay!

The Importance of Caring and Understanding
In the results presented above, student responses that focused on a specific aspect of TA teaching are emphasized in the presentation of data. Among students who responded in more general terms as to what they most desired from their TAs, many appealed to TAs to be more understanding of the struggles that students faced and express more care in their interactions with students:

"Reach out to students more so it feels more welcoming to ask for help from the TAs." (undergraduate student, introductory circuits course)

"Sympathize with students who have technical difficulties. My TA is the best TA and deserves a raise. He stayed five hours for our three hour lab because students continued to experience crashing software." (undergraduate student, microelectronic circuits course)

"Be more approachable. This can be done by making it very clear through body language, and emotion, that they're interested in our success and are willing to help us to get be successful. This is hard if a TA isn't interested, but if they are, being as genuine as possible with students helps us (or me at least) feel like they're approachable, which makes me want to succeed more." (undergraduate student, digital circuits course)