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Opinions highly valued! Teaching at Univ. level vs. Comm. Coll/HS


PhDinPublicHealthHopeful
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Been teaching for 10 years now. Moving on in my career to earn a PhD and will be TA (instructor on record). Here are my questions:

1. Coming from a solo background in teaching, what experiences do you have in TA'ing your own class and having input from your advisor/other faculty? Do they share syllabi? 

2. Do TA's receive laptops usually? I have a work laptop that will be going back and don't want to buy one without knowing if I'll receive one.

3. How committed are undergrad University students? My comm. college students don't have a high pass rate (which is pretty traditional).

4. Activities vs. lecture. I prefer to provide activities for students in addition to lecture (instead of straight lecture). What are some ways you've made your classes interactive?

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1) Totally depends on the department and the course. It also depends on whether you're instructor of record or not. Without more info, it's impossible to say.

2) Not typically. It's more likely that you would get a laptop as part of a research assistantship. In both my grad programs, all grad students had an office. One of those provided desktops to everyone while the other had a grad student computer lab which anyone could use. 

3) Depends on the course, the department, and the university. I've had extremely committed/interested undergrads and those who couldn't bother to come to class even on exam days and after repeated reminders. Again, impossible to say.

4) Some ways? Depends on the course and the material. Games, small group discussions, 1 minute papers, hands-on activities, field trips, YouTube videos, etc. Just google "active learning" and look at some university teaching center websites if you want to get a sense of what people are doing. 

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On 4/6/2016 at 10:52 PM, PhDinPublicHealthHopeful said:

Been teaching for 10 years now. Moving on in my career to earn a PhD and will be TA (instructor on record). Here are my questions:

1. Coming from a solo background in teaching, what experiences do you have in TA'ing your own class and having input from your advisor/other faculty? Do they share syllabi? 

2. Do TA's receive laptops usually? I have a work laptop that will be going back and don't want to buy one without knowing if I'll receive one.

3. How committed are undergrad University students? My comm. college students don't have a high pass rate (which is pretty traditional).

4. Activities vs. lecture. I prefer to provide activities for students in addition to lecture (instead of straight lecture). What are some ways you've made your classes interactive?

Since you're in public health, I'm going to assume you would be TAing for science courses (although I imagine there are other options as well).

I attended a small private college for my undergrad degree (about 2,000 students), a medium-sized state university for my masters (about 10,000 students), and am currently at a large state university for my PhD (about 30,000 students). So, to give you some insights from my own experiences as a biology lab TA - 

1. I have been fortunate to have had a course coordinator at both of my graduate institutions that have provided a lot of materials and preparation for TA's. This includes weekly meetings to go over the lab materials, a copy of a basic power point (which can be customized) for the introductory lecture, and a key to the lab manual. In addition, where I am now, we also have access to a quiz bank for making our lab quizzes, sample syllabi, computer files for past activities previous TA's have done, as well as a weekly seminar to improve our teaching skills. However, I know there are other departments where TA's are essentially handed a copy of the textbook and a list of chapters to get through and are told "good luck." 

2. I don't see why a TA would receive their own personal laptop for work. As a TA, I do have access to a room that is only for the TA's of the series of courses I teach which has computers, office supplies, and a copy machine. At my masters institution, I had access to a similar room but it did not have computers. However, there was a graduate student-only computer lab available, as well as computers in the lab space for all of the professors (so every graduate student had access to a computer on campus). So there doesn't seem to be any reason for a department to provide laptops to TA's when no specialized software is needed and computers are available. Both schools also offered extra financial aid (beyond that allowed for tuition and typical living expenses) for the purchase of a computer. 

3. From my observations at the three schools I've attended, students definitely tend to do poorly in introductory biology and chemistry classes no matter what type of school it is. Class averages for lecture exams were typically in the high-60's to low 70's. The lab components of these courses are a different story - lab grades tend to be in 90's because a lot of the grade is based on showing up to do the work and doing lab reports or other easy writing assignments outside of class. However, there are always those students who are really excited to be there and those who don't give a hoot and turn in half of the assignments. I don't think this would ever differ between types or sizes of schools - there are always going to be students with different levels of enthusiasm.

4. Since I do labs, the class is interactive by design. However, I do give a brief (15 min) lecture at the beginning of lab. I try to incorporate group discussions about some of the lab topics during this time, as well as short drawing or writing activities that they care share with the group.

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