Managing Your Lab Section

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Preparation

Prior to the start of class, you should:

  1. Get in touch with your Course Contact and define your duties for the term.
  2. Find out where and when your lab meets through DoC's DB (click on the appropriate link under Timetables).
    • Become familiar with the lab machines and software
    • Make sure you can log in and use the projector (you can get projector remote controls from the CS Help Desk)
  3. Labs & Room Booking Information
  4. Ensure you have access to and become familiar with DoC's DB.
    • DoC's DB allows TAs to access timetables, class lists and submit grades
    • Note that your DoC's DB login is different than your CSID and CCID - you should receive this login during your application process
  5. Ensure you have access to and become familiar with your course website on eClass Moodle.
  6. Pick up and/or prepare your course materials.
  7. Contact the past TAs of your course if you have questions and to get ideas about what has been done.
  8. Familiarize yourself with Department policies.

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Course Materials

Teaching Assistants are not expected to pay for any supplies necessary for teaching a class. All course materials may be obtained from the admin assistants in main office (Athabasca 2-32).

  • course textbooks
  • paper
  • folders
  • staplers
  • transparencies
  • dry-erase markers/erasers

Photocopying can be done in ATH 2-24 (office keys unlock this door) and CSC 2-28 (enter code given to you by reception). There is no quota, however your photocopy usage is tracked by the department.

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Course Webpages

Course Webpages on eClass Moodle

All Computing Science courses are on the central course management system, eClass Moodle. These course sites can be accessed with your CCID and password. Your course should be listed in the left side Navigation block under "My courses." If you have editing permissions for your course in eClass (this is something that will be decided on between you and your Course Contact), then you may post materials on the course web pages.

  • Moodle 101: Tutorials and training materials on eClass Moodle

Webpage Content

Course webpages usually contain the following information:

  • Contact information: Professor and TA email addresses, office hours, lecture and discussion hours and locations
  • Syllabus and Course Outline
  • Homework assignments: Depending on the professor, solutions may also be posted
  • Notices of upcoming quizzes and examinations
  • Lecture slides (if available)

Discussion and News Forums

In eClass, there are Course Discussion and News forums for your course that can be used to communicate with students (if permission is granted by your Course Contact). All participants in the course are automatically subscribed to the News forum when they register in the course.

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Conducting Your Lab

*Note: For 101, 114, 115, 201 the lab instructor will hold weekly meetings and provide presentation notes. For other courses, talk to your Course Contact.

General Procedures

  1. Write the course, lab section, lab duration, your name and U of A email on the white board
  2. Do a brief presentation at the start of the lab
    • It normally has a summary of the current lab assignment, but concentrate on difficult and/or new concepts
    • Try to get students involved by asking leading questions
    • Be approachable so students feel comfortable offering feedback and asking questions
  3. Then, help students individually with the assignment

Giving Individual Help

  • Give hints: Within reason, ensure students learn, and do the work on their own. You help and guide them, but try not give them the actual answers.
    • For minor things, or questions about policy, or when a student is frustrated and is not making progress, it is normally okay to give all or part of the answer (check with the professor ahead of time about how much of an answer to give).
  • Mini-presentations: You can do impromptu mini-presentations to address common questions.
  • Collaboration: If the course allows, students can collaborate with one another - students are always allowed to share ideas.
  • Be honest: If a student is wrong, let them know - this is part of learning, but do your best to concentrate on what they did correctly.

"Students will respect your honesty and will trust the correct answers that you do give. Also, describing to students how you would go about finding an answer can help them to learn how to research answers themselves. Remember to look up the answer [if you do not know it] and, at the next meeting, give it to the student who asked." 
- Physics TA

"Students will usually not ask questions. Constant circulating by the TA is needed. On an individual basis lots of questions come forward. I would either ask how it was going, what certain results showed (concepts proven), or if there was another way to do something. Nine times out of ten doing this provoked good, thoughtful questions." 
- Physics TA

Other Tips

  • Remain in lab, and remain visible and available as the TA for the entire lab period, regardless of attendance
  • Repetition is very important, both when learning, and when reminding students about due dates and policies
  • Get around to all questions
    • If there are many questions, spend no more than 10 minutes per student (let students know ahead of time so they're prepared).
    • Use a list of names on the board if busy to make things more fair and organized

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Assignment Submission & Grading

eClass Assignment Submission

If you create Assignments in eClass Moodle, students may upload files to be graded.

ASTEP: Assignment Submission and Extraction Program

Grading Lab Assignments

*Note: For 101, 114, 115, 201 marking guidelines for assignments are prepared by the lab instructor. For other courses, your Course Contact will give you broad guidelines which you can further develop.

For each lab assignment, there must be ONE (and only one) marking guide for all labs. Do not create marking criteria unilaterally. TAs must follow the same criteria; the instructor has the final say, and he or she may put 1 TA in charge of the guide.

  • Provide marking guidelines for students
    • A high-level version of the guide, at least, should be available for students well before the due date.
  • Late assignments
    • Remember to apply late policy if there is one.
  • Return marking promptly
    • Assignments should be marked within 1 week to 10 days (2 weeks at most) of the due date. Your Course Contact will make this decision.
  • Mark consistently, mark early
    • Mark a few submissions early to form a baseline for marking so you can decide with your fellow TAs (and perhaps with the instructor) on how to handle tricky situations.
    • Never change or disobey the marking guide on your own. Bring up issues with other TAs and the instructor so changes can be uniform.
  • Provide feedback to students
    • Realize many won't read feedback so it is best to make comments noteworthy but brief.
    • Saying "good job!", "excellent work!", or less cliche praise like "a uniquely efficient algorithm ... I learned something!" is always appreicated.
    • Be honest but constructive with critical comments.
    • It is fine if common mistakes are treated globally; post how common mistakes were dealt with - this cuts down on time spent repeating feedback.
  • Encourage students to email you if they have questions
    • If you are meeting with a student, remember marks are private, so you must meet in private.
      • If there is time, and you can keep their marks private, you can deal with this during a lab session.
      • If you have one, use your office, as long as no one else is there.
      • Use an enclosed break-out room.
  • Re-marking
    • If you need to re-mark, do it quickly, honestly, and consistently. Do not violate the marking guide upon re-marking.
  • Privacy
    • You must NEVER reveal a student's mark and name, or name and ONE Card number, to another student.
    • OmbudService: Helps ensure confidentially student-related processes at the U of A are fair.

Mark Entry Through DOC'S DB

DoC's DB, often referred to as docsdb, is the system where marks are entered and class lists printed.

  • Use your DoC's DB login to access DoC's DB. This is different from your CSID and CCID.
  • Options for entering marks and printing class lists appear once logged in.
  • See the online DoC's DB help page on mark entry for an explanation of some of the features.
  • For other DoC's DB tasks, ask an experienced TA in your course or the instructor. You can also send a message to docsdb@cs.ualberta.ca for further information.

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Communication & Punctuality

Department Email Communication Policy

  • Using mail on Undergraduate machines
    • Send mail to students using your @ualberta.ca or @cs.ualberta.ca address
    • Students should send you mail using their @ualberta.ca or @ugrad.cs.ualberta.ca addresses
  • University's Electronic Communications Policy

Communication Guidelines

  • Be punctual with your email
    • You should be reading email in the morning and evening M-F at least, and respond to your instructor, fellow TAs, and students in a timely manner.
  • Be there
    • Your position as a TA requires you to be available from September 1 to Christmas break in December, and right after holidays (early January - you must not return at the start of class, as this is too late) to the end of April.
    • You can make arrangements with your Course Contact if you wish to be away temporarily. If it is done early (ie. a month or more ahead) they are usually flexible, but they do have the final say on whether you may take the leave or not. If the leave is granted, you will need to find another TA to fill in for you.
  • Communicate constantly
    • Communicate with TAs and the professor to maintain consistency with what's covered in-lab, and especially when marking (see above).
    • There are normally weekly TA meetings for the course which you must attend. These facilitate communication
  • Participate in the course discussion forum
    • Answer student questions promptly
    • The professor may assign one person to monitor the forum
    • Give hints and allow students to learn, as when helping students individually in-lab; normally don't just answer directly
    • Post interesting questions, and share difficulties you had when doing a lab assignment
  • Communication tips (PDF, 21KB)
    • To help improve communication in the lab.

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