Graduate School Meditations

Technologies of Taste: TA Reflections

My first experience as an instructional assistant at UCSC begins!  In my previous roles, I began as a tutor, then a grader, and after completing required preparatory courses, of course, I taught sections of my own literature and academic rhetoric and writing courses.  After being solely responsible for the management of a course, I am now a TA for my department facilitating discussion sections for faculty courses.  I am grateful to have much of the responsibility of delivering the course material lifted, for now.  This is a new role, one which I am still feeling out.  I was never in a class with a TA, so the whole dynamic was new to me.

Tips for a New Teaching Assistant (TA)

1.  Be ready for the unexpected!

Fire drill on the first day!  This one is for you, mom.  Important lesson: know ahead of time where to lead folks in an emergency, and discuss that with the class on day one.  Also, consider how to regroup from the utterly unexpected.  It was disruptive to my flow.

2.  Scope out the room (in advance, if possible) and arrive early.

The room to which we were assigned was less than ideal.  Not enough table space for 32 people and an instructor who need space. There were some technological issues, as I was adapting to new smart room technology.  Scoping out the room should mean trying out all technology you will use.

3.  Bring a checklist.

If there are things I absolutely need to do, like hand back work, this is essential.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget plans that are only in your head.

4.  I play music as the students come in.  Occasionally, I need to use it directly in the discussion.

There were, thankfully, many days when I felt things worked well.  On our first official meeting we considered course themes by listening to “Home Computer” by Kraftwerk.  This allowed us to closely read lyrical content, as a way of practicing close reading and analysis, and to apply the theory we were reading to a new text.  And we were able to closely listen to sonic constructions of technological futures and world making and analyze them.

5.  Sometimes simple is better when framing discussion time.

The students were assigned readings about race and the internet.  Following that, we had a productive discussion that went the length of the meeting by asking one simple question and its inverse: does the internet promote racism?  Does the internet work against racist ideology?  Sometimes, simplicity is the key.  The discussion was thoughtful and produced much participation.

6.  Useful activity: annotated bibliography on a google doc.

Finally, one activity was the collaborative development of an annotated bibliography of all course material.  This was a chance to practice developing an essential literary research tool, really for any discipline, and a way to review and refresh ourselves on some readings that were done early in the semester.  Students were given a model, shown the format, and asked to work in teams to complete two entries.  I had asked them to bring devices, and I set activity up as a google doc.  Getting everyone to bring a device is hit or miss, but with groups at least one person has one.