Have Your Say: Teaching Issues of Teaching Assistants/Graduate Assistants
Date: 27 April 2018 (Friday)
Time: 6.30 PM - 8.00 PM
Venue: Dewey, CDTL
Topic: Have Your Say: Teaching Issues of Teaching Assistants/Graduate Assistants
The TLC session, facilitated by Academy Fellows Dr Soo Yuen Jien and Dr Adrian Lee, invited post-graduate students who had undertaken Teaching Assistant roles in their departments to voice out about their experiences. Two experienced TAs from SoC and Chemistry led the discussion on teaching deployment, the support available and sentiment issues.
Views and observations were consolidated into a set of recommendations for higher management. The Academy thanks participants for their enthusiasm and frank feedback.
The meeting started with A/Prof Sow Chorng Haur, co-chair of the Teaching & Learning Club (TLC), giving an introduction. He highlighted that the theme selected for the event was on grading. The topics to be discussed included:
What do NUS students think of the fact that their work is graded?
Is this a good thing? What are some of the drawbacks?
Should first-year modules be graded S/U, or pass/no record?
How to make sure the students stay interested in the learning if the module is graded S/U?
He then invited A/Prof Laksh to make an announcement on the 6th International Conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 2011 (TLHE 2011) by CDTL. Prof Laksh invited the students to participate in the student panel category for the upcoming conference. The student panels are intended to serve as a platform for student groups to share and discuss their experiences in higher education and to help other participants to better understand the challenges faced by Gen Y learners and their learning needs. He added that students are encouraged to form their own groups, propose a topic, and submit an abstract to the committee. There will be facilitators who will help them to prepare for their sessions.
The students and lecturers then broke into buzz groups to discuss the questions that were prepared by the TLC leaders. After the buzz group discussion, students answered the questions that they were asked to tackle and also raised a few concerns:
The students agreed that the first year is very important and should pave the way for continued learning, by providing the basic knowledge that the students need later on. They also acknowledged that the first year presents a range of difficulties and challenges such as losing a scholarship, choosing a wrong subject, adapting to a new system, managing time etc. They agreed that grading is important because it motivates, empowers and helps student to learn more. The question is not whether grading is good or not good; but the more important question is how to make it work. The students did not quite agree with the bell curve system. They felt that they were not graded on what they know but how they perform based on others in their batch.
S/U or pass/no record
This led to the next question: whether it might be a good thing to grade all first year modules S/U or pass/no record. The students identified the following as objectives of S/U:
Shift focus from direct scores to learning
Allow adjustment to university life
They agreed that the S/U option could release some of the stress of student life but felt that the current system has some restrictions such as not allowing S/U options for non-core modules, and that S/U is currently applied across the board rather than making it an option. They gave some suggestions to improve the system:
Adopting an alternative system such as weighted grading
Applying S/U options to non-core modules
Exercising S/U options after knowing all their grades
Let students decide whether to be graded or S/U
Qualitative assessment from lecturers and peers
Adopting continual assessment especially if tutors could give input
Improving the syllabus – more hands-on or research-based syllabus
Changing students’ mindset that education is not just about getting good grades
Senior students helping junior students such as forming a peer study group
At the end of the day they agreed that grades do matter, and that there is a need to find a reasonable balance between two competing issues – learning and getting good grades. Prof Chng Huang Hoon encouraged students who have any issues to approach either their own departments/faculties or the CDTL and the Teaching Academy.
The TLC committee met up with students from various faculties to discuss issues pertaining to Student Feedback. The students then broke into “buzz groups” to discuss on the topic. A/P Sow Chorng Haur and Dr Johan Geertsema facilitated the discussion.