F3-AS2-4 - Teaching Assistants’ Experiences of Tutoring and Assessing in Computer Science Education

3. Research Full Paper
Emma Riese1 , Viggo Kann1
1 KTH Royal Institute of Technology

This Research, Full Paper presents a study on the experiences of teaching assistants (TAs) in Computer Science (CS) courses. TAs are widely used in CS education, to reduce the workload of faculty. A way to allow smaller groups of students in tutorials and individual guidance in lab sessions, even though the numbers of students in the classes are increasing. The aim of this study is to describe the TAs, own experiences of their role, which work tasks they have and how they are carried out.

Fifteen semi-structured interviews with TAs, who were themselves studying towards a bachelor’s or master’s degree, were carried out and analyzed using thematic analysis. The results indicate that the TAs typically work alone with preparing the material for the tutorials and that they are given a high amount of freedom both regarding which examples to explain and which pedagogical approaches to use.  During the lab sessions the students conduct lots of different tasks, related to assessment and tutoring. In the paper, we present a framework with the identified work tasks, with descriptions on how they were carried out.

The thematic analysis resulted in six role descriptions; as a teacher, friend, tutor, grader, mentor and apprentice. Combining the roles as tutors and graders, can be experienced as tricky, especially if the instructions and grading criteria are lacking details. The TAs can also view themselves as both a teacher and a friend to their students, which could cause conflicts of interest to arise. The TAs could experience to be an apprentice to the course coordinator and senior TAs, but also to be a mentor for the students and more novice TA colleagues. The implications of this study could be of use for faculty who employ TAs in their courses or are conducting or planning TA training sessions. Based on the result, we have made some recommendations for TA training.

Keywords: Assessment, Teaching Assistants, TAs