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Case Study: Caught in the Middle

Erin and Jack are TAs for a second year course. As part of their responsibilities, they are expected to assist students with the lecture material, answering their questions and guiding the students as they work on their assignments. They also mark many of the course assignments.

Not long into the term, it becomes clear to both Jack and Erin that the majority of students are not faring well on the assignments. Students complain that the course instructor is going through too much material, too quickly, in the lectures. Jack and Erin can see that students must move on to more and more complex material, before they have assimilated the basic concepts.

Jack and Erin get together to discuss the problem. Although most students insist that the problem lies in the professor's teaching style, Jack and Erin are not so sure. Perhaps the students are simply not putting enough effort into the assignments. They have discovered that some of the students do much better on the assignments if Jack and Erin spend extra time with them. Jack and Erin realize they are uncertain about how much time they are actually supposed to be putting into this TA job. They decide to speak with the professor.

Professor Jones informs Jack and Erin that all of the material must be covered at the present rate, as the course is a prerequisite for another. She clarifies that, as TAs, they are only responsible for 10 hours of work with the students each week. She does not seem concerned about the students' performance on the assignments.

Immediately after speaking with Professor Jones, Jack and Erin decide they are worrying needlessly. But, back in their office they are met by an unhappy group of students complaining vociferously about the course and the instructor.

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Last updated June 24, 1997

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