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The Tasks of the TA

Rationale: A simple exercise that allows participants to realize that the role of the TA may be broader than they had thought, and encompasses a variety of tasks. It is best done at the beginning of an orientation session for new TAs. If faculty members are attending the session they should be encouraged to engage actively in this activity -- their views are important to TAs who are learning to define the parameters of their responsibilities. The exercise also provides a demonstration of "brainstorming" - generating a list of ideas quickly for later reflection and evaluation.

Method: Participants are asked to think about the difference tasks and responsibilities of a TA and jot down their list on a piece of paper. The facilitator should encourage everyone to "brainstorm", to work quickly and write down as many ideas as possible. (Allow up to 5 minutes for this part.)

The facilitator asks individuals to call out their ideas, one at a time but as quickly as possible, and lists them on a flip-chart, overhead, or chalkboard. Items may trigger new ideas, which are also noted. No commentary or evaluation of the items is offered: the task is to get a full list as quickly as possible. (Alternatively, participants can form groups of three, share their ideas, decide on a combined list, and each group report their ideas to the facilitator. If faculty are present, it may be best to have them form a separate group.) Not every participant will need to report, since many ideas will be duplicated. However, it is important to encourage those with unconventional ideas that others may not have thought are typical tasks for a TA. (This part will take at least 15 minutes, depending on the number of participants.)

The facilitator summarizes common themes. These can often be classified in terms of the following structure:

Participants are invited to comment on the importance of the different tasks. Some consideration may be given to expectations of time (hours per week or per term) to be allotted to each of the TA tasks. Faculty member input is especially valuable at this point. The facilitator should be alert to the potential for discrepancies between faculty and TA perceptions of task importance -- such discrepancies may be highlighted and discussed. The facilitator can conclude by pointing out there is no absolute "right answer" to this question: relative importance will depend on the type of course, the personality of the TA, and the particular teaching/learning context. (Total time for this wrap-up to 1 5 minutes.)

Note that the facilitator who is considering the provision of follow-up training activities for TAs can ask participants to indicate which (if any) of the task areas they would most like to have assistance with in the future.

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Last updated June 24, 1997

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