Undergraduate Teaching Assistants as Co-curators for the Module “Learning to Learn Better”: What We Learned

TAN Hui Ru, NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering (NGS),
Department of Food Science and Technology, Faculty of Science (FoS)
NG Tao Tao, Magdeline, NUS Libraries

Hui Ru reflects on being part of the teaching team for the module “Learning to Learn Better” as an undergraduate TA, particularly the enriched teaching and learning perspectives she gained from the experience.

Figure 1. Students attending the lecture for ALS1010 “Learning to Learn Better” (LTLB).
Photo courtesy of the TAN Hui Ru and Magdeline NG.

“I think some teachers… are so focused on getting stuff done that they don’t pay attention to their students, who I think are the most valuable resources in a classroom.”
(Mihans, Richard, Long, & Felten, 2008, p. 9)

As I echo the words mentioned by Mihans et al. (2008), I will be sharing some of my thoughts on involving undergraduate students as co-curators of a module.

In higher education, students’ voices frequently go unnoticed during the design of a curriculum or modules. However, in my journey as an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to contribute to the module ALS1010 “Learning to Learn Better” (LTLB) and be involved in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ module design process, specifically in curating social media posts and other module-related publicity materials. Contrary to the norm of only having faculty in the teaching team, the LTLB’s teaching team welcomes students to be part of its curriculum planning. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be the undergraduate teaching assistant (TA) of this module in Semester 1 of AY2018/19, and I would like to share some of my takeaways.

Figure 2. Instructors for ALS1010 preparing for the sessions.
Photo courtesy of TAN Hui Ru and Magdeline NG.

A Deeper Understanding of Teaching and Learning for Students and the Teaching Team

As I embarked on the role of a TA for the LTLB module, I began to appreciate the amount of work involved in the preparation of each lesson. ALS1010 is a blended learning module where students watch a couple of online videos before attending classStudents also meet for face-to-face lecture once a week (1.5 hours). I thought to myself naively, how hard can it be to prepare for a 1.5-hour class? I was wrongit is no exaggeration to say that the teaching team would spend at least 10 hours preparing for each lesson. As a student who is usually on the receiving end of such modules, I do not see the amount of preparation that goes on behind the scenes. The amount of effort put into each class made me realise that teaching is hard, hard work 

Student and Teaching Team May Relate Differently

During my stint as an undergraduate TA, I tried to incorporate new activities and content into the curriculum, thinking that these new learning strategies would be good additions to the module. However, the response from students, to put it bluntly, was lacklustre. I was disheartened and even thought that I was not cut out to be an educator. As I slowly regained my confidence and motivation to press on, I learned that (almost) every educator has experienced setbacks and it takes years of experience to know what will go well with the students. As clichéd as it sounds, the key is to keep trying. It is only after we try, that we will know what works and what does not within the curriculum. Eventually, we will find that sweet spot in which the module’s learning objectives are met and students experience improved learning in the moduleFailure is certain, but that is OKas it is just part of the path to success! 

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank our colleagues Robert Kamei and Fung Fun Man for their constructive comments which enabled us to refine this post, as well as the NUS Libraries (Science Library) team for their support.

Hui Ru TAN is currently a graduate student at the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering (NGS). She is also the head teaching assistant for the module ALS1010 Learning to Learn Better, which is offered by The NUS Office of the Senior Deputy President and Provost and sees an enrolment of more than 300 undergraduate students per academic year.

Hui Ru can be reached at huiru.tan@u.nus.edu. 

Magdeline NG is a Senior Librarian at NUS Libraries. She is part of the teaching team for the modules ALS1010 “Learning to Learn Better” and ALS1020 “Learning to Choose Better”. She is passionate about her role as a librarian involved in academic collaborations, be it in a research or education capacity.  Some of her interests relate to pedagogical research, innovative teaching methods, educational interventions, and research impact assessment. She received her BSc (Hons) and MSc in Chemistry from NUS and her Ph.D in Chemistry from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Magdeline can be reached at magdeline.ng@nus.edu.sg. 

References

Mihans, I., Richard, J., Long, D. T., & Felten, P. (2008). Power and expertise: Student-faculty collaboration in course design and the scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2), 16. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2008.020216