“I would do it all over again!”: The Perspectives of Teaching Assistants (TAs) Engaged for Hybrid Classes

Alice CHRISTUDASON, Grace WONG, Siok Kuan TAMBYAH
NUS Business School

This post explores the perspectives of Teaching Assistants (TAs) involved in supporting hybrid classes at the NUS Business School. In an earlier post, the authors share their experiences of engaging the TAs for this educational endeavour.

Photo created by tirachardz (www.freepik.com)
Christudason, A., Wong, G. K. M., & Tambyah, S. K. (2022, May 26). “I would do it all over again!”: The perspectives of teaching assistants (TAs) engaged for hybrid classes. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2022/05/25/i-would-do-it-all-over-again-the-perspective-of-teaching-assistants-tas-engaged-for-hybrid-classes/

The NUS Business School has been engaging teaching assistants (TAs) to assist with non-academic and technical tasks for hybrid classes during the pandemic. While the benefits to instructors are apparent, it would be useful to explore the perspectives of TAs involved in hybrid classes. In December 2021, a survey was sent to TAs to assess the various aspects of their experiences in terms of the benefits, challenges, and suggestions for improving the TA system (see Appendix for a description of the survey). We received 42 responses from the survey. In this post, we provide some reflections on the survey findings, which might be useful for colleagues who are considering the involvement of TAs for hybrid teaching.

 

Characteristics of the Sample

The sample was fairly gender-balanced, with 13 female and 17 male respondents (those who indicated their gender) (Figure 1). Most TAs were fourth year undergraduates (n=10), Master’s students (n=9), or PhD students (n=10) (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Gender of survey respondents.” width=

Figure 1. Gender of survey respondents.

Figure 2. Survey respondents' year of study.” width=

Figure 2. Survey respondents’ year of study.

The majority (n=27 or 64.3%) were first-time TAs in the past semester (August-November 2021), while about a third (n=15 or 35.7%) had experience, including four who had been TAs more than three times (Figure 3).

Figure 3. TA experience of survey respondents prior to Semester 1, AY2021/22.” width=

Figure 3. TA experience of survey respondents prior to Semester 1, AY2021/22.

Typically, they assist one faculty member in a semester (n=33 or 78.6%), with nine TAs assisting two to three faculty members (Figure 4). Sixteen (16) TAs mentioned that they had taken the module before assuming the TA role, while 26 had not (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Number of faculty members) that TA assisted.” width=

Figure 4. Number of faculty members) that TAs assisted.

Figure 5. Whether survey respondents have taken the module before assuming the role of a TA.” width=

Figure 5. Whether survey respondents have taken the module before assuming the role of a TA.

 

Preparation and Tasks Performed

Thirty-eight TAs (n=38 or 90.5%) found the briefing and training (on Zoom, LumiNUS, the CAS1 and Safe Management Measures at NUS) to be adequate for them to perform their TA tasks (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Whether survey respondents felt that adequate briefing/training was provided for them to perform their tasks.” width=

Figure 6. Whether survey respondents felt that adequate briefing/training was provided for them to perform their tasks.

The TAs were assigned a range of classroom tasks, which are listed in order of frequency in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Tasks assigned to survey respondents.” width=

Figure 7. Tasks assigned to survey respondents.

The four most commonly assigned TA tasks were assisting with other technical aspects during the class sessions (n=39), monitoring students on Zoom (n=36), and taking (n=33) and uploading (n=28) the class photo for the CAS (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Commonly assigned TA tasks, including monitoring students during the Zoom class sessions, and taking and uploading class attendance photos to the CAS.” width=

Figure 8. Commonly assigned TA tasks, including monitoring students during the Zoom class sessions, and taking and uploading class attendance photos to the CAS.

 

Benefits of Being a TA

(1) Assisting and interacting with professors and students

Nineteen TAs (51% out of 37 valid responses) indicated that the main benefit derived was that they enjoyed assisting and interacting with both professors and students to ensure a smooth flow of the sessions. Ten TAs shared their learning insights about the teacher’s role, namely, how they organise and conduct lessons, manage students’ expectations, and handle last-minute ad-hoc situations. They better appreciated the teacher’s role and importance of teaching skills. Another four TAs expressed that they enjoyed the teaching experience and activities assigned, including answering students’ questions. Five TAs expressed that the tasks assigned were not too onerous.

(2) Expanding the knowledge base

Several TAs responded that they valued the opportunity to learn extensively from both professors and students, as well as enhance content knowledge by listening to the class discussions and presentations. For those who took the modules before, it presented an opportunity to reinforce what they had learnt previously, through the professors’ explanations of core concepts.

(3) Acquiring multitasking, communication, and technical skills

Eleven TAs expressed that the role enabled them to learn to communicate better with professors and students, to multitask while teaching, as well as learn to operate the classroom’s audio-visual (AV) equipment. Other skills they learnt include people management, decision-making skills, organisational skills, and using Excel. They also learnt to be attentive, proactive, and more responsible. Six TAs reflected that they had improved their time management skills, since they also have to manage their studies, internships and co-curricular activities. One TA described it as “holistic” development, while another TA considered it work experience.

 

Challenges of Being a TA

  1. Fifteen TAs highlighted encountering technical issues when handling the classroom’s AV equipment. Some tried to minimise potential problems by familiarising themselves with the equipment before the actual class.
  2. Some TAs who were assigned more tasks found it a challenge to juggle their duties with their regular workload. Some also felt they had to be more prepared with helping to answer student queries. This preparation included being proactive with finding resources and communicating with the professors.

 

Improvements to the TA System

  1. The main suggested improvements were related to the classroom equipment and use of technology.
    Four TAs requested for more powerful microphones as the existing ones were insufficient to cover the entire classroom area. Another TA suggested alternate platforms for organising polls, as the regular PollEverywhere platform has many restrictions such as a cap on the number of poll respondents.
  2. Three TAs proposed that for the hybrid teaching mode, it would be more efficient with standardised procedures, and that TAs receive a common briefing/training session and also have access to the classroom to check the IT system before the class begins.

 

Conclusion

While the TAs’ role in assisting hybrid classes does present challenges (especially in working with the available technological resources), all but one TA said that if offered the opportunity, they would take up the role again. Thirty (30) (71.4%) TAs rated their experience as “excellent”, while 12 (28.6%) found it “satisfactory”. This overall positive sentiment can be attributed to the benefits TAs felt they gained in terms of their growth in their academic and personal lives, while at the same time receiving remuneration for work done.

 

Alice CHRISTUDASON is an Associate Professor at the Department of Real Estate in the NUS Business School. She teaches a wide range of Law subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and on various Executive programmes. She has won several NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Awards as well as been on the Honour Roll. She served previously as Vice-Chair at the NUS Teaching Academy and was involved in the Professional Development Programme at the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL). She is a member of the Teaching Excellence Council at the NUS Business School. Her research areas which include land law, strata title, property-related torts and educational pedagogy have been published in books, international journals and presented at international and local conferences.

Alice can be reached at bizalchr@nus.edu.sg.

Grace WONG is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Real Estate, NUS Business School. She has taught a wide range of core, elective and GEM modules, and was inducted into the NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Award: Honour Roll (2020-2024). She is also a Vice-Chair of the NUS Teaching Academy Executive Council, Fellow of the NUS Teaching Academy as well as member of the Teaching Excellence Council at the NUS Business School. Her teaching research publications, which focus on her pedagogical initiatives, are featured in Ideas on Teaching, CDTL Brief, CDTLink, Teaching Connections as well as in conferences for teaching and learning in higher education.

Grace can be reached at bizgwong@nus.edu.sg.

Siok Tambyah

Siok Kuan TAMBYAH is an Associate Professor in Marketing and the current Chair of the Teaching Excellence Council at the NUS Business School. She is also a Fellow at the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT). Her research and teaching interests include consumption and identity, consumer culture, happiness, and cross-cultural consumer behaviour. In addition to disciplinary research, she is involved in pedagogical research on learning outcomes related to residential colleges.

Siok can be reached at biztsk@nus.edu.sg.

Endnote

  1.  CAS stands for the Classroom Attendance System.

 

Appendix

There were 15 questions in the survey, starting with TAs’ demographics (e.g., gender, year of study, experience being a TA), followed by the assigned tasks and the TAs’ perceptions of the training received. The survey also had open-ended questions about the TAs’ overall experience such as the following:

(a) What do you like about your TA role/tasks?

(b) How have you benefitted from being a TA? Please share what you have learnt or found useful for your own personal and/or academic development.

(c) What was most challenging about being a TA?

(d) Please share any suggestions for improvements to the TA system