This was announced a few weeks ago, but since I received the award itself today, I figured I’d wait until now to announce it here: I’ve been selected as the recipient of the 2015 Georgia Tech College of Computing Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for my work on the Fall 2014 Knowledge-Based AI class in the OMSCS. This post is half news post, half blog post.
First of all, I’m grateful to Ashok, the professor for the course (and my PhD adviser) and to the students in the course for their unbelievably kind words during the nominations. Thank you as well to the College of Computing for ultimately selecting me.
This experience has inspired a number of thoughts in my mind, though. One major question I have is: is the role of the teaching assistant more significant in online classes than in on-campus classes? So far, the key determining factor I’ve observed in how well a class is run in the OMS is how involved the head TA is. I could see how that may be true in on-campus classes as well, but in an online class, an enormous responsibility falls on the TA to manually recreate elements of the class experience that happen naturally on-campus. Do we need to re-explore how we choose head TAs based on this potential increased importance? Do we need to reconsider what the responsibilities of a head TA in an online class even ought to be? Do we need to re-examine the qualifications a head TA for an online class ought to have?
The second question I have is a little arrogant, but I’ll mention it anyway. It’s not surprising that I was a good TA in Fall: I have ten years of teaching experience, ten years of experience interacting on online forums (an underrated skill in this setting), ten years of experience constructing assessments in other domains. On top of that, I had more time to devote to TAing the class than most TAs have: my dissertation work was done, and my primary responsibility for the semester was TAing the class. Under those circumstances, it’s no surprise that I did a pretty good job.
We can’t hire someone like me to be a TA every semester. The skillset I just described commands a high salary. Even if it didn’t, simply finding people with that skillset is difficult. Finding 30 people with that skillset, each to run a class? That’s absolutely impossible. We can’t just have a bunch of me TAing every course every semester. So the question then becomes: how do we replicate some of what went well in our course in classes that don’t have the same resources?