Teaching Assistant Handbook

Introduction
General Expectations
Time/Job Expectations
Sick Leave Policy
General Do's and Don'ts
Class Lists
Where to Refer Students with Concerns
Check Your Mail Often
Offices and Office Supplies
Department Copier and Fax Machine
Sexual Harassment& Education Training
Textbooks
Teaching Evaluations
Sole Responsibility for Courses
Copyright Issues
Incompletes and Grade Changes
Student Misconduct
Center for Teaching
Appointments and Reappointments
Summer Support
Employment Issues
Teaching Assistant Awards
Computer Science Teaching Assistant Award
The University of Iowa Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award
In Closing

 

Introduction

Teaching Assistants at The University of Iowa and in the Department of Computer Science play two roles: to help educate other students while also educating yourselves. It is our departmental philosophy that one of the best ways to learn a subject is to teach it. We hope that you discover students who help you explore different questions, arrive at new solutions, and develop interpersonal skills. We also hope that being a TA will help you throughout the rest of your life, particularly when searching for a career in the academic world.

You may expect conflict between the two roles as part of your teaching experience. It is like the conflict many faculty members experience between their teaching and their research. Balance and organization are important keys in dealing with this issue. It is best to develop a plan of action in which neither being a teacher nor being a student is slighted. Being professional and doing both roles with energy will keep your work at a higher level of quality and will help prevent your grades from suffering.

There are several publications that can serve as valuable resources. They include:

The first two handbooks especially contain information that will be crucial to your teaching and are available online.

 

General Expectations

Please note that your appointment as a TA begins three business days before the start of each semester. You are expected to be available to your faculty supervisor and to students from that point on. Unless pre-approved, failure to report by that time may result in loss of appointment or pay deduction.

The College views graduate TAs as professionals and expects them to fulfill their professional obligations before leaving/ending work for the semester. In the case of TAs, the last date of work is the date that final grades are due. The last date of work may be earlier with the permission of the faculty supervisor.

TAs must report to their faculty supervisor if they will be absent from class or unable to perform their TA duties due to illness or family emergencies. The faculty supervisor and Director of Graduate Studies or the DEO must pre-approve absences for any other reasons or for absences of more than one week. The faculty supervisor alone cannot approve an absence in those cases. Schedules cannot be substituted or exchanged with other TAs without prior approval by the faculty supervisor and the Director of Graduate Studies or the DEO. TAs are not expected to make up for time missed on an hour-for-hour basis. Rather, they are expected to fulfill their job responsibilities in a timely and professional manner; for example, scheduling an extra class or holding additional office hours if necessary.

Early in the semester, all RAs and TAs will receive written notification of their assistantship expectations and general guidelines as to the time needed to perform each task within their job description. However, the exact nature of a TA’s job varies with the professor or instructor with whom you work. You are responsible for contacting your faculty supervisor and determining what is expected of you. Some possibilities include grading homework, grading exams, grading programming projects, creating homework problems or programming projects or exams, producing solution sets or sample programs, occasional lecturing, searching for materials on the Internet or in the library, holding office hours, or photocopying classroom materials. You may also need to attend lectures, keep grades, or help maintain information as the course progresses for inclusion in a course report at the end of the semester.

We expect you to hold office hours and to let your students know well in advance if office hours must be cancelled. It is recommended that you email your students with alternative times, or to ask another qualified TA to cover for you.

TAs with 50% appointments who are handling discussion/lab sections are generally expected to schedule at least three office hours per week. Those with 25% appointments are generally expected to schedule at least two office hours per week.

Time/Job Expectations

As stated in the contract signed when you accepted this position, we expect half-time (50%) TAs to work an average of 20 hours per week, and to register for no more than 12 semester hours of class (or 6 hours during summer session). Quarter-time (25%) appointees are expected to work an average of 10 hours per week. International students must maintain full-time student status to safeguard visa requirements. Full-time is nine semester hours of coursework per semester (excluding the summer session).

TAs employed by the Department fall roughly into three categories – those with primary responsibility for a course (CS:3210); those who lead lab or discussion sections (CS:1020, CS:1110, CS:1210, CS:2110, CS:2230, and CS:2820); and those who are primarily graders or course coordinators. Each of these types carry different responsibilities. Feedback from faculty supervisors is solicited in the middle of the semester for new TAs and at the end of each semester for all TAs. These are used in conjunction with ACE online course evaluations to conduct annual performance evaluations for all TAs.

If any TA feels they are working efficiently, but being pressured to work more than is consistent with the level of their appointment, it should first be discussed with the supervising faculty member. If the issue is not resolved at that point, then it should be brought to the attention of Professor Sriram Pemmaraju, the Director of Graduate Studies.

Sick Leave Policy

If, due to illness or a family emergency, you are not able to perform your teaching responsibilities, please remember that the main objective is to avoid having class cancelled. The first step is to talk to your faculty supervisor. The best solution, when possible, is to arrange with another TA to perform your duties in your absence, with the expectation that you will return the favor and assist them with their teaching responsibilities some other time. If other arrangements to teach the class cannot be made and class must be cancelled, please make sure that either you or the faculty supervisor calls the Department Office (335-0713) so that a member of the office staff can put a sign on the classroom door. An email to your students is the minimum expected. As a TA, you are considered a professional employee and fulfilling your teaching duties is your professional responsibility. TAs may be absent due to illness for up to 6.75 days per semester without loss of pay.

If it becomes necessary to miss part of the semester due to reasons other than illness or family emergency, please contact either Professor Pemmaraju or Professor Alberto Segre, the Department Chair, for approval before any teaching responsibilities are left unfulfilled. An unapproved absence could result in loss of appointment or pay deduction.

General Do's and Don'ts

Do's
  • Treat everyone with respect and in the same manner you would like to be treated.
  • If there are problem situations that you cannot handle, consult your faculty supervisor or Professor Pemmaraju.
  • Report suspected violations of academic conduct rules -- cheating, plagiarism, etc. -– to your supervisor or to Professor Pemmaraju. This is very important.
  • Always be available during office hours. Post these hours on your CS website, the course website, and/or include them in the course syllabus.
  • Check your e-mail frequently and your mailbox weekly.
  • If you have students with disabilities, consult with your faculty supervisor about appropriate accommodations.
  • Respect the policies about ethical use of software; bring any reports of abuse to the attention of your faculty supervisor.
  • Be familiar with the University’s sexual harassment policies.
Don'ts
  • Since grades are posted online in ICON, physically posting grades is seldom done anymore. If you do, do not display University ID numbers. The general policy is to assign a different identification number, and scramble the order from alphabetical. Pending grades (not yet moved to the student’s permanent record) are available to students on MyUI as they are received by the Registrar’s Office.
  • Do not assign grades of I (incomplete) or S/U (satisfactory/ unsatisfactory) without prior approval from the course supervisor.
  • If it becomes necessary to change the classroom location or the class time, please contact our Department Administrator, Catherine Till, who will make the arrangements.
  • Do not assume you can change the time of the final examination as determined by the Registrar’s Office. Changing the time requires approval at the collegiate level and a very strong justification. Final Exam dates will be determined early in the semester and distributed by Matthieu Biger, the Department’s Administrative Services Coordinator, to faculty supervisors. Before announcing the time and date of a course’s final exam, we recommend that you check the information with Matthieu.
  • Do not consider the copier, fax machine, or office supplies as available for personal use.

Class Lists

  • Class lists and attendance records are submitted on-line via MAUI. Depending on the class and the faculty supervisor, most TAs will verify attendance and save grades for their faculty supervisor to approve. Final grades are submitted by the course supervisor to the DEO for approval, and are then forwarded to the Registrar’s Office.
  • A special note regarding Attendance and Midterm class lists: TAs are often reluctant to report students who are consistently not attending class, or to report Ds and Fs on the Midterm class lists. Please note that these grades do not affect the student’s permanent records. They do, however, generate warning letters to the students, giving them the opportunity to drop the class before the last drop deadline. The first attendance report is also important for another reason -- if a student is not attending class, it may affect their financial aid.

Where to Refer Students With Concerns

On the first day of classes, University policy requires the announcement that a student’s concern regarding a TA’s oral communication skills are to be addressed to the faculty supervisor, or to Professor Pemmaraju. Professor Pemmaraju can be reached in his office in 101F MacLean Hall, by phone at 353-2956, or by e-mail at sriram-pemmaraju@uiowa.edu. Please make it clear to the students that Professor Pemmaraju is available for concerns about the performance of a TA’s teaching responsibilities, but that he is not an instructor for the course. Questions from students concerning particular problems or programs related to class course work should be directed toward you, as the TA, or the faculty supervisor.

If you are approached by a student with a disability requesting that accommodations be made for him or her, please arrange a meeting with both the student and your faculty supervisor to discuss in detail the particular accommodations that will be necessary. More information on accommodating students with disabilities is available on the Website of the Student Disability Services (SDS) office https://sds.studentlife.uiowa.edu/. Please ask Catherine if you need assistance.

Check Your Mail Often

Because we must sometimes get important information to you on short notice, we suggest you check your e-mail several times a day. The UI’s central administration uses the University mail alias (firstname-lastname@uiowa.edu) for important email messages to faculty, staff and students. The Department uses that same email address for emails sent out to all CS students (e.g., job opportunities). If you do not use your Hawkmail account, please be sure to have email forwarded from your University mail alias to wherever you choose to read your email.

Offices and Office Supplies

The Department will provide TAs space to hold office hours and meet with students outside of office hours. This may be in the 301 computer lab, or in a shared office used exclusively for meeting with students. If not before, most office assignments are made during the week before the semester begins.

Office supplies such as pads and pens, AV markers, tape, staples, etc., can be found in the main office in 14 MacLean Hall. Please let Matthieu know when a particular supply is getting low so that more can be ordered.

Department Copier and Fax Machine

The Department copier is available for reproducing classroom materials. The copier is located in the main office, 14 MLH. Please contact any of the CS office staff for instructions on use of the copier the first time. Because the copier is heavily relied upon, please do not hesitate to ask for assistance. Many people are inconvenienced if the copier becomes inoperable due to inadvertent misuse. Appropriate copying material includes syllabi, tests, and homework assignments related to the course for which you are a TA. You should use one of the nearby copying stores or one of the University Copy Centers for personal material.

The office fax machine (319-335-3624) is available for use by grad students. If we receive any incoming faxes for you, Matthieu will notify you by email. If you need to send a fax, please ask any of the office staff for directions, at least the first time. Please restrict outgoing faxes to academic or professional business and not personal use.

Sexual Harassment EducationTraining

Teaching Assistants are required to receive training on the Sexual Harassment Policy and the Consensual Relationships Involving Students (CRIS) Policy. The College of Liberal Arts has organized training sessions and all students holding graduate assistantships for the first time must complete sexual harassment training as a condition of employment, and must re-train every three years. Renewal appointments will not be processed for anyone who has not completed the training. Sheryl Semler, the Academic Services Coordinator, coordinates this training and monitors compliance to this required training.

Textbooks

Desk copies of the textbooks selected for individual courses are provided to each TA by the Department, and is coordinated by Sheryl. Textbooks should be returned to Sheryl at the end of the semester.

Teaching Evaluations

First-time teaching assistants (those who have not taught at the University of Iowa previously) will have a preliminary assessment conducted by their Departmental supervisor within the first eight weeks of the semester in which they have assigned teaching duties. These evaluations forms will be shared with all new TAs.

In addition, TAs who lead discussion sections or who have sole responsibility for courses will be evaluated utilizing ACE (Assessing Classroom Environment) online forms in ICON. These evaluations gather feedback on the instructor’s performance in the classroom. For lecture/discussion-format courses, evaluations are done for both the lecturer and the discussion leaders. We ask that it be announced in class a few days ahead of time and that time is allowed for students to complete their online evaluations in class. Online ACE evaluations are open during the last two weeks of the semester, prior to Final Exam Week. Once the course evaluation period has closed, reports are made available for instructor review. At any earlier point during the semester, a faculty member from the Department may elect to sit in on a classroom for evaluation purposes, particularly if it is a Teaching Assistant’s first time in a classroom. Please be aware that the Department uses these evaluations in making rehiring decisions.

Sole Responsibility for Courses

As the Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Pemmaraju is the supervisor for CS:3210, the service course for non-majors, Programming With C++ and Programming With Java.

Course Reports:

A course report is required at the end of the semester from all instructors having sole responsibility for a course. These reports are used by other instructors preparing to teach those courses for the first time, as well as to certify that the appropriate material is being covered. Hard copies are required – Web addresses of where the material can be found will not be accepted.

Course reports may contain the following information:

  • A syllabus, including the required text and chapters and/or sections covered;
  • A list of other references used to present additional topics, or sources of examples;
  • Copies of examinations;
  • Major assignments, such as programming projects;
  • Topic outline with indication of the number of classes spent on each topic; and
  • Some feedback on the course, indicating changes you would make, weaknesses, timing problems, and those areas felt to be in the best shape.

Syllabi:

The University and College require every organized course to have a syllabus. Syllabi may be handed out in class, included in a course packet, or posted at the course web site.

If you are responsible for producing a course’s syllabus the following provides all of the required information: https://clas.uiowa.edu/faculty/required-syllabus.

Copyright Issues

Precautions need to be taken when preparing course materials with regard to copyrighted material. This is to prevent violating an author’s or publisher’s rights in copyrighted work. Unfortunately, clear guidelines are unavailable as to which materials need copyright permission and which fall under “fair use” without looking at each individual scenario. The Copyright Permission Service Division of the University Printing and Mailing Services provides a copyright permission service which serves as the liaison between instructors and publishers in obtaining permission to copy. The service makes necessary payments and keeps records on all course packets. Copyright questions may be directed to the Copyright Permission Service, 335-3410.

Incompletes and Grade Changes

If any student requests an incomplete (a grade of “I”), always discuss it with your faculty supervisor before granting it. If it is determined that an incomplete is appropriate, as the instructor, you must make arrangements for how the incomplete is to be satisfied, and a copy of those arrangements should be given to your supervisor.

TAs are not usually responsible for grade changes after final grades have been submitted. Grade changes are submitted electronically through MAUI.

Student Misconduct

Any incidents of cheating on homework assignments, projects or exams should be documented as much as possible and then reported to your faculty supervisor and/or Professor Pemmaraju.

The Department of Computer Science has adopted the definitions and disciplinary actions outlined by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in cases of student academic misconduct. Cheating cases have become more numerous within the past few years and in response, the College has designed a clear policy in dealing with this situation.

The following are examples of offenses again the Code of Academic Honesty in CLAS:

Cheating on Quizzes and Exams

  • Using notes, books, calculators, phones, photos, computers, web sites, tweets, social media, or other aids during a quiz or an exam when not allowed by the instructor
  • Talking during a quiz or exam when told by the instructor talking is not permitted
  • Looking at another student’s exam or quiz during the testing period
  • Continuing to work on a quiz or exam after the instructor has notified students that time for the test has ended.
  • Stealing, reproducing, circulating, or otherwise gaining access to a quiz, exam, or homework materials prior to the time authorized by an instructor
  • Ignoring the guidelines specified by the instructor for an assignment or for a "take home" test and instead using materials or study aids that the instructor has forbidden

Plagiarism

  • Using the words, sentences, arguments, rhetorical structures, and ideas of another without proper citation and acknowledgment
  • Copying data, facts, graphs, computer programs, spreadsheets, images, photos, film/video, or other materials and using them without proper citation or acknowledgment
  • Copying homework, quiz, or exam answers from an answer key, solution manual, textbook, web site, or other items from another student, thus presenting another’s work as your own
  • Failing to use quotation marks properly or when needed
  • Failing to give a source for quoted materials
  • Failing to paraphrase language completely
  • Failing to give a source for paraphrases
  • Failing to cite sources correctly and completely

Unauthorized Collaboration

  • Receiving help with homework, reports, labs, paper, data collection, or other activities when not allowed by the instructor
  • Accepting credit for a group project without doing your share of the work
  • Helping others with their homework or other assignments when not allowed by the instructor
  • Allowing others to view your answers or copy part of your homework, lab, quiz answers, exam answers, or other related work when not permitted to do so by the instructor
  • A group doing another student’s work on a group project, lab, presentation, report, or other activity while presenting the work as if done by the entire group equally

There are many other examples on the College website: https://clas.uiowa.edu/students/handbook/academic-fraud-honor-code.

Center for Teaching

The Center For teaching staff members are available to work with any member of the University community who teaches. The initiative, however, must always come directly from the instructor. In general all members of the University community are eligible to use the Center. Requests from others will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

All services of the Center are provided at no cost and on a voluntary and confidential basis to members of the University community, and all Center consultations are confidential matters between the Center staff and the client/ instructor. In particular, the staff of the Center will not discuss any aspect of a particular consultation with those charged with the evaluation of teaching performance of the client. Instructors may waive the confidentiality of their consultations in writing.

The Center provides many services, including individual consultations. Center staff members consult with individual faculty and TAs on teaching issues of all kinds–from help with presentation skills to ideas for active learning or dealing with challenging students. Staff can assist teachers in thinking through curricular changes, syllabus revisions, student evaluations, or dilemmas over grading. If available resources prove inadequate, staff members will research the issue to locate ideas. Appointments can be made by telephone, e-mail, or by coming to the Center office. Individual consultations could also include classroom observation, videotaping, Course Assessment by Student Interview (CASI), and discussion mapping.

The Center for Teaching in the ITS Office of Teaching, Learning and Technology may be reached at: 2080 University Capitol Centre; phone: (319) 335-6048; fax: (319) 335-1423; on the Web at https://teach.its.uiowa.edu/organizations/center-teaching or by e-mail, teaching@uiowa.edu.

Center resources include:

  • Library: books, videos, etc.
  • Monthly e-newsletter
  • Handbook for Teaching Excellence
  • Teaching ideas: short tip-sheets, occasional papers, and links to other materials
  • Instructional support: several offices on our campus offer instructional assistance
  • Electronic resources: links to web sites and user groups
  • Teaching Goals Inventory: a self-assessment of instructional goals

Appointment and Reappointment

Appointments are made every semester. Re-appointment is not automatic and all positions must be applied for in March and October. Evaluations by both the supervising faculty member and the students play a role in the re-appointment process.

Students in the first two years of their CS program who were offered financial aid upon their admittance will be given highest priority for re-appointment. After that, priority goes to PhD students making good academic progress.

The Department will post TA openings for the spring semester by October 1, and by March 1 for summer and fall TA openings. TAs MUST RE-APPLY each semester, even those who are guaranteed continued support. The application process includes listing course preferences.

Re-appointments are contingent upon satisfactory performance of assigned duties, availability of openings, and satisfactory performance as a student. We will try to notify Teaching Assistants of their appointment for the succeeding semester in as timely a fashion as possible.

Summer Support

Because the Department offers only a few courses during the summer, the need for TAs for the summer session is dramatically less than during the academic year. We encourage students to pursue other options for summer support.

Employment Issues

If you have any questions about your employment as a graduate assistant, please contact Sheryl or Catherine in 14 MLH. Examples of inquiries might include stipend amounts and methods of disbursement, visa issues, COGS requirements, the re-appointment process, scholarship/fellowship awards -- and anything else you don’t know who to ask.

Teaching Assistant Awards

Computer Science Teaching Assistant Award

Over the summer break, the Department chooses a recipient of the CS Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for the preceding academic year. Based on the individual’s teaching activities and evaluations, comments from students in your classroom, and your overall academic merits, this honor carries a $250 award. This award is usually recognized at the annual Computer Science Scholarships and Awards Ceremony at the end of each fall semester.

The University of Iowa Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

The University of Iowa’s Council on Teaching honors Teaching Assistants who have demonstrated outstanding ability as teachers at The University of Iowa. The Council generally makes 30 awards of $1,000 each.

Teaching Assistants from all academic units may be nominated for these awards. Nominees must certify that they have had formal student contact during at least one of the previous three semesters. Nominations may be initiated by students, faculty, colleagues, departmental executive officers or deans. The nominations must follow the guidelines specified in the nomination packet. Information on the award will be announced and distributed during the spring semester.

In Closing

We hope you enjoy your graduate teaching experience. If there is anything the staff can do to help, or if you have suggestions on improvement, please do not hesitate to contact one of us.