The Role of Teaching Assistants in Introductory Programming Courses
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The department of computer science, across many schools in the US, have been seeing a constant increase in enrollments over the last decade. This particularly impacts class sizes of introductory courses, as they are usually listed as required prerequisites courses. The students in these courses typically have very little or zero prior experience with programming. In such course settings, it is not an exaggeration to state that most students in these courses spend more one-on-one time with the course teaching assistants than they do with their course instructors. This implies that the kind of individual attention provided by the TAs of such courses to their students has a very high impact on the students' learning and the quality of the TAs would greatly impact the quality of the course and directly or indirectly also impact the student retention rate and their interest in computer science for their academic/industry careers. We wanted to take a closer look at what it is that these TAs do, and how they do it. We observed TAs from two introductory courses for almost about two semesters, and conducted a focus group meeting each with TAs and students enrolled in these course. We found that the TAs felt responsible for instilling an interest in computer science in the students, apart from helping them to learn by themselves. We also found that the students see teaching assistants as a very valuable resource, when it comes to actually applying the concepts that they learn in lecture. Our findings tells us that there is a gap between what the TAs think they need to give as help to the students and what the students tend to expect from their TAs. We also discuss the implications of our findings and possible future work.
- Masters Theses