Thursday, June 30, 2011

Assisting assignments

During the 4th quarter of the year, an important course of our research group is taught. Part of the course is a case study which the students have to carry out. The task of us PhD students is to assist students with their cases.

Since I am very busy starting a new series of tests and delivering all the reports from my first large series of tests (127 in total), I've been forced to streamline my procedures as much as possible with regard to assisting students.

I benefit from the fact that I have been assisting this course last year as well, and I had more time available to dedicate to my teaching duties. However, I still want to deliver the same results to the students and make sure they learn from the exercise.

Here's how I've been trying to streamline this task:

1. Have a clear workflow scheme

For all teams which I am assisting, I've made it clear how I prefer to work. I let them know that I prefer to:
- schedule appointments beforehand and if possible, I try to batch them together in one afternoon to keep my mind focused on the subject),
- to receive written material at least one workday before the meeting so that I can have a first impression of what needs to be improved
- have students neatly prepared for the meeting, and prepare myself as well for the meeting (fair enough, I'd say).

2. Know the common errors

From talking to senior PhD students and lecturers, I've been able to identify a few typical mistakes. I start by checking if the plots and graphs in the report "make sense", and then I check if the common errors have been made. If all this looks good, I can proceed and look at the report into further detail. If I can spot weaknesses early on, I know that I can point these out for the students but I don't need to go over the details of the report.

3. Schedule undisturbed chunks of time to correct

I've tried to grade reports in the middle of the day, while people are walking in and out of my office and I need to run up and down the stairs to the lab a few times. The result is that spend too much time trying to find my train of thought again. I've now made it a habit to read the reports either before 9am, after 4pm or from home.

4. Keep the pace of the students

I'm preparing the material at the same pace as the fastest group of students. I haven't prepared the entire case before it was even handed out (at least, not in detail, I did read through the assignment and an example solution before starting to get the general idea). While I'm checking the report of the fastest group of students, I spend some more time on the topic to be fully prepared to explain it again.

I'm planning to write about my method of approaching this matter again around this time next year to see if I've changed much of my ways...

The alliteration in the title is to keep the spirit of my previous post alive

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