More information about class TAs should be available to students before classes begin

One of the huge marketing strategies private schools employ is the professor-to-student ratio. “No classes taught by teaching assistants!” they brag. The boast makes the erroneous assumption that all TAs are equally skilled in instruction, and classes taught entirely by professors are preferable. That’s pretty debatable, though, and with UCSD ranked as the 24th-best university in the world by The British Times, TA-led classes clearly have the potential to be the backbone of a pretty decent education.

To make that actually happen, however, UCSD has a lot of work to do. Teaching assistants’ instruction should be more standardized; furthermore, TAs, like professors, should be evaluated, and students should be allowed access to such data so that they can make informed choices as to whose class they want to take.

What actually happens to the feedback that students give to TAs on their Course and Professor Evaluations? Not enough. Section instructor information should be put on WebReg along with professor information, so students can really make informed choices about section registration. Even if C.A.P.E.’s TA evaluations are documented, they’re relatively useless if students have no access to the results. They should be able to know which TAs will be leading which sections — essentially, who will be assigning their grades.

Of course, this procedure varies. In BILD 10, for example, a lower-division biology class for nonmajors, sections are wholly optional. After learning which TAs teach various sections, and when these sections are held, students can choose which, if any, to attend and how often. If they like more than one TA, they can attend more than one section. If they prefer to study solo, that’s an option too, and with no penalty to their grades.

In classes where sections are mandatory, however, TAs are more often than not the ones grading student work.

In literature or history classes, for example, which are general requirements for many students, most classwork is graded by several different TAs. While all class sections have the same material to cover and the same prompts for papers, different TAs can have markedly different standards, not to mention grading systems. One TA, for example, might take attendance each week, while another might think a few weeks’ worth would suffice. And with topics as open-ended and subjective as most essay questions, each TA will have a different perspective and a different standard for assigments and grades.

Therefore, two students enrolled in the same course could in reality be taking two entirely different classes. Thus, it’s vital for students to have all of the information about a class’ instructors.

The John Muir College Writing Program, a two-quarter requirement for all Muir students, is a good example of a class that provides ample information. In Muir Writing, classes are taught entirely by TAs — they set the program, choose texts and make assignments. Professors are entirely removed from the classes. On WebReg, TAs aren’t credited as teachers; the “professor” segment is just listed as “department chair,” which is hardly sufficient information. Muir Writing remedies this, however, by providing students a complete list of topics, TAs and other salient information, available in the program office and usually online.

If all classes offered the same information, students would find less need to switch classes mid-quarter. As the process stands now, students who find themselves in a section with a TA they do not like can sometimes switch between sections, but this is usually difficult to do when a student has already planned out his or her entire schedule without room for overlaps. Information about all the instructors for a class, including who the TAs are, should be available during the registration process to avoid this problem altogether.

In the extremely unlikely chance that section registration drops significantly because students don’t want to deal with a specific TA, then maybe it would be time to start training TAs more effectively. Or, at the very least, attempt to standardize instruction across the board.

Then, having “many classes taught by TAs” wouldn’t be a bad thing.