When Mike Romano was an Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) student, the teaching assistants (TA) were one of the highlights of the program for him. It was no question that he would work as one when he graduated.
“I had some amazing experiences with the TAs when I was a student, so this is my way of giving back and trying to provide that same experience for others,” said Romano, who is a TA for CS 6440: Introduction to Health Informatics.
Many OMSCS students like to give back in the same way. OMSCS boasts 332 TAs who help the program scale up while maintaining its rigorous academic standards. While a professor can’t grade every student assignment and answer every question when enrollment often exceeds 1,000 students in a single class, a well-trained TA equipped with a clear rubric can take on many of them.
“The most important thing is that this is a for-credit, equally-accredited graduate program that requires students to get individual feedback, individual assessment, and individual support,” said OMSCS Executive Director David Joyner. “The only way to deliver that is with well-trained, well-qualified, dedicated individuals that are hired to meet enrollment needs.”
More importantly, they add a personal touch to the program. TAs help students learn material, navigate assignments, and feel welcome in computer science.
“The most rewarding part of TAing is being able to help students reach their ‘Aha!’ moment,” said Irene Ng, who is a TA for CS7637: Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence. “Since it's an online master's program, everyone has such diverse backgrounds and some concepts can be hard to grasp if you take a course on an unfamiliar topic.”
TAs also bring their own diverse backgrounds and often have more expertise than a typical on-campus TA. Many have professional careers in the subject they teach. Just in CS6460: Educational Technology, TAs have been executives from textbook publishers, entrepreneurs from EdTech startups, and teachers from other universities.
Ng comes from an electrical engineering and business administration background that gives a unique perspective to computer science.
“I have a different mindset for approaching problems and helping others overcome their struggles without just flat out giving them the correct answer,” she said.
Ultimately, being a TA is rewarding for more than just the students. TAs have a chance to shape one of the most exciting education initiatives.