Monday, December 21, 2009

Realities of Life at a Big University

As the semester winds down and I try to find all of the missing holes in the spreadsheet for a 600 person class, I am reminded of how much I owe to the teaching assistants in this class.  Not just this class--I have not taught an undergraduate class sans TA in about six years.  Even the so-called senior classes have at least eighty students--only the honors seminar is a manageable 15-25 or so. 

So, I have become oh so dependent on McGill's graduate students to do my work for me.  This semester was especially difficult due to H1N1--it led to more students needing extensions on the papers (although the pandemic seemed to hit paper-takers far more than exam-writers--timing or conspiracy?).  I always give some extra $$ to one TA to run the rest, and this system continues to work well for me.

The downside is that I do not get as good idea of how things play out--whether the ideas really sink in, which parts of the course work best, etc.  I cannot see the course evals until later this week--once the grades are all in and processed.  But even those are sometimes hard to figure out, as I will get something like 310 responses (so selection effects might be in play).  And reading each set of comments, with some students viewing as pluses what others view as minutes, it is hard sometimes to develop coherent implications that I can take and use to revise for the next time. 

On the other hand, the huge-ness of the class allows me to cover up one of my key weaknesses--I am lousy at learning names, but with this class, I have an excuse.

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