Use of grad students to teach classes defended

By BECKY HATTERSLEY/Montana State News

Montana State University staff and faculty contend that graduate student TAs, or teaching assistants, are vital to the university.

“Their role,” explains MSU Professor Dede Taylor, “is not meant to be in place of professors, but in addition to them, adding nicely to the variety of different backgrounds, personalities and philosophies of teaching that benefits students.”

Taylor, who teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in art history, uses graduate students to teach many sections of recitations. The TAs are “closer to the class experience themselves,” she said, adding that their teaching style can benefit students.

There are often multiple sections of recitations, or labs, for large lecture classes, with each lab or recitation taught by a different TA. Taylor stresses, though, that these follow “consistent themes and learning objectives” and are intended to provide every student with a similar class experience.

These sections should be seen as a “collaborative learning opportunity” that enhances the lectures, and are not meant to provide new information.

Charlie Stark, a chemistry grad student and TA, says that the TAs teach each class more than once during their time at the university, so it’s not a new experience for them to be in front of a classroom. In fact, he says, the labs may benefit if the people who teach them – the TAs – had a little more influence in their development.

“It would be nice if they included the grad students in the discussion about the labs and curriculum,” he said.

Jaute Loftin, an art student who has had courses from both professors and TAs, describes her experience with TAs as “approachable and very easy to relate to.” She said that recitations aren’t always popular with students because they mean extra time in the classroom, which is not the fault of the TAs, who “always seemed to know the subjects well.”

Edited by Matt York.

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