Saturday, 6 September 2014

Post 31: Final TA Conference Workshop

I'm writing an extra post for what was my final workshop to wrap up the TA Conference, because it was FANTASTIC!

I'll confess that when I wrote my previous post, I questioned whether I was going to make it to the last workshop. It was about surviving marking essays (in particular), and I hummed and hawed about: it was late Friday afternoon after an already trying (though fun) week, and I was tired. Did I want to sit through another 1.5 hour workshop?

Well, am I ever ebullient that I did!

Edward White, the TA consultant (TAC) for the Department of Sociology, was one of the funniest, most cynical people I have ever met. It was clear from his opening introduction, where he handed us a well-researched, and EPIC 17-page document (as he put it [sort of paraphrasing here, based on my bad memory]: "Yes, I do believe that more is more.") that covered everything from differentiating between objective and subjective marking, to best principles of marking (always mark to a rubric), to different ways to handle usual problems that come up with marking (the list we made on the board and subsequently discussed included such things as engaging with professors, plagiarism, justifying a grade, giving a failing grade, time management, CUPE and saying 'no' to work, and more).

Wacky photo I took looking up into the roof of a bus-stop near campus! :) 
An idea that Edward talked about was marking to 75% of the grade for accomplishing the requirements of the assignment (that's where it's handy to have the rubric); then the other 25% should be reserved for the students who go above and beyond the assignment requirement. If they want those A range marks, they need to strive for them; at university we ask more of them than anyone did in high school. Taking the time as well, to engage with both the professor and the students (meeting them, making announcements and explanations of this kind of idea in class ahead of the assignments), and essentially investing the time to build rapport so they understand you're interested in their education and developing their scholarship skills, was certainly something that Edward emphasized.

Another main point that came out of the workshop, too, was that as TAs, we aren't marking the student or person doing the work; we're marking their scholarship. By externalizing their work, it becomes easier to engage with them without making them adversarial or antagonistic. When discussing the work they produce, and the scholarship they put into their assignments, it becomes a much better way to have a constructive conversation and talk to them about ways to improve their work.

Overall, it was an excellent workshop, and I'm so so glad that I went!! If any of the ideas very briefly sketched out above interest you, find Edward through the LTC and contact him for a coffee and to follow-up on some of these ideas. This is one very knowledgeable chap!

If you get a chance to attend this workshop next year (or in the spring if it's offered then), DO IT. No hesitation.


  1. Thanks for the praise - I always wonder if content actually manages to survive the miasma of cynicism. Feel free to stop by when either the urge for lethal coffee or assistance with a stack of terrible essays arises.

    1. YES!! Loved your workshop, and again, am so glad that I went! Definitely a well-spent Friday afternoon! :)