WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM US? COMPUTER SCIENCE STUDENTS' EXPECTATIONS OF SESSIONAL TEACHING ASSISTANTS

R. McNamara, D. Squire

Monash University (AUSTRALIA)
At many institutions, a Computer Science student's most important interactions with teaching staff occur in classes led by sessional Teaching Assistants. These staff members can be the student's primary contact with the academic faculty, and are often the most accessible sources of formative feedback to students. As such, they are a vital pedagogical resource. As front-line teaching staff with frequent student contact, Teaching Assistants are generally best positioned to help students over difficulties with course material and advise them on study skills. To date, however, little research has been done on what students expect of their Teaching Assistants and how they make use of this resource. In this study, students undertaking the Bachelor of Computer Science at a large university were interviewed about their perceptions and experiences with sessional teaching staff, and how their interactions in class impacted on their learning. Although the conventional wisdom suggests that students just want to get the answers in theory tutorials and high marks in practical lab sessions, most of the interviewees in this study reported experiences that suggest a much more sophisticated view of learning. Students were much less concerned about the quantity of their marks than had been expected, and much more concerned about the quality of the feedback they received. In discussion-oriented theory classes, students valued social and facilitation skills more highly than domain knowledge.