TA clarity: a learning issue?

A survey would help to measure the level of student frustration with TA communication.

by Connie Starns

The mission statement of the University of Minnesota states it is âÄúdedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth; to the sharing of this knowledge through education for a diverse community; and to the application of this knowledge to benefit the people of the state, the nation, and the world.âÄù Teaching is on the front line of the advancement of learning. Discussion in a class I am taking at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs has pointed out a concern with the ability of teaching assistants to communicate their knowledge in a clear way âÄî one that can be understood by everyone in the class. While there is little doubt that the knowledge base of most TAs is secure, it can be difficult and frustrating for undergraduate students to struggle to understand both the material and the way that it is communicated. To provide for clear communication should be a high priority for every department. While there is a clear policy and an office of compliance, there is also an underlying buzz among some students that there must be loopholes, as not all students are being taught in ways that make absorption of the academic material as clear as it might be. Though there are policies in place, how would an undergraduate student know about them or know if there is an easy way to give their feedback? An evaluation at the end of the semester does little to ameliorate their frustration. The most obvious way for a student to express their frustration is to vote with their feet and drop the class. But one wonders who benefits at that point: the student who drops the class or the TA who does not receive any constructive feedback? It would be too late for the current cohort of students. Furthermore, the TAs may be moving on to another class or another point in their educational journey. In the past, some legislators have introduced legislation to address the issue, but it seems to me that a defined pathway for students to voice their frustration would be more constructive. What if every syllabus included a name or an e-mail address for students to voice their concerns? What if there was some link on the UniversityâÄôs Web site to provide feedback? Are there other possible ways to allow for constructive comments? Discovering the extent of any problem would be the first step in addressing the issue. A survey, neither scientific nor formal, has been established at SurveyMonkey. While it would not meet any academic standards or pretend to be definitive in any way, it is a good starting point. Anyone interested in participating can go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X9QW3R7. This survey would help to determine the level of frustration among University students. If it is an issue worth discussing, further attention will be directed into the compliance of the current policies. All University students wish to learn in an environment where the âÄúadvancement of learning and the search for the truthâÄù is the best it can be. Connie Starns University graduate student