TAs to be funded to create Web pages

by Jessica Steeno

Students who need information about class requirements may be able to use the World Wide Web by fall quarter to communicate with hard-to-reach teaching assistants.
An initiative funded by the Office of Information Technology and co-sponsored by the office of the provost for Arts, Sciences and Engineering will award 140 TAs $500 each to make Web pages about classes they assist.
Five TAs will be awarded $1,000 each for creating the best Web pages.
Teaching assistants in the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Biological Sciences, General College and the Institute of Technology are eligible for the money, but only if their Web page proposal is accepted by the provost’s office. The application deadline was June 1, and about 250 TAs applied.
Don Riley, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and acting chief information officer, said IT originally planned to spend about $100,000 on the program.
“We’re trying to find enough money to help them all,” Riley said. “We thought there would be interest, but we didn’t know how much. We’ve been overwhelmed by responses.”
The Web pages would give students a chance to view a course syllabus, class requirements, professor expectations and other class information not always provided in the class schedule or course guide. After the class has begun, the pages would provide an avenue for communication between teachers and students.
“That would be kind of a good idea, but I like to communicate face to face,” said Travis Smieja, an IT sophomore in aerospace engineering. Smieja said that TAs should make class Web pages regardless of whether they are compensated. “I don’t think they should pay TAs to do it,” he said.
Despite the incentive, many TAs have no plans to put up class Web pages.
“There was money in it, which was nice,” said John Transue, a teaching assistant in political science.
Transue said he thought about making a class Web page but decided he didn’t have time.
Many professors have already created their own Web pages, and General College’s Web site has about 100 course listings that provide more information than the course guide, including class syllabi.
But IT and the provost’s office hope to use this initiative to train TAs in Web page technology.
“We’re interested in providing for the TAs, who are the faculty of the future,” said Louise Mirrer, vice provost for arts, sciences and engineering. “We consider this to be a part of their professionalization.”
Every computer lab on campus has software that allows students to access the Web.
“It’s important that we use the technology that’s available, especially to undergraduate students,” Mirrer said. “This would make the University more user-friendly.”
The focus of the Web pages initiative will be on larger classes where student-teacher ratios are higher.
“Through (the Web), we can deliver more to students,” said Shih-Pau Yen, director of Distributed Computing Services. “If a student is able to access this information 24 hours a day, we may need less TAs.”
Many students had positive reactions to the idea of the class Web pages.
“I think I would use that,” Eric Hanson, vice president of the Minnesota Student Association, said of the pages. But he added that instructions on how to access and use the pages would have to be easily available.
But not all students are enthusiastic about the class pages.
“I can’t imagine that I would use that,” said Frank Musbach, a recent IT graduate in material science. “That’s not a way that people usually find things out about the University.”