Teaching Workshop and Coaching

Here I would like to share some resources that were used for the VSE TA workshop. I think all in the teaching and learning community can benefit from reviewing these tips and suggestions.

Teaching Assistant: 

1. If you are starting off as a TA at your graduate school, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with your university’s policy on appointment of graduate students and TA guideline provided by your department. 

You can find UBC resources here:

A quick guide for TAs

UBC CTLT list of resources 

2. Your department and University are very likely to offer TA workshops and training programs, these are free programs and will also add weight to your CV. You might also want to look into professional development courses offered by your university for graduate students. 

Here is a list offered by UBC:

A Guide to Effective Practices for Teaching Assistants

3. Familiarize yourself with the learning management system (LMS) used by the department or the university. These will be used for interacting & communicating with the students, and to maintain and update grades and rosters.

Here are two playlists I have put together-

CANVAS: This is a Learning management system offered by UBC and is used by most VSE   faculty. The following playlist will familiarize you with organizing content; Posting Announcement, Creating Assignment; Uploading and Maintaining Grades. 


MyLab: is a learning management system for Pearson textbooks.


4. Advice from your senior TAs is the most useful resource for any newcomers. So, take them out for tea/coffee and ask for tips. 

Work- Life Balance

I have given this much thought, and I don’t draw a definite line between my work and my life; the two merge and overlap, and I rarely try to balance hours between the two. Several of my creative hobbies have become teaching tools, and some work tasks have become projects I do with my son. For instance, a few years ago, I got into shooting and editing video. This hobby I developed during my “real-life” life helped me develop video tutorials for my students and create a YouTube education channel for my “work” life. I think it’s the nature of this profession: teaching and knowledge delivery is a very creative endeavor. Also, the special clients – the bright, kind and keen undergrads – I serve to make this career very conducive to family life. Let me give you some examples of this blurred line. At a fundraiser event held by UBC’s Sew and Knit club, my son joined me and volunteered to model the knits.   At the Vancouver School of Economics undergraduate society’s “Meet the Prof” events, my son accompanies me; it’s an excellent opportunity for them to see the human side of me, and for my son to interact with role-model-worthy undergrads. Of course, it’s not surprising that students feel more comfortable talking to me when they see my kid in tow. I enjoy my work and feel fortunate to be teaching at my university. Of course, the biggest reason is the students. I am impressed with their overall work ethic, and all the extracurricular activities and jobs they juggle in addition to a full course load. And I am constantly amazed by the respect and kindness that students display in and out of the classroom.  

Active Participation: A Blended Learning Approach.

exchange-of-ideas-222791_1280 My goal for adapting Blended Learning is to enhance my students’ educational experience by incorporating more active learning in the classroom. A percentage (roughly 15%) of traditional lecture style classes are substituted with online learning and reviewing of the material. This increases class time for problem-solving and the classroom becomes more student-focused. Guiding students in solving a problem is more conducive to learning than a lecture that provides the answer. I free up class time by having students review basic concepts before class. They do this by watching video tutorials I create. While I still teach these concepts in class, I do not have to review them before subsequent lectures or when they have to be revisited for other sections. This allows me to engage students in problem-solving during lecture time. While we solve problems or apply concepts togetherIMG_8362 I try and help students assimilate the new information and make the right connections with what they already know. I started using this approach in 2009 with only a few lectures and over time have developed video tutorials that free up more class time from problem-solving. In larger classes,  with class sizes of 200, I use small exercises, which take less than five minutes, where students discuss the exercises with neighbors. Common seat placement in large halls necessitates a group size between 2-4. Students remain in their seats using a clock visible to all while I walk around helping groups. While a small number of students might refuse to participate in class exercises most use this time to discuss the exercise at hand. I have always received student-initiated feedback on the usefulness of problem-solving in class. They find this interaction not just conducive to learning but also in maintaining their focus on class content. However, in large classes where I don’t get an opportunity to talk to everyone individually, I felt the need to request their feedback. I  used an online survey to capture student views. The survey request was emailed to 140 students out of which 89 students responded.  I share here results from the anonymous polls. Question: When you were given a question to solve in class and asked to discuss the question with your neighbor – you mostly,

1. Discussed the question with more than 2 people 2. Discussed the question with 1 -2 person 3. Tried to solve the question by yourself 4. Read your notes 5. Listened to others discussing the question 6. None of the above

activelearning_Nisha_Malhotra             The above graph gives me confidence that the time and effort that I spend on actively engaging students is serving its purpose. To what extent this translates into improved and deeper learning is a question further to be explored in my courses. If you want to learn more about my motivation behind this approach, here is a small video prepared by UBC leap, Chapman learning commons, where a few undergraduates interviewed me about the course requirements. This video might also answer some of the students’ concerns about taking a course which is a little different from traditional lectures. YouTube Preview Image

Video tutorials for Econ101 at UBC

I get a lot of positive feedbacks on the video tutorials I have created for my undergraduate courses. Here is the Econ101 tutorial on Income Effect and Substitution Effect using Indifference Curves

Where to buy cheaper textbooks.

If you are struggling with the high prices of textbooks here are some sources for cheaper textbooks.

Cheap second-hand and discounted textbooks

Amazon is a great source for new and used textbooks with discounts for students with “student prime” accounts. Also, it’s quite easy to trade back your used textbook. At times (ongoing right now) you can sign up for free 6-month trial and see if you like it. Look for second-hand bookstores near your college or university – you might find stores dealing exclusively in second-hand textbooks. For students going to UBC, I recommend visiting Discount Textbooks – They offer a discount on new as well as second-hand textbooks. Check with outgoing students and do away with the middle person. Purchase second hand directly from your seniors – you will get the added advantage of important highlighted material for the class. You can use Social media to connect to others that are selling used textbooks. You will always find Facebook groups for your university or campus. Here are 2 for UBC. UBC-facebook group 4 second-hand textbooks You might find some UBC textbooks for sale here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ubcbuyandsellitems/

Check before you purchase e-text

If you are deciding to purchase an e-textbook – check carefully, as some publishers only offer 6-month access. In that case, you should think of this as the cost of renting a textbook for 6 months. Here is a list of places you can get a discount on textbooks or find used textbooks. textbooks at Amazon.ca; e-text at Amazon; iBooks; google play ; openstax 

When should you sell your textbooks If the textbook is for an introductory course, which is a prerequisite for other courses – I would advice keeping the textbook for review. It makes sense to have permanent access to your textbook or at least till you graduate. Don’t be in a rush to sell your textbooks. Here is an insightful article from PCmag answering some of the questions on – cheap textbooks – where and how? https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2423061,00.asp

Dealing With Challenging Students in a Classroom: Tips & Use of Body Language.

Dealing with Challenging Students in a Classroom: Tips and Body Language. Remember that whatever the behavior, each student should be treated with respect and patience. Never assume you know students intentions.

  1. Talkative or Monopolizing 
  • Take the discussion back to the rest of the class
    • “You’ve raised an interesting point, maybe others would like to comment on that.”
    • “Who else had a similar question?” or “how many of you agree with this point of view?”
      • Body Language: Direct your gaze at other students and move your body towards them, away from the talkative students – stating you will now be listening to others.
  1. Distracting Behaviour– Questions and comments that have nothing to do with the material being discussed.
    • You can try to redirect the conversation – “That is interesting, but not directly related to our current topic so, we will save that for later.”
    • You can talk to the student after class “That idea deserves a lot more time, perhaps we can discuss that after class.”
      • Body language: you should turn away from the student towards the rest of the class while changing the topic. 
  1. Upset or Angry Behaviour
    • Try to diffuse the situation by listening respectfully, acknowledging that they may be correct and stating your position calmly.
    • If the situation applies to others.
      1. Risky at times- involve other students- If there are a few students that are angry, the situation might roller coaster out of control.
      2. I prefer to listen to the student, acknowledge and inform him/her that you’ll discuss this with other students after class and we can come to a decision in the next session. By that time the angry students are less emotional, you have a better understanding of how other students feel in a more anonymous setting.
    • If you are at fault, admit your mistake and indicate your eagerness to resolve it as quickly as possible. If you are having a hard time admitting your mistake to a class full of students – ask the student to see you after class – “I would like to talk to you about this after class – would that be Ok?”
  1. Rude or Disruptive Behaviour 
    • Prevention – make it clear from the first class what types of behavior are and are not acceptable, and the consequences if expectations are not followed. This advice, although is completely rational – has not always worked for me in the past. I find that the students close up and then it becomes very difficult to bring them out of their shell. So now, I postpone this discussion for after the class interactions start flourishing unless I observe someone crossing a line.
      • Body Language: I generally smile and use the politest tone and shake my head – this generally gets others to shake their heads in agreement. Students also want to be in a friendly environment.
    • Dealing with it as it happens: As soon as a situation presents itself, you should deal with it. You can decide if you should deal with them in class or at another time. Be firm. Remain calm. Be respectful – don’t assume you know the intentions.  Don’t use empty threats.
      • Body Language: Be as still as you can to convey the seriousness of the situation. 
Credit: This post is based on  https://www.edu.uwo.ca/graduate-education/lead_ta/legacy_project_2014/documents/UBC_Okanagan_TA_Manual_20087182.pdf

Quote for Teachers at the end of the semester

The worth of your teaching is not determined by a single failure
but by aggregate successes.

It is always our hope that we can teach to enhance our student’s character and destiny.

“Great Ambition and Conquest without contribution is without Significance”

– The emperor’s club.


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