TAing in IGM
The beginning of my third year at RIT came with two new roles for me - Interactive Games and Media (IGM) Ambassador, and Teaching Assistant (TA). Many colleges, and even programs at RIT, do this role a little differently, so I thought I would speak to my experience within Game Design and Development in IGM.
I started TAing with the Level Design course. I’d enjoyed the class, earned an A (one of the requirements in IGM), and my instructor approached me near the final weeks to ask if I could help with the next semester. Since then, I’ve been a TA for Level Design (an advanced elective course) four times counting this semester. I also started helping with Data Structures and Algorithms I (a GDD required course on C++ fundamentals) last fall. Between those two classes, I’ve worked with three different instructors across four semesters.
While every teacher works a bit differently with their TAs, one thing is common in IGM - a TA is not the teacher. I don’t hold office hours, I don’t create lectures, and I don’t present the material - the definition leans much harder on the assistant element. Instead, grading is the most common task. I generally take care of smaller homeworks and exercises so the instructors can focus on major projects, exams, or preparing lectures. Occasionally, I’ve helped find sources on subjects or will edit a powerpoint for clarity. In rare cases, such as a professor getting ill or running late, I’ve started the class or managed a critique session.
In the classroom, I jokingly refer to myself as a color commentator. This works with the teachers I help, though every TA is different. Most often, I’ll interject with any meaningful experiences I’ve had, or where I got stuck on a homework assignment when I took the class. Sometimes, it’s just a cool or interesting tidbit that might help reinforce a concept. In Level Design, which has more of a relaxed seminar structure, the teacher and I will quip back and forth to break up a lecture and soften the tone. In addition, during work days, we break up the class between us to ensure all students get meaningful feedback on their projects, which wouldn’t be possible with just one person in the timeframe. Within DSA, the more constrained nature skews more towards the instructor calling on me to share my own advice for an assignment, or speak about how my industry friends have applied concepts from the class in their jobs. I’m the go-to person whenever someone asks “do we really need this?”
Out of class, I still do work, as a grader. In Level Design, I go over the weekly assignments, supplying critique and feedback. The instructor can then double check my evaluations, or act as a new observer if a student finds a grade confusing. Within DSA, I grade most practice exercises and homeworks, while the instructor evaluates exams and projects. While I often use out of class time for grading, I have set up more scheduled points before major due dates so students have another avenue to get help. On top of that, I try to stay reasonably open to students - I’ll respond to emails about assignments, clarify feedback, and help debug issues in person or even over tools like Discord. I might not respond to an email at one in the morning, but I’m probably more likely to do it than the professor.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as a TA at RIT, and will likely continue to act in that role next year. Many of my friends have become (or are) TAs, and though our classes are distinct, the differences lie more in the TA-teacher partnership than a drastic workload change. I’ve even gotten to know the faculty better - though I’ve never had a class with either teacher I’m currently helping, we still maintain a fun rapport and familiarity. The position has been a fun way to not only see the material in a new light and help other students, but also to continually refine my skills within the subjects. Some say the best way to know you’ve learned something is to teach it, but grading seems to work pretty well for me as a stopgap.