I’m Alvin and I graduated from the VFS Game Design Program. As a student, I focused on learning as much as I could, and everything came at me so fast that often the details got fuzzy. As a Teaching Assistant, or being on the other side of the table as some like to call it, that focus needed to be redirected toward fine details and assisting students.
Within a three hour lecture, a student is given a lot of information that they’re expected to just remember. But obviously there are going to be points that stand out more, and there will be points that they’ll forget altogether unless they put it into practice daily. The majority of the students probably won’t care about that small portion of information that was forgotten. But when a single student comes to us with a question about even the most minuscule detail, it’s up to us to have an answer they can trust and move forward with.
Now I’m not saying as a TA you have to immediately study all the details and potential questions that students may have, but one of the most important things is to be prepared. This may require that you’ll have to do the assignment yourself to really understand where the questions are coming from, and what other potential questions may be. It’s also very important to have a solid foundation of knowledge on that particular piece of software. If you understand all the components that you’re working with, it just takes a bit of disassembling and finding the source of your issue. Most of the problems students have will come down to the fine details; being prepared and having a solid foundation just makes things easier.
Assisting students when they seek help is a given task for TAs. But something else that’s important is to pay attention to them, especially the ones that don’t ask for help as often. Sometimes students don’t know that they should be asking for help if they’re having a lot of difficulty, and sometimes they don’t have the courage to ask. It’s important to be aware of when they’re struggling, and approach them on how their work is going. If there’s a chance you could help, it doesn’t hurt to try. Even if you can’t help with an immediate problem, there’s still benefit from a new perspective on whatever they’re working on. Paying attention to students’ needs and conversing with them regularly are not difficult tasks, but they are super effective.
There’s no particular formula to being a good TA, and it’s often difficult to predict what curve balls the students will throw at you next. But through my experiences, what helped me the most was looking at all the details and assisting students beyond the questions they bring to me. This article probably won’t strongly impact the lives of most of the people who read it. But there’s always a chance it could greatly inspire a single person, and they would move forward with this advice through the rest of their lives.
Alvin Kwok is Teaching Assistant in VFS Game Design