COMPSCI 879 Teaching Assistants as Tomorrow's Faculty

Instructor: Neena Thota

Office:  LGRC A353B

Office Hours: By appointment


Course Description:

Congratulations on beginning your journey as an educator who inspires!

I envision this course as a supportive and inclusive learning community. I hope that it will be a starting point for you to deepen your knowledge of how to fulfill your TA duties in an effective and pedagogically sound manner.


This one credit (not repeatable) course is semester long and a required component of the TA contract. The course is taken by all TAs in the semester in which they first assume assistantship. All CICS TAs are eligible and departmental consent is required for enrollment.

Course Objectives:

This course aims to introduce you to the tenets of inclusive teaching and learning. It focuses on the TA's role in leading discussion sections, planning effective review sessions, and facilitating labs. Educational best practices that scaffold learning and create an inclusive classroom are discussed. How to balance teaching and research responsibilities is addressed as part of your graduate professional development.

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of the course, you should be able to:

·      use evidence-based teaching practices to stimulate active learning.

·      create an inclusive environment to broaden participation and support diversity in the classroom.

·      use discipline specific instructional strategies to scaffold learning.

Course Structure:

Class meeting time: Friday 9:05 to 9:55am in Hasbrouck Laboratory room 138.

The course is flipped with students completing readings, assignments, and online discussions ahead of each class. Class time is used for group discussions and in-class activities.

Course Materials:

A textbook is not required. Assignments, discussion forums, and readings, as well as the schedule will be on Moodle.

You should get your laptop to class to participate in online activities and surveys.

We’ll use Slack for announcements and group communication. You’ll be added to the course Slack workspace at the beginning of the semester.

Course Grading:

Grades will be assigned for:

·      attendance and participation in class discussions and completing self-reflections: 25%

·      peer observation report: 25%

·      creating a Reusable Learning Object (RLO) as part of a group project: 50%

Grading criteria can be found on Moodle along with the assignment details.

You may expect the following approximate grading scale: A (93-100), A- (90-92), B+ (87-89), B (83-86), B- (80-82), C+ (77-79), C (73-76), C- (70-72), D+ (67-69), D (60-66), F (0-59).

Note: Grades below C are not passing for graduate students.

Course Topics (subject to change - check Moodle):

·      Student centered teaching approaches

·      Effective feedback (in-person and written)

·      Etiquette for communicating with students

·      Tools for teaching at scale

·      Creating an inclusive classroom

·      Peer instruction and other forms of active learning

·      Syllabus development - CS content

·      TA/grader coordination

·      Exam-writing strategies

·      Grading: criterion/norm referenced

·      Academic integrity; plagiarism

·      Being a responsible employee

·      Balancing teaching and research

·      Preparing for professional future with Teaching Statement and Portfolio

Learning Support:

There are many resources for you on campus should you need them:

·      UMass Libraries: 

·      Writing Center -

·      Learning Resource Center -

·      Assistive Technology Center - 

·      Disability Services -

·      Student Success -

·      Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH)

·      English as a Second Language (ESL) Program -

·      CMASS Success Coach Program -

·      Single Stop Resources -

·      Teaching Academy Resources: 

Course Policies:


This is a discussion and activity-based class. While participation, in addition to attendance, is an expectation of students enrolled in the course, I do understand that you may not be able to attend a particular class. You may drop one class - no questions asked. In addition, medical conditions, religious or funerary events, university-related events (conference visit, athletic event, field trip, or performance), or extenuating non-academic reasons (military obligation, family illness, jury duty, automobile collision) will be accommodated with written documentation.

Late Submissions:

There may be situations when you cannot submit an assignment by the due date. If you need an extension for an assignment due to the following circumstances, contact me with written documentation at least 24 hours before the assignment is due: medical conditions, religious or funerary events, university-related events (conference visit, athletic event, field trip, or performance), or extenuating non-academic reasons (military obligation, family illness, jury duty, automobile collision).

Academic Honesty Statement:

In general, collaborative work is encouraged. For individual assignments, please refer to UMASS Academic Honesty Policy and Procedures for guidelines on what constitutes academic dishonesty and the sanctions that may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty:

Note that CICS explicitly forbids any redistribution (including publicly available posting on an internet site) of any course materials (including student solutions to course assignments, projects, exams, etc.) without the express written consent of the instructor of the course from which the materials come. Violations of this policy will be deemed instances of “facilitating dishonesty” (since a student making use of such materials would be guilty of plagiarism) and therefore may result in charges under the Academic Honesty Policy.

Accommodation Statement:

Any student who requires an accommodation due to a disability is directed to contact the UMASS Disability Services: to obtain the appropriate accommodation forms. If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first week of the semester. My goal is to provide every student with a high-quality learning experience. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about disabilities or any issue that may impact the quality of your learning.

Inclusivity Statement

In this course, we celebrate the diversity in our community and actively seek to include and listen to voices that are often silenced in the computing world. We welcome all individuals regardless of age, background, citizenship, disability, sex, education, ethnicity, family status, gender, gender identity, geographical origin, language, military experience, political views, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and work experience.

Participation Policy

To support an inclusive environment, please respect each other’s viewpoints and maintain civility in the classroom. When asked to provide constructive feedback, do so in ways that are specific to the task at hand and focused on the work itself. Model the behavior that you would expect of the students in the class for which you are the Teaching Assistant.

Names & Pronouns:

You have the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that you use. You can indicate your preferred/chosen first name and pronouns on SPIRE, which appear on class rosters. I am committed to ensuring that I address you with your chosen name and pronouns. Please let me know what name and pronouns I should use for you, if they are not on the roster. Remember: A student’s chosen name and pronouns are to be respected at all times in the classroom.

Title IX Statement:

UMass is committed to fostering a safe learning environment by responding promptly and effectively to complaints of all kinds of sexual misconduct. If you have been the victim of sexual violence, gender discrimination, or sexual harassment, the university can provide you with a variety of support resources and accommodations. If you experience or witness sexual misconduct and wish to report the incident, please contact the UMass Amherst Equal Opportunity (EO) Office (413-545-3464 | to request an intake meeting with EO staff. Members of the CICS community can also contact Erika Lynn Dawson Head, director of diversity and inclusive community development ( | 860-770-4770).