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Working Effectively With Teaching Assistants

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade II

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1379.1 - 14.1379.11



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Paper Authors


Edward Gehringer North Carolina State University

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Ed Gehringer is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at North Carolina State University. He has been a frequent presenter at education-based workshops in the areas of computer architecture and object-oriented systems. His research interests include architectural support for memory management, garbage collection, and computer-supported collaborative learning. He received a B.S. from the University of Detroit(-Mercy) in 1972, a B.A. from Wayne State University, also in 1972, and the Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1979.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Working Effectively with Teaching Assistants

Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University


New engineering faculty usually have the opportunity to work with teaching assistants. How can they make effective use of them? This paper presents a list of tasks TAs might perform, comments on what these duties entail, and discusses how one might structure meetings with one’s TA. It is useful to formalize the instructor/TA relationship with a contract. Examples of contracts are presented.

1. Introduction

Although virtually unknown in liberal-arts colleges, teaching assistants1 (TAs) are a fixture of most engineering programs, where class sizes are large and the subject matter is technologically complex. Usually, teaching assistants are assigned to instructors to assist with a particular course section. Sometimes TAs are paid hourly, but more often, they are on a monthly stipend for ten or twenty hours’ work per week. It is difficult for a beginning instructor to know how to make effective use of that time until (s)he has taught a class several times. Much has been written about teaching assistants at the ASEE Annual Conference [1–6] and elsewhere [7–9]. Most of it, however, has focused on programs for training TAs and on studies of TAs’ attitudes and behavior. The author could not find a single paper devoted primarily to how to manage TAs, although McNeill et al. [10] provide data on tasks TAs are actually assigned to perform, and Reges [11] explains how to organize undergraduate TAs and lab assistants to provide comprehensive support to large introductory courses. To gather data for this paper, the author solicited ideas from members of three mailing lists: the Engineering Technology listserv,, serving ASEE’s Engineering Technology division; the SIGCSE members list, SIGCSE-members@LISTSERV.ACM.ORG, serving the Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education of the Association for Computing Machinery; and the listserv of the Professional & Organization Development Network in Higher Education,, the professional organization for faculty development experts. More than 25 individuals shared ideas. Occasionally the online contact was followed up with a phone call. Often, teaching assistants are assigned by the faculty member’s department. Whoever assigns them may solicit recommendations from the faculty teaching the course. Sometimes the instructor is given a budget and allowed to hire any qualified student. In this case, it is a good idea to hire a student who has taken the course in the last year or two, preferably from the same instructor. This is because the students in the class can better build their confidence by contact

1 At many schools, teaching assistants are routinely called “GTAs” for “graduate teaching assistants.” Since the material described in this paper applies to undergraduate TAs as well, I have opted to use the abbreviation for the more general term.

Proceedings of the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition 1 Copyright 1 2009, American Society for Engineering Education

Gehringer, E. (2009, June), Working Effectively With Teaching Assistants Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5515

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015