I’ve always been dreaming of teaching.
I worked as a teaching assistant at University of Khartoum, Geomatics Engineering department. I’ve TAed different classes–mostyl computational/programming ones. It was very nice experience, I couldn’t be more happier. Though, I have some notes.
The national service is the single most evil, human rights violation thing has ever been done. Our governers are literally using us to cover for their economical failures. The national service is a one year that each graduate student should serve in military. Usually, people prefer to do their national service in non-military places. That was exploited pretty well bad by the government sector. In my case, I wasn’t physically fitted to do my national service in a miliant facility. Luckily, I met all the requirements to be accepted at UofK.
I think that physical geodesy is the toughest class ever. Students find huge difficulty in understanding the class materials. I’ve tried to ease the course by adding more programming exercises. E.g., the class project was about building a program to compute the geoid.
Most of students suffer much in mathematical intensive classes. I suspect that might be because the way courses are offered: You don't get to choose what courses you want to take.
- Many of mathematical classes are poorly taught. They are not oriented towards engineering. Compared these courses to any of MIT’s for instance. In our particular case, geodesy heavily relies on physics, calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. Well, on papers, all four year students have already taken these courses. The problem is, in my opinion, in the way that courses been taught. I still remember my linear algebra tutorials. We were so into proves. I have had solved many of Schaum’s problems. However, these skills were totally irrelevant to my field of study. The same applied to statistics and probabilities. Did you know that, college statistics are still taught with the same “what is the mean? There are four oranage balls and five red balls in a basket, what is the probability of grabbing a red ball”. That is not helping at all.
- I don’t agree to the 70 final exam and 30 class work policy. It is very ridiclous. It encourages students to only study for the final exam. I have seen that, I’ve done it, too.
- Lack of communication between students and their instructor. Well, this might not be the biggest problem, but it is still there.
- Many students do not know how to use email.
Students cheat all the time. You may not believe that, but I well known Imam (Sheikh), have given a fatwa that
Copying answers from your friends is not Haram.
Well, while others don’t need that fatwa anyway, but I’m just trying to help you understand how our problems are fundamental. Just to be clear, that Imam’s fatwa was about cheating in tutorials and homeworks not in exams. Cheating in exams happens occurs also at a scary level. Every year, a few students got caught and suspended for an year or two because of cheating cases. Many other cases occured but they were ignored. I will get to cheating point later.
There are plenty of others, I might add as we go, or discuss them in the forum.
Things we have tried to do
Here are a few things I have tried to do. Just to be clear, they are used in other institutions, so I have no credit for any of them.
Piazza is an online forum for courses discussions and announcements. It helps students to get in touch with the course instructors, and also help the course instructors to know how their students are doing in the course. The good thing is, we didn’t have to make any posters on the department’s walls, or call some student to tell the others that there will be a test on Wednesday, and some students tell you that they hadn’t been told. It was solved! The unfortunate bad thing is, some students find it too difficult to register, or use the website. Though, I clearly remember I have given them a fast ten minutes on how to use Piazza.
- I believe that assignmets are the best way for students to understand any computational class materials. So, instead of giving them a 30-minutes to solve a toy problem and then collect their works, I made them assignments that needs more then just a few minutes to solve. Some professors didn’t agree with this idea. They urged that we’re just giving the students extra days to cheat from each others. Cheating happens, a lot. There is no clear policy on how to deal with cheating cases in e.g., tests, mid-terms, or in assignments.
Papers are hard to deal with. I urge that they don’t contribute too much to student’s writing skills. They might be used in the first year, but I totally don’t get why they are still used in senior years. I have tried to avoid hardcopy assignments as much as I can. Students were not allowed to submit their assignments in hardcopy format at all. (Except for the very very rare situations.) PDF rocks!
Students were asked to write their assignments using LaTeX. LaTeX is really nice in that the user doesn’t need to worry about the styling. While the students had had terrible nights dealing with LaTeX, the reward was very huge in their theses.
Grading is the most horrible thing to do. It takes a lot of time and effort. One might biased. We used gradescope to handle students’ submissions and release assignments. Well, it works very well for me, however, it was a nightmare for some students. One told me that he had had spent four days trying to submit his assignment. Gradescope definitely is not that difficult. Again, students really lack many things. One nice thing I liked about gradescope is autograding for programming assignments. While I didn’t have the time to setup one for the course (I had to build a docker version for the programming language, etc. Docker was blocked for the Sudan, and I hadn’t had a great internet connection to do the VPN+other docker build steps.) Autograder will definitely save you a lot of hours, and it’s biased-free, too.
Gradescope was also great in controlling the assignments submissions. You can specify the release day, and the due. It will magically close after the due. Students can also submit a regrade request through gradescope (they were seeing their grades for each submission). We hadn’t use that, anyone needed to regrade. One thing I noticed about the release, due thing is: many students submit only on the last day. Even though they already completed the assignment. I had to tell them that they can submit at any time between the release date and the final date!
The grades for each assignment and other course works were all published to the students, and they were encouraged to ask for any revision. That really helped me to make things transparent between me and the students. It is your right to know exactly your marks. We are human, we make mistakes all the time.
- In all the tutorials I have not taken any attendance. I still cannot get this idea. I mean, if someone doesn’t want to attend, why are we forcing them inti doing that? That definitely will not help them understand the materials. Is not this the goal of what we are doing? I was worried that no one would attend, however, that just didn’t happen! I think that students are mature enough to decide whether they want to attend this lecture or not. Attending lectures/tutorials should not be the way how we assess them. Maybe they were bored, or tired, or on a bad mood, or even they are just- God help me -don’t need to attend at all! Don’t you think that taking attendance is time consuming?
Notes for students
Hey there! How are you doing? Here is the thing. I once said that, your time is more precious than ours (as instructors), and that we are doing everything for you. I still believe in that. College is an invesment for you. It is five years of your life–not to mention the tuition and living fees. Try to learn as much as you can. Try to connect with people inside your institution and people from outside. Be active in Engineer’s Week and other activities. These are the things that will shape your life.
Your professors and TAs are not evil (sick) persons. Why not go to and ask them about relevant problems to their field, or career questions, etc. They have such a great experience, they will definitely help you.
When I was a student, we haven’t had too much of connections with both professors and lecturers. It might be a problem related to us (or me). As a TA, I have tried to connect to as much students as I could. I did that because it is healthy for the learning process.
Notes for my fellow TAs
Hi dudes! How is it going?
I know you are not doing fine at all. You are working in a full time position, and having a generous salary of 150 sdg (7.5 USD)! Things couldn’t be any better!
I totally feel your pain. TAs are the most crucial part in undergrad studies. You have to do the tutorials, the grading, and then sometimes midterms, and the exams, etc. You are doing everything. And, you are totally not appreciated. For me, and probably for most of you, I had to depend on my family for living. 150sdg is just shameful. It would be more appropriate if were paid something that covers our living expenses. Just living expenses. At some part you just be like why the
fuck am I doing this? Cannot I just drop my work and start working in other place? Teaching is really tough. TAs responsibilities are way too much. Having known all of that, students have nothing to do with this: we have to work very hard to give them proper materials.
Notes for the administration guys
I need to be more formal here.
I wrote this post as a summary of my work at University of Khartoum. These notes were never meant to hurt, attack anyone. I wish that you consider discussing these issues I presented and think of ways to address them. I wish that these notes highlight some of the problems we face at UofK.