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               The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                           Updated: July 2005
                                                                 Page 1 of 10
Welcome to the role of Teaching Assistant (TAs) for the School of Computing Science at Simon
Fraser University. The following information and guidelines are for your reference while working
with us.

1.     TA Appointments – General

       The School of Computing Science requires TAs for the majority of their course offerings
       each semester at both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses.

       The most current listing of courses for any given semester can be found at for current students and incoming students. There is also a link
       available at the Computing Science website at, but we
       cannot guarantee that this website has the most current information

       Teaching assistants may be assigned to any course and the level of support depends on
       the course and the enrollment. TA appointments are made by the Administrative
       Assistant, Tracy Bruneau ( and priority is given to graduate
       students completing their PhD's who have received less than 9 semesters of support,
       and graduate students completing their MSc's who have received less than 5 semesters
       of support.

       Generally speaking the School attempts to provide a maximum of 5 TA appointments for
       PhD students (3 in the first year and 2 over the next 2 years) and 3 TA appointments for
       MSc's which are normally assigned during their first 3 semesters of study with us. These
       intended maximums affect where each student sits in the priority sequence for TA

       Graduate students are appointed to the role of TA by the Administrative Assistant in
       consultation with the Graduate Director. The appointments are done based on a few
       things; campus preference, the place where each student falls within the priority
       sequence, the preferences provided by the student (10 submitted) and the requirements
       of the department.

       TAs are appointed to most courses during the month before the start of a new semester
       and final appointments are updated (if necessary) after the third week of classes,
       once enrollments are confirmed.

       The assignment of work that at a TA does is called ''base unit''. For each base unit, a
       TA is expected to provide up to 42 hours of course support during the semester. The
       number of base units assigned to a course is dependent on: the course and the number
       of students enrolled and whether a TA is assigned to a course with tutorials or labs and

                                               The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                           Updated: July 2005
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     the type of work expected. The TA and course instructor should negotiate the work
     required prior to the start of classes whenever possible.

     Also, depending on enrollments there can be multiple TAs assigned for one course.

     Graduate students should not hold a full 5 base unit TA appointment in the same
     semester that they have received a full or partial RA appointment or have been
     awarded a Graduate Fellowship (SFUGF, CSGF or a FASGF). Students can hold
     both an RA or TA but the total funding should not amount to more than 5 BU’s
     between the two.

     Any student that receives and RA or GF must IMMEDIATELY advise the
     Administrative Assistant, Tracy Bruneau ( that they have
     received other funding and their TA BU assignment may be withdrawn or reduced
     for that semester.

2.   Administration

     a. Graduate students are invited to apply for teaching assistantships about two months
        before the beginning of the semester in which they will be employed. An email is
        sent to all active and confirmed Graduate Students advising of the opening and
        closing of the application process.
     b. Graduate students only apply online for TA appointments. In order to apply, students
        must be fully registered students and then must provide their 10 preferred courses,
        ranked by preference and course knowledge (highest = 1). While every attempt is
        made to only assign TAs to their higher preferences, in some cases the lower
        preferences will prevail and it is up to the student to become familiar with the course
        content and expectations.
     c. Following the closing date for applications, the Administrative Assistant reviews each
        application and then looks at the student’s record of funding allocations already
        received and where they sit in the priority ranking. This is determined by; degree,
        prior funding levels, starting semester and preferences submitted.
     d. Based on expected/projected enrollments, the Administrative Assistant assigns
        applicants to courses according to the rankings obtained in (3). When an applicant's
        base unit request is not met by a single course, a second course may be assigned.
        There are occasional requests for students to TA a course that they have not
        included in their list of preferences submitted, but again this is dependent on course
        enrollments and department requirements.
     e. Appointments are made for both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses and a “campus
        preference” is asked for at the time of application. When appointments are made the
        campus preference is considered, but some TA’s may be asked to TA at either
        campus, due to the department’s requirements. These requests are kept to a
        minimum, but can occur.
     f. There are some differences when working as a TA and the Burnaby or Surrey
        campus with specific emphasis on lab work and lab assignments. For the most part,
        TAs at Surrey can expect to commit large amounts of time on either a Thursday or
        Friday (currently), depending on the course you are TAing for – this is negotiated
        with the course instructor.
     g. Once the first round of TA appointments have been made the Supervisors, whether
        temporary or assigned, are notified to obtain approval for the appointment. This

                                             The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                         Updated: July 2005
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     ensures that a supervisor (temporary or static) is aware that her/his graduate student
     will be receiving financial support.
h.   The supervisors of each potential TA notify the Administrative Assistant of any
     appointments for which alternate funding is already being provided and any other
     concerns they may have.
i.   The Administrative Assistant revises the appointments, if necessary, and then
     contracts are prepared and email offers are sent to all successful applicants.
j.   Any course conflicts or expected difficulties with any TA appointment must be
     brought to the attention of the Administrative Assistant immediately.
k.   Course instructors are notified of the names of their TA's.
l.   Course instructors/TAs are responsible for making contact and are asked to notify
     the Administrative Assistant if any concerns arise.
m.   Course instructors discuss with TA's their workloads and prepare "Time Use
     Guidelines" which is provided with the TA Contract. A completed copy must be
     retained by the course instructor the TA.
n.   After the third week of classes, base unit appointments may be revised by the
     Administrative Assistant depending on work load and final enrollments in each

                                         The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                     Updated: July 2005
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         TAs are considered an integral and important part of the teaching process and as such,
         you have a responsibility to our students, Course instructors and the School. Your TA
         duties will vary with each appointment, but the underlying expectation of the high level of
         assistance required does not vary.

         TAs in Computing Science will be expected to perform the majority of these duties:

            •   Mark assignments
            •   Mark mid-terms and exams
            •   Schedule office hours to provide assistance to your students and, if possible
                assist other CMPT students
            •   Supervise mid-terms and the final exams
            •   Attend open labs and/or tutorials (course dependent)
            •   Assist the course instructor with preparation of assignments, tests and solutions
            •   Answer emails and provide direction via email
            •   Give or assist in lectures

1.       Working with the Course instructor

         All course instructors rely on their TAs and appreciate the work that you do. Building a
         relationship with the course instructor you are working with is important and helps both
         of you in doing your jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible.

         Ask questions to clarify things such as; levels of assistance to students, marking queries,
         hours of work, office hours etc. This will ensure that you both have a clear idea of
         expectations and roles.

     •   The course instructor is your immediate supervisor for the semester and as such, you
         will be working closely with him/her and if any problems or concerns arise about
         ANYTHING to do with the course – discuss this with him/her.
     •   You are expected to be available from the first day of classes until the final grade
         deadline (4 days after the final exam). This is the period of work you agree to when
         becoming a TA.
     •   The course instructor is relying on you to perform your duties as you have agreed and if,
         for some reason, you need to make changes to your duties, your office hours, your
         availability etc., you must receive approval for this change prior to making plans.
              o For example, leaving before the end of the course or reducing your workload
                 during a critical time in the semester. Depending on the course, course instructor
                 and other TAs, it might be possible for arrangements to be made – but please
                 keep in mind that it is your responsibility to ensure that alternate assistance
                 is in place on your behalf.

                                                  The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                              Updated: July 2005
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2.   Working with Students

     The majority of your time will be spent working with students, both face-to-face in office
     hours and by email. Students who come to you are looking for help – and as a TA this is
     your primary role.

     Please be responsive and timely in your dealings with your students and if you have
     specific concerns or problems, it is your responsibility to follow-up with the course
     instructor as soon as something presents itself.

            For example, you may encounter some problematic students along the way –
            someone may want a little too much help with an assignment or you may
            encounter students who want to argue for marks that they do not necessarily

     As a caution, it is sometimes difficult to realize that the question level is excessive -
     usually there is a slow shift from a regular level of questions - to asking a little too much.
     If you realize that this is the situation please stop it immediately and remind the student
     that they are expected to work through the problems and questions on their own.

     Note: The levels of information/help you can provide students should be clarified with
           the course instructor.

     Note: ANY questions about marks/grades need to be referred to the course instructor.

3.   Confidentiality

     During the semester you will have access to confidential information regarding: students,
     marks, marking keys for assignments or text books, knowledge of the contents of exams,

     You will also have access to Gradebook, class lists and student ID’s none of which
     should be shared with anyone.

        •   Keep student marks confidential. Students may see their own marks, but not
            those of others.
        •   If you have access marking keys and/or answers to assignments, mid-terms and
            exams then:
                o Do not make copies without the express permission of the course
                o Do not show it to anyone without the express and written permission of the
                    course instructor. (This includes fellow graduate students and other TA’s)
        •   Return all material at the end of the semester
        •   Most often you can show students correct answers to questions on exams and
            assignments AFTER they have been marked and graded, but do not post
            answers unless asked to do so by the course instructor.

                                               The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                           Updated: July 2005
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4.   Course Materials

     You are expected to be familiar with the course material and software tools you will be
     working with and it is your responsibility to ensure that you are able to answer student's
     questions. That being said, you are not necessarily expected to have intimate
     knowledge of every detail of the course. If you can work things out quickly and learn as
     you go, you will be fine.

     You should look through the course readings and assignments as soon as possible as
     you will be required to provide answers to questions as soon as the course begins. This
     includes being familiar with the correct answers to assignments so that you can provide
     guidance to students.

     Note: Ask the course instructor early on for any topics you can prepare for by becoming
           familiar with the text, reading lecture notes, etc.

     If you do not feel comfortable with the course material, talk to the course instructor. You
     could be asked to sit in on the lectures or be given time to do some reading.

5.   Office Hours

     The number of office hours required will be decided upon by you and the Course
     instructor. Once these hours have been agreed upon please make every attempt to
     keep them. If extenuating circumstances prevent you from holding office hours, you
     must advise the course instructor and, at the same time, provide alternate hours/days to
     make this up. This is particularly important near assignment due dates, mid-terms and

     It is your responsibility to be prepared for your office hours as it is expected that you will
     be well-prepared and knowledgeable by not only your students but by the course
     instructor as well. You need to ensure that students are not only comfortable asking for
     assistance but that they know they will be working with someone who “knows their stuff.”

     When working with the students treat them with respect and please deal with them in the
     same manner that you would want to be dealt with. Always remember that they are
     working with this material for the first time and please know that you will be answering a
     lot of "obvious" questions.

     Note: We do not expect you to know everything, but we do expect you to learn what you
           need to know to be a good TA for any specific course.

     Note: It is your role to provide guidance, assistance and knowledge, but do not be afraid
           to say “no” if something makes you uncomfortable – refer the student to the course
           instructor or consult with the course instructor if this occurs.

                                              The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                          Updated: July 2005
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     Some tips to help things go smoothly when working with students:

          •   Write things down. Students often cannot deal with new information all at once. If
              you write some things down as you are talking, they can read it again later. Some
              concepts are easier to explain on paper - especially with a picture.
          •   Do not spend all of your time with one student. If someone is monopolizing your
              time, tell them you need to deal with others before coming back to them – ask
              them politely to wait.
          •   If you get the same question from several students, it might be more efficient to
              send an email with the answer(s). Bring this to the attention of the course
              instructor to help clear up any confusion that has arisen and prior to emailing
              your students. .
          •   Your office hours, most often, are held in offices that contain a whiteboard – use
              it whenever possible
          •   Do not give hints as to what will be on exams unless told to do so by the course
              instructor. Giving hints to individuals is not fair - any advice should be given to all.

7.    Assignments, Marking and Exams

      Marking may be a big part of your job and is probably the most important part of your job
      as far as the students are concerned and satisfies two demands; ranking students and
      providing feedback on their work.

      Depending on the course, you may be asked to mark all of the assignments for a group
      of students, or a few assignments for the entire class.

      Every course and course instructor has their own guidelines and expectations for the
      work that students submit. Talk to the course instructor to find out what is expected for
      each assignment, mid-term or exam that you are responsible for marking. The course
      instructor may provide you with solutions or might expect you to come up with the
      solutions yourself.

      For each marking assignment you may, first, want to mark a few assignments and then
      discuss them with the course instructor to ensure that you are proceeding correctly,
      assigning proper marks and that you are interpreting his/her marking requirements
      properly and that the marking scheme conforms to the course instructor’s expectations. If
      further questions arise about how a particular question should be marked, it is the TAs
      responsibility to contact the course instructor – failure to do so can result in dozens of
      papers having to be re-marked.

      When marking, do NOT rush through it – do it right the first time, because if you rush the
      marking you will just end up dealing with problems caused by this later. You must
      remember that there can be correct answers that are not exactly like the answer key.

                                                The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                            Updated: July 2005
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   Some tips to help things go smoothly when marking:

   •   If you take off marks, explain why by making a note on the paper that will enable
       you to remember why you gave the mark you did when the student comes back to
       inquire about his/her mark.
   •   If the answer does not match the answer key exactly, try to see whether they have
       the main points but have worded them differently.
   •   If the answer is incorrect, do not just give zero. Instead, evaluate the answer to
       determine how much of it was close to correct, what steps were correct, and how
       many part marks are deserved, if any.
   •   Do not be afraid to give good marks and good comments to good answers.
   •   Do not be afraid to give positive comments. People tend to do their best when
   •   Do not worry about re-marking assignments or exam questions. If they deserve
       the marks, then re-mark, and make sure the course instructor corrects his/her
       mark information accordingly. There are often cases where questions are marked
       incorrectly due to hurrying, or not understanding what the student is trying to
       express. In re-marking cases, do watch out for attempts to cheat by changing
       incorrect answers, or by adding material. (see the section on cheating below)

   In terms of style of marking, please:

   •   Show the mark given for each question and part-question out of the total possible
   •   Cross out unused space so that students cannot add to their answer after the
       exam or assignment is returned
   •   If students use the left-hand page of an exam booklet, circle the area used and
       initial it to show that it was seen and marked.

   Do not forget to record the marks accurately!

   •   Keep your own record of the class marks
   •   Give the course instructor a copy each time a new assignment is marked
   •   Let the course instructor know of any changes to earlier marks

After the work is handed back to the students, you will probably get questions about the
marks they received. These questions can be anywhere from "I don't understand what I
did wrong here" to "I deserve more marks for this." Feel free to discuss what the
students did wrong and why you gave them the mark you did.

Different course instructors have different policies on changing marks; some ask the TAs
to reevaluate marking if necessary, some do it themselves and ask the TAs not to. Ask
your course instructor.

If you are asked to reevaluate a student's work, remember that:

   •   The number of marks an answer deserves is your decision, not the student's. It is
       not necessarily a negotiation.
   •   You must recognize that it is unfair to give marks back to one student and not
       others – just because some complain more or louder than others. You can say

                                           The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                       Updated: July 2005
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            "all students were marked this way, and though you may feel it's harsh, it was
            evenly applied and I can't change it easily now."
        •   You are assigning a mark based on the work they handed in, not their
            explanation of it after the fact.
        •   It's okay to be wrong—if you gave less marks than the student deserved, don't
            deny it, fix it.

     If you get persistent complaints about marking from particular students, send them to the
     course instructor.

8.   Academic Dishonesty

     Unfortunately incidence of Academic Dishonesty does occur. This is a very serious
     offense, so please remember that being accused of academic dishonesty can have a
     devastating effect on a student's emotional well-being. Regardless of your suspicions,
     the student may be innocent. Do not make hasty decision or accusation until you are
     certain that this has occurred. If you suspect that academic dishonesty has taken place
     refer this to the course instructor immediately, you should not be dealing with this

        Some tips to consider when dealing with suspected Academic Dishonesty:

        •   Do not make any accusations – if you have suspicions take them to the Course
        •   Do not return an assignment or exam to the student(s) – give them to the course
        •   Get the names of any witnesses and ask them to make a written record of what
            they heard and saw if this is something brought to your attention by another
        •   Keep a written record for yourself of everything that happened prior to referring
            this to the course instructor

        Some examples of academic dishonesty are:

        •   A student may copy another's assignment
        •   A student may take notes or other material into a closed-book exam
        •   A student may copy answers from another student during an exam
        •   A student may change the answers on a returned assignment or exam, then come
            back to the marker for reassessment
        •   A student may claim a mark has not been recorded when in fact the work or exam
            was never done. Make sure you see the assignment or exam before recording the
            mark, and make sure it has been marked by you.
        •   A student may have someone else come in to write his/her exam.

9.   TA/TM Day

     This instructional day is held at the beginning of each semester and we strongly suggest
     that TAs, in particular new TAs, attend this workshop. You should receive information
     about this workshop prior to each term and registration is carried out online.
                                             The School of Computing Science – TA Guidelines and Information
                                                                                         Updated: July 2005
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