Coping with Limited TA Budgets while Ensuring Student Success

Laura Reid is a Professor in the Computer Science department at Western University. She teaches 800+ students and uses Kritik to enable them to evaluate their peers’ websites and designs. Apart from being a knowledgeable professor and experienced programmer, she is also heavily involved in her community and participates in various educational programs and initiatives in the STEM field.

Prior to using the platform, she relied on TAs and herself to mark the overwhelming 800+ submissions. Professor Reid knows the difficulties of facilitating proper pedagogies in large classes and is aware of the struggles of extensive grading. With Kritik, she was able to optimize her time to fit her teaching objectives and improve students’ academic performance while empowering herself to remain active in her community.

Teaching Assistants - An Essential but Limited Resource
I don’t even know if it's because of the pandemic but Ontario just keeps tightening the resources and we just didn’t have enough TAs. Every year, we’re struggling to get enough TAs to do the marking... I decided to try Kritik because of finance and issues like that...and I am so glad that I did. It solved my problem of having to have so many TAs because with 800 students we would [need] 15 TAs.

It is no doubt that COVID-19 has brought massive constraints to the operations and finances of higher education institutions. Prior to the pandemic, North American universities and colleges were already dealing with issues regarding resource allocation and budget cuts despite some government subsidies, grants, and donations albeit decreasing every year. Furthermore, the rise of tuition seems to be not as effective in increasing the institutions’ capacity to provide more support for students, professors and classes of varying sizes. Traditionally, university and college departments would allocate some of their resources into hiring a number of TAs to help with teaching, grading and other administrative tasks. Given the current financial constraints, it is much difficult to meet students’ learning requirements and professors’ teaching objectives with fewer TAs, especially for larger classes.

Effectively Empowering TAs - Increased Involvement
If you take a course and you get each student to mark 5 other students, I think you get better marking. TAs have to do 50 so it's overwhelming but if [students] only have to do 5, they put a lot of thought and care into it. We got a better quality of marking… I love [the] system. I think it's awesome. I’m very very very happy with [the] product. It has improved my course. My students are getting a lot more out of the course.

The benefits of using Kritik do not only apply to professors and students as TAs also get to experience a reduced burden from grading overwhelming amounts of assignments. In return, they can have the capacity to help professors with research and provide valuable mentorship to students. Considering that TAs are a limited resource already, ensuring that their time is spent efficiently and effectively is what Kritik’s peer grading platform strives to accomplish. By doing so, students also get to constantly provide and receive feedback from their peers and this process enables students to learn at a deeper level.

Kritik acknowledges and understands the importance of TAs and as such, the platform is designed to empower them to have a greater significance in classes by being more involved in students’ learning process and instructors' professional endeavours while having the opportunity to develop valuable skills instead of purely grading.

Quality Education Despite Limited Resources - Student Benefits
[Students] all come in thinking [they’re] going to get 95 in this course or that they’re owed a high mark. When they see other students’ work, it enlightens them and really makes them think about what they are doing. My students got more out of the course because of peer marking… and 90% of the students were happy with it. My reason of going with [Kritik] was finances and in the end, the reason why I love it has nothing to do with the finances.

As mentioned, Professor Reid has been using Kritik as a way to address the limited budget, resources and amount TAs available to her. From her first two responses, it has been evident thus far that professors and TAs are benefiting from Kritik’s peer grading. In this section, the students’ benefit is highlighted as the main reason why Kritik’s solution results in a quality and unique learning and teaching experience for all. Through the use of Kritik, students have the rare opportunity to reflect on their abilities, skills and knowledge and analyze what it takes to reach academic excellence. In the process of doing so, students are empowered to synthesize what it takes to professionally provide and receive feedback, a valuable life lesson required for their career preparation and development.

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Laura Reid
Laura Reid
Western University
Professor of Computer Science