Skip to main content

Guide to Teaching

As Teaching Assistants, graduate students are given an opportunity to develop their teaching skills in the more limited settings of discussion and lab sections. Teaching Assistants may look to more seasoned faculty members for creative methods of instruction and effective modes of interaction with students, or perhaps to fellow graduate students who have accumulated relevant experience. The College encourages all instructors, including Teaching Assistants, to pursue innovative ways of engaging students, and provides them with numerous tools and resources to foster this instruction.

This section offers insight into how to prepare for the challenges of teaching, and how to anticipate the reactions and behavior of students throughout the semester. It also suggests ways to prompt exploration among students and to inspire their active participation in the learning process.

The USC Student

Current Semester Schedule and Deadlines

Planning for Various Stages of the Semester

Lecture/Section and Lecture/Lab Relationship


Office Hours and Communicating with Students

Learner-Centered Education and Active Learning

Running a Section

Running a Lab

Assessment: Assignment and Test Design; Grading of Papers, Quizzes, and Exams

Plagiarism and Cheating Among Students

Teaching with Multimedia Technology

Seeking Guidance from TAs, Home Departments, or Other Resources


The USC Student

The student body at USC is one of diverse academic interests and personal histories. Many follow a pre-professional track in their undergraduate course of study, while others follow a more traditional liberal arts focus. The majority of students are local to California, yet others are very far from home.

Most incoming freshmen share one important feature in common: they arrive at USC with great hopes for their academic success. Most have excelled in high school, have received high GPAs and SAT scores, and are poised to compete for distinction in their education and in their professional lives.

Despite their numerous achievements, for many students the transition from high school to college-level work poses a formidable challenge. Increasingly, students are emerging from primary and secondary schools where standardized tests have been used as a major indicator of academic progress. Once at USC, students are expected to explore more deeply the tools of critical thought and analysis, to produce original ideas in essays and papers, to conduct complex lab experiments, and to engage in well supported discussion and debate, while simultaneously negotiating a new, larger community of peers. The period of adjustment to this environment of learning differs among students, but the challenge can often lead to intermittent periods of insecurity for some students. At USC most students tend to appreciate the value of their degree for attaining their future career goals. They are keenly aware of the need to excel and are generally very conscious of the impact a particular course will have on their GPA. Given these expectations, students feel tremendous pressure to maintain academic excellence, despite the challenges. Quite often, you’ll find that students will ask explicitly what they have to do to earn an A in the course. Students will generally demand that all expectations are stated from the outset and will pursue any perceived injustice or unfairness on the part of the instructor.

School spirit runs high on campus, and many students hail from families with long traditions of attendance at USC, whether as undergraduates or as graduates of one of USC’s many professional and graduate programs. Approximately one in five students at USC is a legacy student, and thus is the grandson or granddaughter, son or daughter, brother or sister of an alumnus. Half the students at USC are from California, where they have grown up with an intimate awareness of the university’s reputation. Campus life at USC includes the celebration of age-old traditions, strong support of athletic programs, and the participation in numerous fraternity and sorority organizations and community outreach programs. It also involves the recognition of the diversity of students at USC in their ethnic or racial backgrounds or sexual orientation.

While many incoming students are already part of a USC family, others come to USC to establish their own academic traditions. Approximately ten percent of USC’s undergraduates are the first members of their families ever to attend college. Many of these students are from California, but others arrive from other parts of the country, and even other parts of the world. Every tenth student at USC is an international student. Many arrive from Canada, where the system of education is similar to that of the United States, but many others come from Hong Kong, Singapore, India, China, and several other countries, where the prevailing standards of behavior and study norms among students are often quite different. A student from Taiwan, for example, might not feel comfortable approaching a professor with a question. In contrast, an American student may be too informal with an instructor. Part of the role of instructors, including Teaching Assistants, is to educate all students on the accepted practices of study at USC and to facilitate the formation of a more cohesive community of students.

A number of students at USC live at home during their college years. For the many who choose to reside on campus, they are likely to be living on their own for the first time. As at most colleges, students in these situations may encounter roommate issues, have difficulty finding quiet places to study, or may have problems finding a community of friends. The numerous social and intellectual adjustments that are necessary at the beginning of a semester can be overwhelming for students until they find their own niche.

With its impressive athletic program, the university supports a campus life that places great emphasis on sports. Student athletes at USC are under great pressure to find the appropriate balance between sport and study. Many resources are in place to support these students, given their demanding travel schedules and training regimes. When teaching student athletes, it is important to be consistent in academic expectations while remaining sensitive to the demands of their schedules. In addition, if student athletes appear to be falling behind, it is important to catch them early and direct them to the appropriate resources.

As graduate students, Teaching Assistants have already experienced the academic adjustment that their undergraduates are working to master. The process of intellectual maturation of most students in college is vast and must be nurtured. For many Teaching Assistants and professors alike it is difficult to remember a time when the key principles of their discipline were unfamiliar to them. Delivering clear explanations of concepts and fostering an environment that allows students to participate, question, and learn from one another will enhance the learning process and reassure students of their own abilities.

Current Semester Schedule and Deadlines

Fall 2010

August 18-19     Teaching Assistant Training Program

August 20     Lab Safety & Technology Training Sessions

August 23     First Day of Classes

September 10     Add/Drop Deadline

September 10     Last Day to Change to Pass/No Pass

November 1     Dissertation/Thesis Submission Deadline

November 12     Last Day to Drop and Receive a "W"

December 3     Last Day of Classes

December 4-7     Study Days

December 8-15     Final Exams


Spring 2011

January 10      Classes Begin

January 17      Martin Luther King's Birthday

February 21     President's Day

March 14-19    Spring Recess

April 29           Classes End

April 30-May 3  Study Days

May 4-11         Exams

May 13            Commencement

Planning for Various Stages of the Semester

Organization is an essential ingredient of all teaching. Effective planning will allow you to better manage the dual demands of study and instruction. Before the semester begins, consult with the professor to compile a schedule of all exams, papers, or lab assignments that will be due. Review the professor’s syllabus and the syllabus for your own class, and coordinate the academic calendar with the anticipated deadlines for your own work. Anticipate crunch times for teaching – midterms and finals, in particular – and budget time for your own work accordingly. Review the materials assigned for the semester and prepare as much as possible for the upcoming assignments.

Teaching Assistants are often responsible for managing multimedia equipment for the professor. Before the semester begins, check out the classroom where you will be teaching and where the primary lecture will be held, if appropriate. Familiarize yourself with the protocol for reserving equipment and how to operate any relevant equipment. If you identify problems with the facilities, address them immediately. Teaching Assistants who teach lab sessions should test laboratory equipment at the beginning of the semester and before every class. Problems with equipment can hamper the natural progression of a class and will certainly detract from the important lessons to be learned from the exercise.

In the first weeks of a semester, students may come and go as they finalize their schedules. Despite the relative instability of the roster, no time should be wasted in connecting with students. Online rosters, now available to Teaching Assistants, simplify the process of putting names to faces, and by the end of the first week the names should be familiar to you. This connection will often keep students engaged long enough to stay on top of their work. And if, by chance, they fall behind, it will encourage them to contact you and consult the appropriate resources rather than simply disappear.

As midterms approach, warn students of impending exams (if relevant). Hold a review section, if possible, to encourage students to address questions in a timely manner and to begin their preparation early, rather than at the last minute. At the midpoint of the semester, it is also advisable to inform any students who have missed work that they should complete their assignments as soon as possible.

As with midterms, preparing for final exams as a class will reassure students of the expectations for the final and will help them get a jump on their preparation. If a final paper is due in the course, assign earlier deadlines for outlines and drafts to discourage procrastination among students, and consider requiring a conference with each student to evaluate initial ideas. Review sessions for exams provide an opportunity to resolve any confusion regarding ideas or concepts introduced in a course, and help ensure that all material that will be tested has been covered or, if not, will be eliminated from the exam.

Lecture/Section and Lecture/Lab Relationship

Discussion sections and labs are designed to complement primary lectures. They provide an opportunity to explore fewer principles in greater depth and to address potentially difficult concepts or ideas in the context of more intimate discussion, debate, or experimentation. While attendance at the primary lectures may not be required of Teaching Assistants, to better facilitate the learning that takes place at the section/lab level, it is highly recommended. During a lecture Teaching Assistants are able to familiarize themselves with the precise manner in which a professor introduces ideas or concepts. In addition, if present, Teaching Assistants can witness questions or digressions that arise during lectures that cannot be adequately dealt with in such environments. Such questions cannot always be anticipated, but often emerge from the unique dynamic of a given lecture. In sections and labs, outstanding questions can be addressed, and in a manner that allows broader lessons or understanding to emerge. The closer the connection between the two (lecture/section or lecture/lab), the more effectively they are able to work in conjunction to provide students with a valuable learning experience.

Before the semester begins, it is recommended that you review the syllabus and anticipated schedule of lectures. Any deviations from this schedule during the semester should be noted and accommodated as much as possible. In determining how to complement the lectures, choose a select body of ideas to develop in greater depth and readings that can be explored to better illustrate these principles. While the section syllabus should follow that of the lecture, it should not be completely redundant, rather should draw attention to ideas in ways not covered by the lecture.

The smaller format of a discussion section allows an instructor to more easily test students on the required reading or research. Whereas a student might use his or her relative anonymity in a lecture environment to cut back on work, or possibly to commit acts of academic dishonesty, the section should regularly force students to take responsibility for their contribution and participation.

Lab sessions, like discussion sections, often draw from materials introduced in a lecture, but present them and test them in ways that are unique to a laboratory environment. Expectations for a laboratory session should be clear to students, and they should be able to determine the relevance of the lab in relation to the principles introduced in lecture. Lab meetings and other means of coordination among Teaching Assistants and lab managers facilitate a more cohesive understanding of the lessons to be learned. Adequate preparation to better introduce and review basic principles of understanding will enrich the learning experiences for students in a lab environment and assist them in acquiring the building blocks of scientific knowledge.


Most Teaching Assistants at USC are not much older than the undergraduate students they teach. In some ways, Teaching Assistants stand to gain from this relative proximity in age. Students often see their Teaching Assistants as peers, as members of the same generation who have witnessed similar cultural experiences and for this reason can better identify with their way of thinking. Undergraduates are generally less intimidated by Teaching Assistants and are perhaps more inclined to ask questions in class or to seek advice from them, when the need arises. Much like the students they teach, Teaching Assistants are often technologically savvy, and in most cases are much more literate in contemporary media and technological tools than the professors they support. In a world dominated by technological innovation, such expertise is an asset.

While this close identification with students can enhance the learning process, Teaching Assistants must resist the impulse to be a friend rather than an instructor or mentor. To effectively run a class and guide students in their learning, Teaching Assistants must command the respect of all of their students. By acting professionally, establishing ground rules for behavior in the classroom, keeping the class focused and motivated, Teaching Assistants can create an environment in which students feel compelled to meet their academic responsibilities, yet feel comfortable contributing in ways that might be impossible in a larger setting.

Acting professionally implies choosing an appropriate mode of dress and a respectable manner of speech in keeping with an academic environment. That is not to say that humor or personal stories are inappropriate in the classroom, but they should be chosen carefully with full awareness of the target audience and the need to sustain a clear teacher-student relationship.

Teaching Assistants, as all instructors, will be more successful if they maintain an adequate level of planning and organization, sufficient classroom control and time management, and effective assignments and methods of assessment. Students are often well aware if an instructor is ill prepared for class or uncomfortable with certain material. Adequate class preparation, including familiarity with all relevant texts or concepts, keeps the instructor focused on confronting the challenges that emerge within the classroom when teaching a particular topic. There will be occasions when as a Teaching Assistant, you cannot answer a student’s question. In such situations, acknowledge that you do not know the answer, make a note of the question, and follow up as soon as possible with a response, either by email to an individual student or as an announcement to the entire class, if appropriate.

All policies that are established for a given class should be clearly articulated at the beginning of the semester and consistently upheld. Favoritism is unethical and alienates other students from the learning process. Such inconsistencies also serve to undermine the authority of an instructor. Teaching Assistants should work to include all students in the activities of the class, and should guide discussion in a way that keeps the class focused and productive. In doing so, Teaching Assistants will earn the respect of their students, who will approach the material and the class more seriously.

Office Hours and Communicating with Students

Teaching Assistants are required to keep regular office hours and to make every effort to accomodate students who seek consultations. While it may seem that students seldom, if ever, show up at office hours, Teaching Assistants nonetheless must make themselves available at this time.

If problems arise in class regarding student preparation or classroom behavior, ask the student to meet with you during office hours to discuss the issue. When meeting with students, keep the conversation on the level of professional interest in the student. Avoid informal meetings or social events. Remember that you must be fair to all your students, and personal interest in a particular student can be interpreted as favoritism or an improper relationship. If a student enlists your assistance in resolving a problem, direct the student to the appropriate campus resources that can help. Remain the mentor, not the friend.

Most instructors communicate with students via email or electronic announcements on Blackboard. Email allows an instructor to more easily keep the channel of communication open with students at all times. As with all types of conversations, maintain a professional tone in communicating with your students. Avoid casual or informal greetings or messages that may diminish your authority in the eyes of the student. Set up ground rules ahead of time regarding average response time to a student’s inquiry. During the week it is reasonable to assume that an instructor will respond within twenty-four hours. On weekends, this time may be longer. If you are going to be away from your email, it is wise to notify students in advance of your absence. It is not necessary to give students your home or cell phone number, but if you do, stipulate the times when they can call.

On occasion, you will encounter students who will try to monopolize your office hours and will try to treat you as a personal tutor. If a student appears to demand too much of your time, to the point where other students have difficulty consulting with you during office hours, direct the student to additional campus resources that can help, such as the Writing Center or the Center for Academic Support (see Resources).

Learner-Centered Education and Active Learning

In recent years many faculty and instructors at USC have moved toward a pedagogical approach that encourages the more active participation of students in the learning process. Learner-centered education or active learning recognizes the diversity of individual learning styles of students and seeks to produce environments that nurture as many of these styles as possible. By challenging students to contribute more regularly to the exchange of ideas in the classroom, instructors are able to draw upon the unique experiences and backgrounds of students to enrich the concepts and principles that are taught and to make them more relevant to the individual students. It is also believed that by participating more actively in this process, students will retain a greater understanding of the ideas and material than when they adopt a more passive role.

Given the traditionally small size of sections and labs, it has often been the responsibility of the Teaching Assistant to solicit the direct involvement of students in exploring concepts or analyzing the materials of a course. Questions from students and the debate of ideas are regular features of such classroom contexts, as students are given an opportunity to engage with the course material among their peers and are prompted to express their positions on a given topic. In learner-centered education these principles are extended to larger classroom settings, often with the aid of technology, as instructors find creative ways to stimulate interest and inquiry among students. As this pedagogical approach expands within the university, Teaching Assistants will be expected not only to apply these principles to their own teaching, but also to assist instructors who seek to implement these ideas in the larger classroom. In some regards, we may see that the evolution of the classrooms may involve a closer integration of the lecture classes and the individual sections and labs.

Various elements of learner-centered education can be seen in many classes at USC. In some cases, this philosophy of learning will prompt an instructor to significantly alter course material, to highlight principles by drawing parallel ideas from the contemporary world context or to leave room for significant student contributions. In other cases, a class may require more collaborative projects, to prompt students to negotiate differences of perspective and opinion when approaching a particular topic, or to seek material beyond the university context to support their claims.

When dealing with large numbers of students, instructors are often turning to technology to facilitate the input of individual students. Discussion boards on Blackboard, for example, allow an instructor to regularly solicit questions or feedback from students on a particular topic that can be discussed or debated in subsequent classes or sections. Class wikis and blogs can also stimulate the circulation of ideas in similar ways. Personal Response Systems (PRSs) or clickers are now popular tools in the sciences for creating live statistical data that can be used within a course. Video archiving, now possible in some classrooms on campus, provides instructors with a means to better evaluate and assess student participation and contributions in larger settings.

Faculty in several departments at USC are using another effective method of active learning – case-based learning – to motivate students to explore ideas in greater complexity. In this method, cases are developed from real-world situations, and are presented to students for analysis and evaluation in a collaborative environment. Cases are designed to elicit the principles of study of a given discipline, yet in the context of a historical event or natural situation that a student must research and come to understand in significant depth to solve a designated problem. This method draws from the notion that stories resonate with students and are effective tools of teaching. In addition, by setting up different sides of a situation and prompting the debate of ideas, students more closely appreciate the complexity of a given situation. With this method, instructors begin by presenting the examples, rather than the underlying concepts or issues that drive these situations. These concepts emerge, however, when students are prompted to look at similar scenarios in parallel contexts.

Running a Section

Discussion sections require direction and leadership, but unlike many lecture courses, much of the learning in these classes takes place on the level of student interaction and dialogue. Most sessions should begin with introductory remarks by the Teaching Assistant to provide an overview of the key ideas or competencies to be gained from the class. Beyond these initial guidelines, much of the Teaching Assistant’s responsibility is to facilitate inquiry and discussion through various means, whether by asking pointed questions that will stir debate, by breaking up the class into small groups for parallel exploration of ideas, or perhaps by walking students through specific exercises to highlight particular ideas.

A certain degree of spontaneity is expected in such sessions, but the lesson will run more smoothly if you create a plan for each class that outlines the key goals for the day. You can generate this plan both from the syllabus for the course and from the questions or issues that arise out of the lecture class. By keeping the course relevant, students will better understand the ways in which the divergent forms of class instruction complement one another to provide them with a more rewarding learning experience.

Keep in mind that students are quick to assume roles in a classroom environment. If you want to encourage the participation of all students, you must reinforce this dynamic from the first day. An attempt to balance out participation in the beginning by calling on all students will encourage students to engage who might otherwise retreat in the face of another student’s dominance. Ask questions that are specific and pointed, rather than too open-ended, which can be intimidating and confusing for some students. Consider having students work in small groups to share ideas and then present them to the larger group in a more digested form.

When discussing particular texts and assigned readings, it is useful to identify in advance of the lesson key passages that illustrate a particular point or idea. Prepare specific questions that will direct students as they explore the texts more carefully. If, during class, a question elicits no comment, rephrase the question to make it more directed. In responding to students, be respectful and sensitive to the dynamics of the class. It is seldom effective to humiliate a student for an incorrect response; rather, find an avenue to connect the idea to a more plausible or cogent understanding of the material.

If it appears that students are coming to class unprepared to discuss the assigned material, consider quizzing them on the reading, or perhaps assigning individual students particular sections to prepare and present in class. Readings for sections often overlap with those assigned for the lecture. By motivating students to complete the readings, through positive or negative incentives, Teaching Assistants will enhance their understanding of the material covered both in lecture and in section.

Running a Lab

A central responsibility of Teaching Assistants when running lab sessions is to educate students on the various precautions and protective measures needed to ensure a safe laboratory environment. Teaching Assistants must establish for the class a responsible approach to the various stages of an experiment and caution and respect in regard to fellow classmates.

In addition to ensuring the safety of the students, Teaching Assistants are also expected to guide students in understanding the goals of their lab exercises and in determining the ways in which the experiments relate to the general principles outlined in the lecture class. Lab sessions should generally begin with introductory remarks by the Teaching Assistant that clarify key principles and also connect the lab experiments to the larger lessons of the class. If the lecture class and lab sessions are not parallel, discuss with the professor potential ways to create greater correspondence between the two. At the conclusion of the lab, or in subsequent sessions, prompt students to reflect on the experiments and discuss as a group what they have learned. Explore the ways in which their conclusions might complicate or inform other relevant ideas from the class.

Assessment: Assignment and Test Design; Grading of Papers, Quizzes, and Exams

Teaching Assistants are expected to participate in student assessment, not only for the sections or labs that they teach, but in many cases for the lecture classes to which the sections or labs are linked. For many, this responsibility involves designing or revising quizzes and exams and compiling potential assignments for research papers and other essays. Some of the assessment pertains to the section alone, such as quizzes and in-class essays, and is done independently of the lecture or other parallel sections; in other situations grading must be coordinated with fellow Teaching Assistants or the professor to insure fairness in the process and to prevent cheating among students.

Paper assignments should be focused in scope and realistic in terms of the research task. Open-ended questions often lead to rambling papers with little sense of direction. As a rule, students should discuss their paper proposals with you before they begin their work. All deadlines for various stages of the process and requirements regarding supporting material should be explained at the outset, along with any warnings regarding common pitfalls associated with the assignment. Such questions should be designed with the goals of the course in mind, and with an understanding of the skills or concepts a student will develop as a consequence of this work.

In grading papers, either for the section or for the lecture, it is recommended that you follow a rubric. A rubric is a map of the various criteria necessary to determine distinctions among grades or the thresholds between them. For example, to earn an A, it might be assumed that a student’s paper must have a compelling thesis, sufficient elements of support, and reasonable conclusions. If the main idea of a paper is strong, but lacks adequate support, the paper might fall into the B category. Particularly when coordinating with other Teaching Assistants or the professor to grade a group of papers, standards for assessment should be agreed upon, either by using a rubric, or by advancing clear guidelines for grade distinctions.

Few students begin their college career with a firm sense of how to produce a compelling academic paper. As you grade students’ papers, remember that they will be learning from your critiques. The more pertinent the feedback, the sooner they will acquire the skills needed to hone their arguments and compose better papers. While it is necessary to point out the shortcomings of a given paper, keep your comments constructive and balanced, pointing out the positive elements of the paper, if possible.

In designing exams, consider how well the questions reflect the focus of the material as it was presented in class, including concepts that have been explored in the readings, lectures, or discussions. Imagine also how students may enhance their learning by preparing for the exam. What is point of the particular exercise? Is this goal apparent to the students? Consider taking the test (slowly) to determine if the length is appropriate for the time allotted for the exam.

It is important to grade carefully and equitably, but also to devise ways to grade efficiently so as not to devote excessive amounts of time to grading. With exams, you can usually create an answer key that will speed up the process and that can be used as a point of reference if a student contests a grade. With essays, a list of essential points per question is beneficial. The professor will often create a key for any exams in the lecture and will determine the rubric for essay grading. While some principles of argumentation and exposition are almost always expected (clarity, focus, insight), instructors often have different priorities when creating an assignment. If those priorities are not apparent, ask the professor to briefly clarify them for you. In some situations, Teaching Assistants will be expected to create exams for the lecture class or perhaps to determine the weight distribution for questions or other details of a particular test. When coordinating with other sections, work with the other Teaching Assistants to ensure that grading is fair among the different groups.

Students are often anxious about grades and eager to learn how best to prepare for exams or what to emphasize when writing a paper. Avoid feelings of resentment and confusion among students by discussing the method of evaluation that will be used to grade their work before they begin.

Plagiarism and Cheating Among Students

Academic dishonesty is anathema to the goals of the university. Convey to your students at the beginning of the semester the risks of such behavior and the consequences they will endure should they commit an act of academic dishonesty. Devote at least a portion of a class period to defining plagiarism and cheating and direct them toward university resources that discuss the issue in greater depth.

To avoid plagiarism among students, consider incorporating the following into your curriculum:

  • Requiring an early in-class writing sample at the beginning of the semester;
  • Creating directed, specific paper assignments that are not open-ended;
  • Requiring the submission of research notes and drafts for a paper at an earlier due date (note that if a draft is merely the first pages of the final draft, there may be a problem);
  • Requiring evidence of research (printouts from the internet, or other photocopies);
  • Reviewing with the class the rules of effective paraphrase and accurate citation;
  • Reviewing with the class standards for appropriate academic resources;
  • Requiring both electronic and hard copy paper submissions.

If you feel that a student has plagiarized in a paper, begin by asking the student to provide you with all preliminary work for the assignment. At any point in the process, you may submit the paper for a plagiarism check through, which may or may not yield conclusive results. When meeting with a student, have the student describe the paper to you in detail, and ask the student several questions that might arise from specific points asserted in the paper. If you continue to believe that the student has plagiarized, follow the university procedures for reporting an act of academic dishonesty. [link or sidebar]

More innocent acts of dishonesty, such as having someone edit a paper too heavily or provide essential points for an argument, can be dealt with more informally. As with more blatant acts of plagiarism, ask the student to submit all drafts and research materials used to write the paper. If you detect a strong disparity in style or argumentation, you can ask the student to rewrite the paper or give the student a failing grade for the assignment, but not for the course. Students in such situations often do not realize they have committed an act of academic dishonesty and will be less inclined to do so in the future. On such occasions, it is still recommended that you contact Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for advice and to determine if the student has committed acts of academic dishonesty in the past.

Different degrees of cheating can occur during exams, from the more egregious acts, such as students taking a test for someone else, to the more minor offenses, such as students confirming an answer by looking at a neighboring student’s exam. Most acts of cheating can be discouraged if you do the following:

  • Monitor the exam at all times by walking around the classroom and making your presence felt;
  • If the class is large and consists of students you don’t know by name yet, ask any unfamiliar students to show student identification and match it to the roster;
  • Require students to remove all devices and materials from their desks;
  • Assign special seating for the exam, including moving students around once seated;
  • Collect blue books before an exam, check them, and redistribute them;
  • Use multiple versions of an exam with the questions arranged in different order;
  • Make note of seating arrangements if you witness suspicious behavior;
  • Confront students who are acting suspiciously, but always allow them to finish the exam.

If you feel that a student or students have cheated during an exam, begin by confronting the students regarding your suspicions. Consider testing them on the answers to the exam to gauge their level of preparation for the test. If you are confident that a student or students have committed a blatant act of academic dishonesty, follow the appropriate measure to report the incident. If, however, you feel the violation was of a more innocent nature, consider merely failing the student or students for the exam, but not for the entire course.

Teaching with Multimedia Technology

USC is among the leaders in integrating multimedia technology into undergraduate education. The emphasis at USC has been not only on supporting instructors who seek to use multimedia technology in their teaching, but also on the development of curriculum that involves the production of multimedia projects by undergraduate students. For Teaching Assistants, the emergence of multimedia technology is important in two regards. In lectures, Teaching Assistants may better assist professors if they can support the use of multimedia technology during class. In addition, as aspiring scholars and future professors in an environment of technological innovation, Teaching Assistants will increase their effectiveness by educating themselves on the ways in which multimedia technology can enhance their teaching and can enrich the learning experience of undergraduate students.

Numerous resources exist at USC to support Teaching Assistants in acquiring such innovate tools of teaching. It is quite simple at this stage to show films or slides, to play sound files, or to access the internet as part of a class session. Most Teaching Assistants will need little instruction on how to set up a computer station to achieve these tasks, but they may require instruction on more sophisticated programs and multimedia tools. The Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) and the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML) regularly offer tutorials or lab sessions on various components of teaching with technology, from using Powerpoint, Blackboard, or animation software to developing social networks or drawing upon web-based technologies. In addition, the library regularly offers sessions that introduce scholars to the vast databases and online research tools currently available to the USC community.

To effectively use multimedia technology, whether in lecture or in sections, Teaching Assistants must also gain a degree of familiarity with the technological side of the equipment that facilitates this type of teaching. Most classrooms at USC have been renovated to support the use of multimedia equipment, but many differ in how they are configured. If you are responsible for running technological equipment, familiarize yourself with the media specifications of your classroom, or lecture hall, if relevant. If you master such tasks quickly, you will become an asset to the professor, who in many cases will have a more limited understanding of multimedia technology.

Seeking Guidance from TAs, Home Departments, or Other Resources

Most Teaching Assistants are unable to anticipate the many challenges that arise once they are in the midst of their teaching, when they are finally facing real students and real issues that they must resolve. While certain general guidelines regarding instruction can be conveyed at the outset, much is learned from confronting unique situations, many of which are influenced by the demands of a particular discipline or department. For these issues, consult with more senior Teaching Assistants or faculty members in the department, who will likely be able to provide you with the most beneficial information.

Individual departments differ in their method of support for new instructors. Some provide regular meetings or mentoring arrangements to advise new Teaching Assistants on the various duties required of them. Others choose to direct Teaching Assistants to the numerous resources on campus devoted to improving teaching at USC, including the TA Wiki, a comprehensive resource and forum for all Teaching Assistants to counsel one another on various components of teaching at USC.