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Head Teaching Assistant (HTA) for the PHYS 20 and 40 series

A Head Teaching Assistant (HTA) is assigned to each of the large introductory courses -- i.e., the PHYS 20 and PHYS 40 series courses. The HTA position requires strong organizational, administrative, and interpersonal skills, as well as very good physics acumen. The HTA works with the instructor and the Physics Education Specialist to ensure that the course runs smoothly to maximize the learning opportunities for the students.  If you are interested in furthering your teaching portfolio, this provides you with an excellent opportunity to be actively involved in running a course: helping with problem selection for problem sets and exams, guiding TAs on best teaching practices at the TA meetings, and interacting with students in the course.  The HTA position is a 50% assignment with a salary supplement.  This page contains detailed information on HTA responsibilities and is specific to the HTA position.

Duties and Responsibilities of a HTA

Before the beginning of the quarter:

  • Meet with course instructor to go over syllabus. Establish dates for midterm exams and for all review sessions. Check that canonical homework due date is correct (Tuesdays for the PHYS 20 series and Fridays for the PHYS 40 series).
  • Confirm that all bookstore materials are in stock; depending on the instructor's needs, these could include textbooks, access codes, clickers, workbooks.  
  • If the instructor intends to use online tools such as Piazza (piazza.com) or MasteringPhysics (masteringphysics.com), work with him/her to set up the sites and send relevant instructions to students.  Work with the instructor to develop a policy on TA monitoring of Piazza.
  • Obtain TA preferences for section times from the Physics Education Specialist (Chaya Nanavati).
  • Obtain the TA list for both discussion and lab TAs from the Student Services Manager (Elva Carbajal).  Use Doodle (doodle.com) to survey TAs for their scheduling availability or date/time preferences for course-related responsibilities:
    • The one-time beginning-of-quarter organizational meeting.  This should be no later than the Friday before the start of the quarter.  The instructor should be available for at least part of this meeting.
    • Physics Tutoring Center (PTC) hours (PHYS 20 series TAs staff the PTC on M, Tu, and sometimes early on W; PHYS 40 series TAs staff the PTC on W, Th, F).
  • Assign TAs to sections; poll and assign TAs to attend specific weekly lectures and hold specific PTC hours.
  • Generate two separate mailing lists (mailman.stanford.edu):
    • Discussion section TA list should include the instructor, HTA, Chaya, and all discussion section TAs;
    • Lab section TA list should include the instructor, HTA, Chaya, and all lab section TAs.

It helps if the email lists have consistent names such as PH45_tas_2014 or PH46_tas_2014.

  • Go to webdocs.stanford.edu, login using your Stanford credentials, and use Create Spreadsheet to create a google spreadsheet that is protected by the Stanford firewall.  Add the instructor, Chaya, and all TAs (lab and discussion) to this spreadsheet using only their stanford.edu accounts. Since this spreadsheet will contain confidential information, it is essential that it be behind the Stanford firewall with access from only a limited number of @stanford.edu accounts. This spreadsheet will have multiple worksheets to document the following:
    • TA contact information.
    • TA section and PTC assignments.
    • Stray students (where TAs enter names of students who are not in their own sections but who attended their section or turned in homework to them).  
    • Exam scores for students.
  • Room reservations:
    • Confirm with Elva that rooms have been reserved for midterm exams if the midterm is given outside class time.
    • Reserve rooms for exam grading.
      • Typical grading schedules are the following:
        • Tuesday evening exams are graded on Wednesday starting at 3:15 pm or 4:15 pm.
        • Thursday evening exams are graded on Friday immediately after the TA meeting.
        • In-class exams are usually graded on the day they are given starting at 3:15 or 4:15 pm.
      • Reserve PAB102/103 for PHYS 40 series exam grading.
      • Reserve PAB 232 for PHYS 20 series exam grading. (Varian 208 might work in a pinch as well.) 
  • Schedule the first organizational TA meeting at a time that is convenient for the instructor, TAs, HTA, and Chaya. Hold it no later than the Friday before the start of classes. If possible, include both lab and discussion section TAs in this first meeting.  It is often easier to schedule the meeting during the early part of finals week for the previous quarter.  At this meeting, the instructor for the course may want to communicate learning goals for the course, teaching strategies, etc. After this introduction, the HTA runs through organizational details, including the following:
    • If the assignment of TAs to sections, lecture attendance, and PTC hours is ready, share that information with the TAs and have them confirm that they can commit to those times for the entire quarter.
    • Communicate assignment of tasks such as writing up problem set or discussion section solutions to TAs.
    • Explain the procedure for writing and checking problem set solutions before they are posted for student use.
    • Announce the dates and times for the midterm grading sessions.
    • Let TAs know the tentative date and time for the final exam grading session (usually the day after the final exam, starting at 10 am).
  • Add all TAs as Section TAs on Canvas.  Assign TAs to sections by going to and generate section "groups" so TAs can send announcements to their own sections..
  • Let Elva know that TAs have been assigned to sections on Canvas so she can add them in Axess.
  • Answer student emails; the most common email is some variant of, "I really need to get into section at xxx time since this is the only time that fits my schedule; those sections are full; can you please add me."  Please remind students of the following:
    • You (the HTA) cannot add or remove a student from a section.
    • There is a lot of movement during the first two weeks of the quarter as students finalize their schedules so they should monitor Axess closely for a spot to open up
    • If needed, they may have to adjust their schedules to accommodate a Physics discussion section.

Beginning/First Week of Quarter:

  • If not already done, provide Elva with a  list of all assignments -- both section and PTC hours -- by the Friday at the end of the first week.
  • Monitor enrollment in individual sections and let Chaya/Elva know if sections are getting too full.
  • If requested by the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL) or Athletic Academic Resource Center (AARC), please add their Peer Tutors as "GUESTS" to the Canvas site.
  • Set up Gradescope and, if needed, Piazza, accounts for the course.
  • Confirm that Elva has requested after-hour access to building 60 for all  students and TAs.
  • On the Canvas Assignment tab for each class, create assignments for discussion attendance by week, problem sets, or lab scores and mute assignments by going into the Grades tab.  Unmute scores to release them to students.

During Quarter:

  • With the instructor and Chaya, run the weekly course meetings for discussion section TAs.
  • Attend weekly lab TA meetings to discuss organizational issues. Check in with TAs after they have completed the lab. If changes to the written lab instructions are necessary (e.g., for clarity or accuracy), edit the report and let Chaya know about the changes.  Upload the lab to Canvas and make it available to students very soon after the lab meeting ends, and no later than 6 pm on the day of the meeting.
  • Meet each week with the instructor and/or Chaya to go over course-level planning for the week (problem sets, solutions, exam preview, etc.).
  • Attend at least one lecture a week to maintain consistency in learning goals, notation, etc., and to interact with students during 'clicker questions' in classes where clickers are used.
  • Hold two office hours each week in the PTC.  These could be some combination of weekly reviews of course content, one-on-one assistance, or answering administrative questions.
  • Carefully review TA-written problem set solutions and rubrics before they are made available to other TAs and students.
  • Select exam review session problems;  these could be selected from exams given in earlier years, problems submitted by the TAs, or other sources. Check TA solutions to these  problems. Guide TAs on how to run an effective review session.
  • Hold post-exam sessions, where students can ask problem-related or regrade-related questions.  These sessions are typically an hour long and held on a week night shortly after exams are returned and before the regrade deadline.  These sessions have reduced the number of formal regrade requests that the HTA (you) have to grade.  
  • Handle problems that cannot be resolved by section TAs.
  • Check that scores (section attendance for discussion TAs; lab scores for lab TAs) are entered in Canvas in a timely manner and are visible to students.
  • Check that TAs are consistently returning graded work to students before the next assignment is due.
  • Work with instructor to organize posting of course materials, solutions, etc.

Before Exams:

  • About two weeks before the exam, send an announcement to the entire class reminding them about the upcoming exam's time and date; also remind students with documented disabilities to email a current letter from OAE to you ASAP.

  • Check with Chaya or Elva about reserving a room for OAE students near the normal exam room; typically the 20 series has 3 to 5 students who have extended time while the 40 series has about a dozen students with extended time.

  • Check with Chaya or Elva about reserving rooms for review sessions.

  • Confirm the room reservation for the grading session.
  • Request that Violet (vvc@stanford.edu) order food for the grading session; she will need the course name, names of all those who will be grading, and number of special dietary requests.
  • Assign TAs to photocopy, help with administration, and scanning of exams.

Near End of Quarter:

  • Send (multiple) emails reminding students about the time and location of the final exam.
  • Confirm room reservation for OAE students and for grading with Elva.
  • Give Violet the request for the food order -- you must do this at least one full week in advance.
  • Upload scores from Mastering Physics, iClicker data, etc., to a single spreadsheet; scale scores for each component according to the syllabus.
  • Once total scores are calculated, assist instructor with entering final grades into Axess.