Stanford TA Experience
After my experiences in teaching a freshman seminar in digital design in college, I was hungry to try my hand at helping to teach a full, upper level technical course. At the end of my first year at Stanford, I was able to find just such an opportunity. At the end of the academic year, I signed on to be a TA for "Introduction to VLSI Design," which would be taught the following Fall by Professor Mark Horowitz. Mark was taking the course over from another professor, and decided to overhaul some parts of the course.
During the summer, through telecon and email, two other TAs and I worked with Mark to update the course. While Mark revamped the lectures, it was up to us TAs to redo the assignments. One TA worked to replace the course project with a "micropolygon rasterizer" he was working on for research. I was pulled in to help test the project by completing it over the summer. At the same time, I was also tasked with rewriting the first few homeworks for the class (uploaded here), to better reflect the new course material. While it was a challenging task, and while the first homework assignment was a little too long, in general the students responded favorably to the new homeworks; and I gained invaluable experience in what it's like to actually prepare a course.
Once the course started in the fall, my primary responsibility shifted over to teaching. Every week the TAs were responsible for holding an hour long review section. Since a number of students took the course remotely through Stanford's SCPD program, these sessions were filmed and made available to all enrolled students online. The three TAs decided to divide up the responsibiity for these review sessions, with each TA preparing for and hosting the entire session once every three weeks. In the end, teaching these sections turned out to be quite a bit of fun. Whenever I was responsible for a section, I'd carefully go through the lecture for that week, and try to develop a series of example problems based on the important concepts that we had tried to teach. In a bid to get local students to show up to the review sections, and not just watch them later on line, I kept my sections student driven. At the beginning of my section, I'd give a brief recap of the important ideas and concepts for the week. I'd then open the floor up for questions, trying to solicit questions from students either on core concepts or more specific problems. While the students were a little shy at first, they soon became comfortable with asking questions, and my review sections turned from a traditional lecture style to a back and forth conversation with a group of engaged students.
During the course, I also held weekly office hours. I have to say that, for me, this was the most rewarding component of teaching the course. While review sessions allowed me to reinforce broad concepts in the students' minds, the limited time and large number of attendees did not allow me to fully address each individual's misunderstandings. With office hours, however, I was able to work with students on a more one-on-one (or few-on-one) basis. When a student came in to office hours with a question about either homework or general course material, I'd immediately switch into "detective mode," probing the students understanding of related concepts, and then trying to figure out how I could explain the material in a way that would just click with that particular student. I used everything from diagrams on the board to simple analogies with everyday life to try to teach the materials to my students; and while I sometimes had to try a few different explanations before the student would "get it," I found that one-on-one student interaction to be the most rewarding part of my job.
EE271: Introduction to VLSI Design. Fall 2009, 2011.
EE313: Digital MOS Integrated Circuits. Winter 2010.