Faculty in Computer Science and Mathematical Sciences Secure NSF Grant
To improve teaching assistants and their feedback in undergraduate courses


Dr. Amy Cook (PI) and Dr. Vinhthuy Phan (co-PI) in the Department of Computer Science and Dr. Alistair Windsor (co-PI) from Mathematical Sciences have been awarded a $299,333 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The three-year project will investigate "Improving the Quality of Teaching Assistant Feedback to Undergraduate Students in Introductory Computer Science Courses."  

As computer science class sizes are growing significantly faster than faculty hiring, the reliance on teaching assistants (TAs) to provide feedback on student work, particularly in large introductory courses, is expected to continue. Low-quality feedback can negatively impact student success and their willingness to continue in the discipline. Unfortunately, due to the cost, logistics and dynamics of TA hiring, TAs are often untrained for the job. Even monitoring TA feedback quality is difficult. Instructors are often unable to detect problems or inconsistencies due to information overload or lack of time.  

This project will investigate an approach for TA training that could be integrated with existing assignment submission and feedback delivery systems. Cook, Phan and Windsor will investigate different ways to train TAs with direct instruction on best feedback practices and culturally responsive teaching methods. The research team will investigate how natural language processing techniques could provide suggestions to empower TAs as they write code review feedback to students. Finally, the research team will leverage existing human-computer-interaction techniques to design unobtrusive dashboards that will enable instructors to efficiently monitor TA feedback. 

This approach to improving TA feedback will train TAs to give high quality feedback, empower TAs to help students in real time and enable instructors to monitor TA feedback quality at a large scale without a large time commitment. 

For more information on this project, contact Cook at ascook@memphis.edu.