Being a Teachers Assistant: IIST361 Spring 2012

 My experience as TA for IIST361 Web Development was fantastic. The class was taught by Katy DeCorah, an energetic teacher with an obvious passion for web development. She encourages students to be creative with their web design and to learn web development in fun ways. The class met on Wednesdays from 5:45pm – 8:35pm. Each class was structured the same way: Quiz, introduction to new topic, tutorial and in-class assignment. IIST361 focuses primarily on the basics of HTML and CSS with a sprinkle of other related topics such as JavaScript, JQuery, PHP, and PhotoShop. 

I decided to apply for the TA position after I took IIST361 last semester with Katy DeCorah. After I completed the course, I found myself playing around with HTML and CSS in my spare time just for fun. I also started to learn JavaScript on my own using the website Codecademy. I eventually became confident in my web coding skills and decided to help my peers with the development of their own abilities. Web design is an important subject to study in today’s world because every business owns a website or needs a website built. Even if an employee’s main role does not involve web development, having the basic knowledge of how to design and create websites is an asset to any company. I have built several websites for local businesses in my community and I continue to build layouts and tinker around with ideas for future projects. After I graduate from Albany, I will be working for a software company on Long Island called Netik LLC as a Technical Analyst. The job requires strong JavaScript, XML and XSLT skills. XML is a markup language that is very similar to HTML and XSLT is the “CSS” of XML. I believe that my time spent as a TA for IIST361 has sharpened my HTML and CSS skills and I will be able to make the transition to XML/XSLT more smoothly. 

A typical class as a TA for IIST361 went as follows. I would normally be the first person in the classroom and would set up my laptop at the desk in the front of the room. As students piled in I would greet them and some would have some questions for me regarding last class or a homework assignment. When the class started, a quiz is given online using Google Docs. Katy DeCorah used Google Docs for grading everything in the class. It was a great idea because we did not use any paper throughout the entire semester, I could grade assignments/quizzes from any internet connected PC and I could collaborate with her in real-time using the Google Docs software. When the quizzes were completed, Katy DeCorah began to introduce the new topic and I would grade the quizzes and enter the scores into two different spreadsheets. One spreadsheet is available only to me and Ms. DeCorah while the other is publicly available. The public spreadsheet only includes unique usernames that the students made for themselves and a score so that no one could know anyone else’s grades. The private spreadsheet included the students’ real names. The class was able to see how they did on their quiz before they left class that day as well as the average grade of the quiz. After the topic was introduced, the class would do a tutorial together. If someone had a problem during the tutorial, I would aid the student one-on-one and help them catch up to the class. The most common errors made by students was misspelling words or some type of syntax error like forgetting to close a tag. Computer code takes everything literally so it is imperative that everything is spelled correctly and there are no missing end tags or semicolons. I got very good at being able to quickly read code and find errors; this is an asset I hope to bring to Netik. The students needed my help for in-class assignments more than the tutorials because the assignments were done individually; not by the whole class. Some of the students impressed me with their creativity and some students became knowledgeable enough to help others next to them. Some classes we had a guest speaker who would do their own tutorials. I even gave my own lecture on JavaScript and used Codecademy in my lecture. All the students registered with Codecademy and some have continued to use it beyond the classroom. 

When a student had issues with a homework assignment I have found that the best way to help them was to comment their code. When I would sit down next to a student and work with them, I didn’t always get the feeling that they understood what I was trying to tell them. Sometimes I got the feeling that the student not only wanted their errors pointed out to them but they also wanted them solved. Commenting their code allows the student to see where they are going wrong and what they should do without me actually doing it for them. For example, if someone’s CSS rules were not being applied to their HTML page because their link statement included a misspelling of the stylesheet name, I would comment the link statement with something like “your stylesheet’s name is Homework1.css.” 

Overall, the experience as TA was incredible. Katy DeCorah is an excellent teacher and really connects with her students. She makes Web Development fun, friendly and facilitates creativity. The students of this semester definitely walked away with a lot of HTML/CSS knowledge. Their final presentations of their own websites demonstrated to me that they are capable of making fully functional websites for real-world clients. Some of the students actually made their final project for a real-world client. I hope that the students of IIST361 become more interested in web development or coding in general because every business today can use employees with good coding skills. If I had more semesters here at Albany, I would definitely be a TA again.

–Mike Solomon

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