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Published: 16 Sep, 2021

Teaching assistants help in education - and develop personally

NEWS In parallel with their own studies, teaching assistants help with teaching - with everything from mathematics teaching in small groups to arranging digital exhibitions. In recent years, the Faculty of Science and Technology has invested in employing teaching assistants in more departments than before.

Text: Anna-Lena Lindskog

We are resources for the teachers, for example in large courses so that you can have lessons in small groups.

“It is very instructive in that you learn how to lead a group, to speak in front of people and to be natural in such a situation. I think that can be great for the future working life. I also think it is a perfect job to have while you study, you do not have to go elsewhere because you study and work in the same place” says Amanda Rudälv, teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

Teaching assistants have long existed in several of the faculty's departments, but not all. In 2020, when the corona pandemic prevented the Education Committee from distributing travel funds for conferences, the money was instead redistributed to employing teaching assistants in order to increase the quality of education.

Karina focuses on communication

Umeå School of Architecture is one of the departments that has not previously had teaching assistants. Master's student Karina Gataullina now has a ten percent position there. Karina and her partner moved to Umeå from Prague, after friends who studied architecture in Umeå were enthusiastic about the city and the education. In Prague, in addition to her studies, Karina and her friends ran a non-profit project to teach design to high school students. In the project, she worked a lot with communication efforts to make the project known to the public.

“When the assignment at Umeå School of Architecture was announced, it said that you would work a lot with communication, which really connected all the dots for me.”

Now Karina Gataullina and the other teaching assistant Navid Ghafouri have almost independent care of the school's Instagram account, where students during the pandemic showed their degree projects digitally.

“We curated all posts so that visitors would feel as if they were visiting Umeå School of Architecture for real. We also work with various publications that the school has.”

Personal drive and better understanding of the university

Being a teaching assistant is very rewarding, she thinks. On the one hand, it provides an increased understanding of how the university works, but also an increased drive in one's own studies and personal development.

“When the school staff interviewed me before this autumn’s assignment, they thought they saw a different Karina now, more confident in myself. It also feels important to be able to represent the other students and ensure that their work is taken care of and displayed in a good way.”

Amanda Rudälv and Andreas Granath are teaching assistants at the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics.

“We are resources for the teachers, for example in large courses so that you can have lessons in small groups” says Andreas. “Last year I was in the base year and there were so many students that we had five lesson groups.”

He and Amanda walk around and help the students while they work with maths assignments, but also hold tutorials in the whole group or are responsible for math workshops. They are employed 25 percent and think that the assignment can be combined with their own studies.

“Even if it is a lot of preparation, you can do the job at any time, except for the scheduled sessions” says Amanda, who is in fourth year of the five year programme in engineering and management. “We also have a teaching assistant office we can use, where we can work whenever we want.”

Develops virtual reality in chemistry courses

Konstantinos Magkakis, teaching assistant at the Department of Chemistry, has had a slightly different assignment. At the department, a project is underway to use VR glasses to study molecules and other chemical structures. During the summer, he has explored how the glasses can be used optimally, designed exercises and looked at how virtual reality can be integrated into more chemistry courses.

“It has been a great experience for me, first and foremost because the project is super interesting and very engaging. This autumn, I will start as a doctoral student in structural biology and being able to look at molecules in 3D is also very helpful in that work” says Konstantinos Magkakis.

As a doctoral student, he will also teach and hold a lot of exercises where students use VR glasses.

For Konstantinos, the teaching assistant period is over, while Karina and Amanda continue and Andreas does his last semester.

“I write my exam project after Christmas” he says. “But the assignment has made me realize that teaching is something I might want to continue doing. My goal now is to end up in the academy and continue working as a researcher and teacher. The teaching assistant period has given me the opportunity to see what projects there are and I have gained a good insight into how things work in the department.”

Prior to 2021, the Education Committee sought more funding for teaching assistants, which meant that more students got such assignments, among other things to assist in education via Zoom. The Education Committee sees great advantages in using assistants in teaching and therefore hopes to be able to continue with this.

“Educational and rewarding”

“It is an educational and rewarding assignment for the students who work as teaching assistants, but they also make it easier for the teachers” says Karolina Broman, chair of the Education Committee. “The hope is that more funds can be allocated in the future for teaching assistants and that good examples of how these can be used to increase the quality of education can be spread between the departments.”