Like it or not, Fall 2014 is nearly here. The new academic year starts in earnest in 39 days. At that time, as if at the sound of a bugle, we will all take up our teaching/learning posts. We know many of you have been GAing and TAing all summer, and for you the “Fall Wall” might not be quite as foreboding. Even so, the fall academic season tends to bring its own unique challenges, maybe a little more intense than the norm. So what do you do if this fall is also your first as a GA or TA?

This time last year, one frustrated Teaching Assistant reached out to the StackExchange Academia community. The comments that TA received from responders of all kinds collected some pretty useful advice on how to prepare for the coming semester.

Hopefully you’ll find a lot of similar advice right here on the blog. Barring that, you’ll definitely want to attend GATAcademy. For the time being, here are some things to consider.

Find Purpose

This is perhaps the hardest thing to do for new GA/TAs. Many of us can relate to the poster in the thread above who seems conflicted about their role and its impact on student learning. It may be too soon to draft your teaching philosophy, but before you start embark on this coming semester, you’ll have to ask yourself, “What’s the goal?

Ask Questions

Good GA/TAs are made, not born. The only way you’ll develop the particular skills needed for your role is to ask lots of questions. If you’re having trouble figuring out what to ask, you might consult Brydges, Gammage, & Sinclair (2003).

This means asking around, too. That is to say that there are a number of valuable resources outside of your course leader, including other GA/TAs, your faculty’s administrative staff, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and so on.

Consult the Manual

This tip is a bit misleading, as there is no single “manual” to being a GA/TA. There are a lot of really useful guidebooks though. One commenter in the StackExchange thread above mentions a few universities that have made their GA/TA guides available online. Closer to home, we’ve highlighed guides from universities around Ontario before, like McMaster University and the University of Ottawa. Don’t forget about our GATA Handbook either!




We’re on Vacation

On July 21, 2014, in UWindsor, by gregorynpaziuk

grad student working at the beach with table, computer, papers and booksTowards Better Teaching is taking a vacation. Your normally scheduled programming will return July 28th. In the meantime, don’t forget about these upcoming dates.


“Friday Fun Blogging”

On July 18, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, Laughs, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

Someone close to this blog recently described our end-of-week posts as our “Friday fun blog”. In the spirit of that comment, we’ve collected the following items for your review.

  • If fun is your thing, you should probably throw your hat into the ring in the fight to become UWindsor’s next “Winston”. The University recently put out a call for applicants to the position of “Winston the Mascot”, that lovable knight that is seen at events all over campus.
  • If you’ve ever sat on a beach, looked out across an ocean, and wondered what exactly is on the other side from where you’re sitting, the people at probably just solved one of life’s greatest mysteries for you.
  • Given the fun we get up to here on Fridays, we often find ourselves debating what counts as academic work. Surely, the above wouldn’t count by a long shot, but the question tends to permeate through everything you do as a GA/TA. That’s why we think you’ll enjoy Mellonie Fullick’s article, “By the Numbers“, a useful look at how we as scholars ascribe worth to our work. (Thanks to @writerlyjill for bringing the article to our attention.)

Happy Friday!


How to Live Tweet and Why

On July 14, 2014, in Conferences, Monday Motivation, Tools, by gregorynpaziuk
Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Social media is so social these days. Sometimes, overly social. So much information is being shared in so many form(at)s that it’s easy to feel behind on the times. Not to be outdone, the IT crowd is always finding ways to make sharing information easier and more productive.

Within our own domains, academic institutions all over are finding ways to use outlets like Twitter and Facebook to stay connected to their audiences, and their audiences are staying informed in the process. That’s the rationale, at least, and it’s helped to make things like “live tweeting” exceedingly indispensable at academic gatherings of all kinds. We’ve talked about live tweeting on this blog before and have been known to partake in the activity from time to time, but do we all know what live tweeting is?

What Is Live Tweeting?

Live tweeting is a collective activity where individuals share live updates of an event they are attending with short excerpts, descriptions, and even pictures/videos. Micro-blogging tools like Twitter are the most common venue for this practice because they are designed for brevity, interconnectivity, and sharing. Predetermined or organically chosen hashtags help to collect related tweets to give followers a complete sense of an event, whether they’ve attended or not. Reaching out to the latter group has helped to grow discussions globally.

The How To’s

There are no shortage of perspectives on what makes a good live-tweeter. Many will tell you that the most important aspect of good live tweeting is the preparation – learning the event hashtag, reviewing resources you might want to share, etc.

Back in March, Camille Gamboa of Social Science Space shared her “how to” for those interested in picking up the live-tweeting hobby. In “How to Live Tweet at an Academic Event“, Gamboa emphasized preparation. She also shared Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s warning about the need to attribute information properly and to sense when information isn’t intended for broader public use.

If somebody says they’d prefer not to be tweeted or blogged, respect that. Whatever your feelings about the value of openness — and openness ranks very high among my academic values — not everyone shares them. While I have a hard time imagining giving a talk that I didn’t wish more people could hear, I know there are other scholars who are less comfortable with the broadcast of in-process material. And while I might like to nudge them toward more openness, it’s neither my place nor is it worth the potential bad feeling to do so.

ProfHacker shared their own “how to” earlier this year, which came with some helpful tips about things like text expansion.

You can save yourself a lot of time in tweeting if you make use of text expansion. When a person starts speaking, I create a snippet that looks like this “.@stewartvarner: X #mla14 #s402” and assign it the keyword “twt”. Then, I can simply type twt in my Twitter client and the speaker and hashtags are created automatically. The software even drops my cursor at the “X” so I can start typing right away. When the next speaker starts or when I move to the next session, I just update the snippet. It’s a little bit of work up front, but this is how live-tweeting contests are WON!

It’s important to give your followers a heads up that you’ll be live tweeting, too. In an article for TechReupublic, Erin Carson cites Jennifer Polk’s advice, saying

…give existing fans and followers notice that your brand is going to be posting about a particular event, so that the people who want to engage and follow along can, and the ones who don’t will know to check back in later, without any hard feelings.

Why Live Tweet?

Aside from that academic need to foster discussion and debate in all that you do, live tweeting is a powerful networking tool, especially at conferences and events where you may not know many people. Gamboa explains the networking component as follows:

By becoming a part of a larger conversation on Twitter, you get to meet a variety of interesting people connected to your work and you have the opportunity to hear their own personal views before you’ve a met them face to face. Later when you do meet in person, you will immediately have some good things to talk about.

There are lots of cool things you can do with a live tweet feed. From an organizer’s standpoint, apps like LiveTweet can help you to display developing conversations visually. Alicia Higgison at UWindsor’s Office of Open Learning has used similar tools like Storify to help archive the Network’s tweeting exploits in the past. From an audience’s perspective, in an age where tweets are as valuable and quotable as any other text, a live tweet feed that can be distilled for later use can provide useful data for future research.

Most importantly, as each of the sources above implore, don’t tweet just to tweet. The need for quality over quantity is never more relevant than when live tweeting, so make sure to share only what needs sharing.



How to Live Tweet at an Academic Event –

How to Live Tweet an Event: 7 Best Practices –

Ten Tips for Tweeting at Conferences –


It seems like just the other week we were talking about making the time for personal/professional development, and even more recently we extolled the virtues of connecting with your colleagues. But let’s get real: there aren’t always enough hours in the day, especially in the summer, when those hours take a back seat to more important things, like ‘frolf‘.

Praise be to the Internet, which has made it possible to complete some of these tasks, at least in part, at our own pace and on our own time. So many workshops and conferences these days include an online and social media element that it’s easy to reap at least some of the benefit even when it’s impossible to attend in person. One such conference we’ve talked about lately, the Windsor – Oakland Conference on Teaching and Learning, recently made materials from its workshops available on its website. Consider this your second chance to see the exciting research being done on teaching and learning by your colleagues both at Windsor and across the border.

Follow the link below to view PowerPoints, videos, and other materials from sessions from both days of Windsor – Oakland.


Scholarly Parodies of the World Cup

On July 4, 2014, in Laughs, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

You can be forgiven for not having caught the ‘World Cup Fever’. Maybe sports just isn’t your thing. Maybe the whole event is too political for your liking. Nevertheless, there are still ways to have fun with the World Cup, particularly for us scholars.

A few weeks back, we told you about the Penguin Cup: a mock tournament created by Penguin Books UK that pit national teams of literary legends against each other in a battle for literary supremacy. Taking today’s games as an example, it really puts some new perspective on a matchup between, say, France and Germany. Just imagine how announcers might call a game between those two literary giants:

Announcer 1: Marx with the ball now…he’s owned that left wing all day.

Announcer 2: If France have any hope here, they’ll have to take the pressure off of Victor Hugo in the back line. He’s looking a little hunched over.

Announcer 1: Marx is so industrious with the ball, plays just seem to manifest when he takes possession. Here he is taking on Hugo…but oh! That’s a good tackle by Dumas, who seemed to come out of nowhere.

Announcer 2: All for one. That’s Dumas’ motto.

Announcer 1: And Kafka looks a bit bugged by that play. Nietzche was also calling for the ball. Naturally.

Yes, it might go something like that. Or it might be more like Existential Comics’ imaginative rendition previewed below, which widens the philosophical field.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Click on the image to read the full comic, and check out the Monty Python skit that inspired it in the “Didn’t get the joke?” section.

Happy Friday!