“My MIT TA isn’t from FIMS…” Wait, what?!

Lowering our Standards? Cross-Faculty TAs Impede Learning

One morning this week, I forgot my earphones for the bus ride. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help but listen in on two second-year FIMS students sitting next to me and discussing their courses.

What I heard was disheartening, but not new. It exposed a problem I have seen growing out of control over the time I have gone from a naïve frosh to a slightly more critical, though still naïve, senior.

The students were discussing their final essays for MIT 2000. They began to complain, not about #firstworldproblems, but about a real issue: their Teaching Assistants’ inability to help them.

I am sorry if these students are reading this and feel their privacy has been totally invaded, but I really appreciate them having this discussion in my hearing.

This is my shortened version of the conversation:

Student one: “My TA asked the class to fill him in on the course content because he didn’t want to go to lecture or buy the course text book.”

Student two: “My TA said, ‘Don’t listen to anything the Prof said; this is how I want it done,’ and said we should write a 6 – 12 page paper.”

Student one: “My TA gave us the option to write a ten-page paper OR a fifteen-slide PowerPoint for our final assignment.”

My jaw dropped. I may be in fourth year, but I’m not senile yet. That is not how I remember my MIT 2000 final essay.

As their conversation continued, I was able to determine something I have heard from dozens of other FIMS students as well. We have all heard our TAs say, “This is all new for me, I’m learning it with you,” or even worse, “I am going to need you guys to help me because I don’t get this stuff.” How comforting that our future in this program is reliant on someone who is just as confused, or perhaps more so, than we are.  No matter that we’re struggling to keep up; we have a shortage of qualified TAs, so FIMS is bringing in graduate students from other faculties to run course tutorials. One student described having a non-FIMS TA like having a “substitute teacher.”

I want to clarify that I am not intending to put down the faculty or any graduate students. I am extremely grateful for what I have learned from both parties throughout my undergraduate career. I have had some TAs who were truly dedicating to helping me through course content and who inspired me to work hard.

I consider myself lucky, but it has clearly not been so good for all FIMS students.

While discrepancies and misunderstandings among teaching assistants and professors will always be a concern in education, I stress that the conversation I overheard on the bus does not refer to an isolated incident. It is merely one recent example out of countless complaints I have heard from my peers and criticisms I have made myself. It’s a known issue in FIMS.

I cringe at the thought of what these students are going through in first and second year, as they try to justify not only to their friends and family, but to themselves, that they are getting a worthwhile degree and a meaningful education. These are teenagers with minimal exposure to the university who wallow in self-pity about being placed in a tutorial section that does not benefit them.

When I can say I know students who have walked in to a TA’s office with an exam grade of 60 and walked out with an 80, I get upset. Oh well, that’s life. But when I hear that a student in one section of the same lecture is being given the option to make a PowerPoint instead of an essay, I say: FIMS, you’re doing it wrong. Where are our standards? Why aren’t they being enforced?

I have often wondered how it is possible that students who excel in a media studies program are ignorant of their contemporary media landscape.My lack of realization reveals my naïveté. FIMS as a faculty is laden with apathy, it seems. When students find more inspiration inside the classroom, they get more inspired outside of it. If the administration as a whole were truly determined to provide the best for students, they would work to ensure consistency in classrooms and to provide an equal opportunity learning environment. Given we don’t have the resources to teach our students adequately, why are we admitting so many? When our university promises us “The Best Student Experience,” it should not be providing us with instructors who do not seem half as invested in educating us as we are invested in being educated.

Our first- and second-year courses are built around the additional aid of tutorials, an extra buffer to help students work through complex concepts and challenging essays. It’s a magnificent idea in theory. But for many FIMS students it seems this structure is becoming more of a barrier to learning than it is a gateway.


Molly McCracken is a fourth-year Hon. Spec. MIT student who crushes on robots harder than she should and wishes she could rely on GIFs to communicate her emotions.

25 thoughts on ““My MIT TA isn’t from FIMS…” Wait, what?!

    • And you obviously are not in the program if you think that. Anyone in the program knows its a lot of work and critical thinking, as well as engaging with difficult philosophies and texts.

  1. While I sympathize with the frustrations being aired in this piece, I have to complicate some of the assumptions being made – particularly the claim that it is TA’s from other disciplines that are the cause of “lowering the standards” of FIMS – particularly because I myself am a TA from another discipline teaching in FIMS this semester, and I refuse to have my hard work tarnished and written off because of a few bad apples.

    First, yes, it fucking blows when you get stuck with a half-assed TA. The standards by which TA’s are assigned to certain classes sometimes boils down to merely whether or not the class fits the grad student’s schedule. In addition to this, there is very little in terms of ‘occupational training’ for TA’s – a few training modules on workplace hazards and accessibility, and after that it is left to the course instructor to guide the TA’s. I think this is a problem that ought to be rectified (re: increased training, formal interviews regarding eligibility, etc.), but the onus is on the department itself for implementing such changes.

    However, it is also important to remember that slack guidelines and minimal training effect all TA’s equally. Lack of training or not, FIMS graduate or not, every and any TA is required to stay on top of the course work they are supposed to be teaching if they are going to be able to teach it at all – which is to say that any TA from any department can slack off and not prepare for their tutorials. Even a FIMS graduate doesn’t walk out of convocation prepared to teach MIT 2000 – teaching anything requires constant review of course materials and instruction from the course instructor on how it ought to be taught. I mean do you (as a fourth year FIMS student) really remember everything about MIT 2000 well enough to teach it?

    Second, I want to suggest that you ought not to get too caught up on disciplines, especially if you are in or associated with FIMS. It is crucial to remember that ‘Media Studies’ is a fairly new discipline. In effect, if you did a background check on the core faculty of FIMS, you might be surprised to find that many of your professors were educated in other disciplines such as English, Philosophy, Anthropology, Linguistics, Cog-Sci, Commerce, etc. That’s because before ‘Media Studies’ came to be its own entity it was dispersed amongst various disciplines, with some faculty here or there thinking about their home discipline’s relation to emerging technological change. And even today, FIMS still hires out of those departments because the faculty they provide bring a diverse wealth of knowledge with them not only about media studies, but media studies and its relation to these other disciplines. The point is that FIMS is very much an inter-disciplinary institution, and a forward looking one at that. Whole departments are being forged today with a view to having an inter-disciplinary approach – quite possibly out of the simple fact that knowledge doesn’t end at a disciplinary boundary. Any real attempt to study something in detail sooner or later bleeds into multiple disciplines.

    All of which is to say that putting the burden on FIMS TA’s from other departments for lowering the standards of FIMS is a cheap move, a low blow. If standards are being lowered, its likely a collective issue involving everyone from TA’s to instructors, students to administrators. In fact, I find it hard to believe (as a TA), that students are really actually the ones that are primarily concerned about lower standards! The quality of work that shows up on my desk for grading certainly doesn’t bespeak of any great desire amongst FIMS students (the small segment I have encountered, at least) to have an engaging and enriching educational experience. Most of times I am met with the most minimal of intellectual efforts by a student that thinks a passing grade is owed to them because, yes, education is a product that can be purchased and the customer is always right.

    Having said that, don’t think I haven’t reserved criticism for the graduate students either – If a graduate student out of another department is incapable of learning or teaching a second or first year course of a relatively comparative discipline to their own, they shouldn’t be a graduate student at all.


    • Hi Anonymous FIMS TA from Another Department!

      First of all thank you for reading this, considering what I’ve put forth, and responding. There are numerous points you make with which I totally agree, and given I had an unlimited with word count, I would have loved to have gone into some of the complications you bring forth. It needs to be discussed. I hope that readers take the opportunity to look at your comment as well, because it’s an issue that does need to be addressed from both sides.

      While I take fault for not making it clearer in the piece, let me say I can completely believe that a non-FIMS TA, or professor, could be a fabulous TAs for MIT. I see advantages in inter-disciplinary approaches, especially in a program like FIMS, as a greater variety of approaches and outlooks is, in my mind, essential to education. Trust me, I am not asking for all TAs to bleed FIMS.

      When I first heard that this was a thing, I thought it was cool and would make for a more broad approach to the topics we look at every day. And I still do believe it has that potential. I would gladly embrace the variety, if I wasn’t hearing such an onslaught of remarks from confused and frustrated students.

      After the article’s release this morning, I have had students come to me giving further examples of in-class situations which I have described, which proves to me that this needed to be said.

      For students who are studying in this discipline, I think it’s unfair if they are being told not to go to lecture, not to buy the textbook, or not to listen to instructions from the Professor — whether these TAs are fresh MIT grads, social science grads, or engineering grads.I think the reason cross-faculty TAs carry the burden for this, is because they are simply at the disadvantage of having less incoming knowledge than someone versed in Media Studies.

      What is most important for me, in writing this, and I think you will agree — is that IT IS a complex problem, it’s not simply about a few “bad apples”; it’s about deficiencies in the structure of these courses. A TA’s background is not should not be a key attribute in their ability to help students, there’s a missing piece somewhere and it needs to remedied, as is apparent from the outcry of students. The slack guidelines and minimal training you speak of are what are so detrimental here. When you say the onus is on the department, I agree. Even if as an instructor someone is working hard to provide the best for his or her students, if he or she has not been given the right tools and guidelines to do so, both sides suffer.

      It’s a far bigger issue than simply “TAs from other departments”, but the conversation has to start somewhere – and I’m genuinely sorry if you took this as an insult to your work! It was not intended as such AT ALL.


  2. I would like to point out some gross discrepancies in this write up. Firstly, no TA would ever ask their tutorial section to tell them about the lecture content or the reading materials. All TAs, in fact, are provided with complimentary course materials at the very start of the semester and they also are required to attend the lectures. Secondly, regarding the final essay, again the author here is making sweeping assumptions without exploring the exact nuances of the MIT 2000 final project being discussed by the aforementioned students. The Essay/PPT assignment has been designed to allow students to exercise their agency in showcasing their understanding of the course content. After all, university is not about being spoon-fed directions on how to approach assignments and essays, or being provided pre-set skeletal frameworks in which to fill in the blanks. It is about proactively approaching academic assignments as a means of challenging yourself and looking at them as an opportunity to refine your critical understanding and skills.

    Hence, to use this ‘conversation’ as a jumping off point for this critique is just bad journalism even for what is essentially an op-ed. To use an ‘over-heard’ conversation to launch into what is a larger criticism without the proper research just raises questions over the veracity of the information being shared here. To quote MIT 2000 course content, this might as well be pegged as yellow journalism.

    To address the larger question being raised here pertaining TAs: For the author to argue about slipping standards in FIMS as being a direct result of the apathy of the Faculty or the use of TAs from ‘other disciplines’, is again an entirely unjust criticism and a sweeping generalization. Let’s not forget that Media Studies is a highly inter-disciplinary field of academic study. To argue that a TA or Prof should only teach in FIMS/MIT if they have a media studies background defeats the purpose of the courses and programs offered in FIMS/MIT.

    I can see the larger debate which the author has attempted to address but the structuring here is rather one-dimensional and seems to have boiled down to a game of shifting the blame, which here seems to have been entirely pushed onto the already over-burdened shoulders of TAs.

    • Hi there, Anonymous 2,
      Thanks for your feedback. As I’ve already expressed, the critique is of the structure as a whole, and not strictly of TAs. I think we could function very successfully with a variety of Teaching Assistants if they were given the guidance and resources they needed to help their students. The headline might be misleading in that way, but that is out of my control. And if you argue, as you are, that these resources are being provided, then why is that not coming through for a significant number of students?

      Having said that, this is an opinion piece, it is not supposed to be a representation of investigative journalism. if I suggested that it was, I am genuinely sorry for misguiding readers. It was not meant to be insulting either, and I will apologize again if it has been taken that way.

      But I stand by the fact that there is a problem here, and the extremely positive feedback I have received elsewhere than this particular comment forum, guides me to do so. I do not have a problem with the PowerPoint assignment at all, my concern is that it is being offered to some students and not others. It’s an issue of consistency for me, not about the specifics of the particular assignment.

      As far as using the overheard conversation, I completely understand your perspective, but for me – it was a way of showing how rampant the problem is. Just hearing about from two strangers on the bus means it’s widespread, to me. I would have personally felt more biased referencing friends, classmates, members of clubs I’m associated with as an example. I recognize the flaws with this, but at the end of the day there are so many students are supporting the argument and telling me it’s accurate, that I think it works. I wasn’t aiming for a Pulitzer prize, I just wanted to get people thinking and talking about the topic, which has happened. If it’s going to be criticism, so be it, that’s fine with me, it’s still discussion. The goal at the end of the day is that undergraduate students benefit.

    • As a 2000 student, I know that absolutely none of my classmates actually know what “yellow journalism” is because it is in a textbook that we have never discussed, reviewed, or even been asked about. As far as I can tell, the Kovarik textbook we bought is not “MIT 2000 course content” unless we learn from it or write on in an exam. We’ve done neither. A waste of a pricey purchase, a waste of a valuable resource, a waste of a course filled with potential.

      • Give your head a shake…The concept of “yellow journalism” was discussed extensively in a mandatory tutorial reading (see Sotiron, Private Myth, Public Reality). If you want definitions go to google…if you want discussions go to tutorial. Those of you who don’t will end up spewing totally misguided nonsonse like what has been claimed above.

    • “After all, university is not about being spoon-fed directions on how to approach assignments and essays, or being provided pre-set skeletal frameworks in which to fill in the blanks”

      It would be nice actually to have some sort of direction… at all.
      I’ve gotten better directions from a broken compass than I have from this course or its professor.

  3. As a second year FIMS student in this class I can help shed some light on this, the final assignment has the option between a 10 page formal essay discussing the topic or a multi-media slide presentation (minimum of 15 ) discussing the topic. Each requires 5 external academic sources and the slide presentation requires explanation of the content in the slides as well as the presentation as a whole.

    What many of my peers can not realize (I assume due the mind numbing amount of essays completed this time of year) is the difficulty of building, defending and ideally convincing your TA of the topic chosen to discuses, compared to a 10 page formal essay (which format we have been doing since the start of university).

    I have yet to have a “bad” TA only great ones and regular ones, I see many of my peers exaggerate situation and are not critical enough to see how it really is, I have a cross disciplinary TA for my 2000 class that has a laid back approach to class organization, attendance and is as un-enthusiastic as my peers and I of the content. Yet a simple email or quick question regarding the course content is given a response akin to T. Blackmore. Some see him as a slack job that just gives us tutorial notes and talks about them while just by asking for help he has convinced me he is a serious and knowledgeable communicator.

    This also should be filled under the debate of the grueling schedule of graduate students in universities that I keep hearing about.

  4. Great job starting this discussion.

    The Teaching Assistant and Post-Doctoral Workers’ Union is relevant here. They seem to have been striving to officially address some of the issues discussed here in their most recent collective agreement (http://www.psac610.ca/collective-agreements). I couldn’t bother reading it as I’m not a TA, but I’m sure there’s some good material in there.

    Of note, is a ‘TAship’ which aims “to administer discipline-specific training to various departments and/or faculties” (http://www.psac610.ca/collective-agreements). Perhaps this is a step towards the desired occupational TA training?

  5. Thanks for drawing attention to this issue, Molly. I agree with most of your concerns, and I think the others commenters have added some necessary nuance to the discussion (despite some unfair criticisms).

    As a former FIMS student now a TA at another university, I’d like to add that this problem is not unique to FIMS or Western. As a first year MA student I was dropped into a 3rd year undergrad class outside of my home department with zero training or preparation and basically had to learn the material as I went. This did not necessarily prevent me from being an effective TA, but I certainly didn’t have the experience or support necessary to excel in my role.

    As you’ve pointed out in the comments, the TA issue is structural. Keep in mind that the teaching assistant position is primarily a means for reducing the workload on instructors AND THEN a means for providing grad students with funding (i.e. grad students with bigger funding packages TA more courses, even if they are “worse” TAs) AND THEN a means for improving the educational experience of undergrads.

    If anyone is “to blame” for this disregard for the quality of undergrad education, it’s the university administrations that are offloading costs to departments, who are then forced to offload more and more teaching to under-prepared TAs. Of course, bad TAs should not be let off the hook; but I think it’s useful to understand bad TAs as an issue of individual inconsistency or of inadequate training, rather than as an issue of disciplinary background.

    I’ll save my comments on the [hugely contentious] issue of declining academic standards for another day, except to say that it’s far bigger than either bad TAs or bad students. Don’t forget, we’re all on the same team here. 🙂

    • I really appreciate you sharing your experience! I definitely agree, and I am disappointed that this has blown up to be so singly about a TA’s background, because it’s more than that as you’ve pointed out. Thanks 🙂

  6. I will quote a few things from your post:
    “My jaw dropped. I may be in fourth year, but I’m not senile yet. That is not how I remember my MIT 2000 final essay.”

    I am 53, a PhD candidate, a current MIT2000 TA at FIMS and I am not senile yet (either). So you seriously think that year after year courses’ content and exercises must remain the same? Well … no, it would so naïve thinking that way. Despite the fact that FIMS is an interdisciplinary faculty, and TAs are from all kind of cultural/ethnical backgrounds, group of age, gender and professional perspectives, they are synchronised around the matters that a given updated course implicate, there is not other way.

    Your ‘jaw dropping’ implies the assumption that, what it was not lived in the same manner that “I“ (I mean you) did, must be intrinsically unfair or defective. I am not intending to diminish your concern and feelings regarding the ‘lowering of standards”, but, to be really fair, you may consider the evident ‘projective’ psychological stuff in your exclamation. I can tell you that my current (and past) students complain and exhibit similar patterns. It is just normal!; is part of the experience for most undergrad and grad students.

    We, humans, sincerely think that,‘they’—the others—always have it easier than me; that ‘they’—the others after me—don’t have the slightest idea of how real, hard, cruel things used to be. Don’t get me wrong I’m not mocking or disqualifying your telling on the bases of ‘narcissism’ or stress (?), I have nothing against a normal quota on those departments. But good blogging and zinning request keeping a safe distance from immediate assumption and overreacting, even if one is not actually “aiming at a Pulitzer price”

    What really strikes me from your lucubration from an overheard conversation at the bus (which it happened to be the same I was listening as well) are assumptions, and inaccuracies like the following:

    1. “we have a shortage of qualified TAs, so FIMS is bringing in graduate students from other faculties to run course tutorials.”

    Your sources? how and in what amount FIMS could predict and ‘hire’ the adequate number of TAs to avoid a shortage? I mean, FIMS graduate programs are getting traction and gaining prestige so we’d expect a larger demand from newcomers in years to come. Did you know that many times TAs outnumber Faculty requirements for certain courses?

    I agree with you though: there is a shortage of Qualified TAs; and qualified administrators; authorities; politicians and undergrad students. We are part of the problem and the solution (apparently)
    When you find any of those species in the qualified strata, well, they are normally acting as professors; doctors; lecturers or smart and gifted new graduate (and undergraduate) students : )

    You see, teaching and learning is a very long and fascinating process. As a seasoned TA (not to mention my career as Visual Communication and Design professor for over 24 years) I still need to keep on learning new skills, techniques, keep on training, etc. TAs at FIMS (and Western) do training and certification in many different ways. And they bring to class their background as a plus.

    Here is another paragraph that grabbed my attention:
    “But when I hear that a student in one section of the same lecture is being given the option to make a PowerPoint instead of an essay, I say: FIMS, you’re doing it wrong. Where are our standards? Why aren’t they being enforced?”

    Lets be sincere, I don’t like PP presentations, in fact I hate them. But here is a question to myself that you could extrapolate to you. Do I have seen a tremendous jaw-dropping, enticing, fascinating content presented using just the ‘good old’ PP?

    -Yes in several occasions. I could say the same regarding Keynote, Prezi, Flash and other multimedia presentation. As a professor—in the past—in charge of the dissertation and professional portfolios of numberless of last-year graphic and industrial design students along 20 years, I can tell you that a good audio visual or multimedia presentation requires tons of skills, interdisciplinary capacities much more above the average, and years of aesthetic and intellectual formation. But don’t take my word per se, cutting edge pedagogical research say that visual, textual, interactive and other modalities of learning/thinking are not excluding each other, rather they work ideally in the synthesizing articulation of visual thinking. In a faculty like FIMS we are looking for new frontiers in that field for obvious reasons, and we feel very lucky and proud of our eclectic staff.

    But it seems to me that you consider, an assignment based in slides and visuals, a mere joke; the requirement of which you did not take the time and the rigorous thinking of finding the truth about. In my view your assumption is not just incorrect, it is also sad. Perhaps at the end you are right and our intellectual and educational standards at Western are so low now, that everybody is contaminated substituting rational and informed analysis with subjective and fragmentary assumptions filtered by narcissistic moods. Please don’t get me wrong, note that I formulated this last idea in an hypothetical way, I am not prone to assuming things in definitive ways.

    In the last 5 years I have been a TA for 4 or 5 different courses. In every occasion, whether being familiar or not with the content, I have had to work my ass hard to keep things at the optimal level. I have always had a number of excellent students; a larger group of good-to-regular ones; and some few guys that seem to be stranded in some corner of the universe with an embassy in Western

    As a professor and TA by vocation I can tell you that in every occasion I have learned new things from my students and enjoyed very much the experience. I concur with you in the concern regarding the university and the teaching/learning dynamics, problematised by a number of factors.

    Although I estimate many of your complains legitimate and, to some extent, justified I wanted to express sincerely my remarks around a poor ‘blogging/studying/sharing/commenting’ practice in networked media: assuming, inducting and affirming without enough evidence supporting your claim.


    • Hi interceltic – appreciate your feedback as well! I think we’re on the same page in realization that there are some major problems to be addresses. However, in response to your strongest fault with this piece, I do not consider this to be an “assumption without evidence” at all – as the majority of undergraduate students are in support of this post. It is a short opinion piece, not an investigative research article. Its goal is to represent frustrations of undergraduate FIMS students, which it does. This is unfortunate, but I think those who are looking at this ‘rant’ or sorts strictly on the feedback on this page, may not realize these students exist simply because they have not commented on this forum. Given all critical comments so far have been anonymous, I don’t see any reason why I would need to provide the names of the dozens of students I’ve talked to about this problem who agree. When grading is involved, anonymity is essential. The reason I feel comfortable enough voicing this issue on behalf of my peers is because I am outside of it, I am not in the classroom. If I were, such as the students I’ve talked to about this – I wouldn’t want to put this issue forth out of fear and anxiety of the repercussions of calling out my Professor or TA publicly.

      To address some of your other points:
      1) I understand that courses change and assignments change from year to year – my concern was, and still remains, inconsistency between class sections in the same year. I stand by the fact that it is unfair for one student to go class and be given information that opposes lecture, or be given a different assignment in section 001 than in section 002, yet compete for the same grade at the end of the day. What caused my “jaw to drop” is that these students are having completely different course experiences within the same class. A better revision of that specific sentence might be, “this is not how I remember MIT2000” and I thank you for pointing out some limitations in my delivery of that point which I can improve upon. I will admit that that was not well worded, but I still stand by the argument completely.

      2) It isn’t about the PowerPoint itself. It’s about the fact that one student has the OPTION while another student doesn’t. If a Professor gives a final assignment to the class as whole, my concern comes in when there are students being told “don’t listen to your Prof,” “don’t go to lecture,” – then to do something different as an assignment – it’s misleading and discouraging for students, and it makes them turned off from learning and contributing. Again, perhaps this was simply a lack of clarity in my wording, so I appreciate your help in pointing that out.

      Having said this, thanks for contributing to the discussion and helping me see your side. I really hope we can all start to focus in on some facts that we all agree upon and try to find ways to resolve the problems undergraduate students are facing.


      • Just to be very brief Molly, and obviously appreciating your response:

        1. I was only referring to the part where you assume that some students had the option and others don’t. In this particular case I can asure you that was not the case. The option of doing a visual essay or written one was offered to the whole of the course. If you had treated this as a fact (and not as rumour) probably your rant would be less emotional and better sustained. I don’t think one may disregard of accuracy whether in a major o minor piece in of communication shared online. Of course is not a crime : ), so be sure that my critique is constructive.

        2. Is good to take students’ matters seriously and undergard and grad students’ opinions must be channeled, supported, shown and discussed openly because that’s one of the most important functions of the University.

        3. Yes some TAs obviously can do a better/stronger effort, others are tremendous workers and super smart people that are in a point in their life in which they will accumulate very valuable pedagogic experience. The same goes for you guys; not all the undergrad students are as active, informed, responsible, etc, as one whish. Most of them are learning this life and social’s skills in parallel with a superior education.

        Once again thanks and the best.

        2. I know your voicing opinions and ‘feelings’

      • I suggest you read all responses clearly, and cross check the rumors before you post some thing online. You have many facts wrong in this story. For example:
        You say (myth) – It’s about the fact that one student has the OPTION while another student doesn’t.
        Fact- all students had the same option.

  7. Although I’m late getting to the party here, I think it’s worthwhile to add a few observations. First, I am happy to see undergraduate students engaged with the quality of the education they are receiving at Western, and in general. After all, many of you (and us) are taking on huge debt to receive this education.

    The biggest issue I have with your piece, Molly, is that you take a genuine observation, which actually points to a real problem, but you postulate an answer that is woefully inaccurate and short-sighted. Blaming “Non-FIMS TA’s” for, what we now see was an oversight on your part, is irresponsible. Likewise, overhearing a student say that their TA told them they were learning the course material along with their students, isn’t a sign of dipping standards at all. Given that as TA’s, we get moved around a lot, and upon teaching a class for the first time must learn the material only slightly ahead of our students, and with coaching from seasoned TAs and professors, etc. I feel that phrase may have been taken out of context. Frankly, there is nothing long with learning material along with you. That is what education is about. We should learn from one another. If people want an oracle with all the answers, than Google is probably a better option. Tutorials should be mutually explorative for the benefit of both TAs and students.

    This point is important because it illustrates the fact that we are all students. I can assure you that many FIMS TA’s also lament the dipping standards in undergraduate work and effort. For example, many of my students skipped the last two weeks of classes this semester because they said they were too busy with end of year work. I could pen an editorial in which I blame FIMS undergraduates for being lazy, inconsiderate, selfish, and undisciplined. I would have plenty of anecdotal evidence to back it up. But instead, I thought about the pressure my students must feel to accomplish a set of end-of-terms goals that they feel is becoming too much to handle all at once. This forces me to consider what institutional barriers are being used to exploit us all. My point is that we cannot and should not let simplistic arguments divide students against one another at a time when we should be coming together to address the problems that are common to us all.

    • Thank you for your response! I can definitely see your perspective and agree that we need to work together on these issues. I completely agree with you that it’s a far bigger issue than simply one of non-FIMS TAs. While I cannot speak for the title/byline of the article as they were not my writing, I should have worked to make it read clearly about the organizational problems than that particular group, who do not deserve to be singled out as an oversimplified cause to a complex problem.

      As for the students’ concerns, I can only say that the students I spoke with pre-writing felt the problems described to be accurate. Choosing to use the bus conversation as an example seems to suggest less validity than, perhaps, “anonymous students.” My fault, I understand. Perhaps what has happened surrounding this post itself might serve as an example of how severe the communication breakdown is, because students are still agreeing with this, sharing it, and contacting me to tell me of it’s accuracy, yet I’ve had claims of the opposite nature on this comment forum. There are misunderstandings on both sides, which is a symptom of the larger scale problem that you and I are both acknowledging.

      Having said this, I agree with you that work needs to be done. Work on not just one but all levels, including by undergraduates students, to make FIMS better. Evidently, by the amount of attention on this piece, it is a relevant problem that a lot of people care about.

      Thanks again for joining in,


  8. As a student in this class, I am so appreciative that this is finally being recognized by someone outside of the class. Honestly, if you talk to anyone currently taking MIT2000, they would have the exact same things to say as in this article.

    Many TA’s are often unprepared and are learning the course material as we are. Some TA’s dont even attend the lecture. Not to mention poor guidance from the Professor. Dr. Spencer seems like a lovely man, but in terms of his lectures, they are erratic and confusing, and he often lectures about the wrong topic. He goes off on tangents about the good old days, and many people leave halfway through the class because they are too confused and would rather try to teach themselves.

    We are not paying 6000$ + to attend university, to only be confused and robbed of something worth learning. This is our future, which should be taken into account by those who are meant to educate us and take it so lightly. We can only succeed with what we are given.

    I hope FIMS will take this into account when planning for next years MIT 2000 so that future students have a better experience than students in this years class did.

  9. Pingback: A Tale of Two TAs: A Response to “My TA isn’t from FIMS” | OPENWIDE online

  10. Pingback: Learning from Adversity: A Year in Review : Molly McCracken | Creative Services Portfolio

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