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Teaching assistants create space in packed schedules: ‘Finally, I have time to review the course content’

In this 'Educatips' column, psychology teachers share their key insights about work. This time: course coordinator Evelien Broekhof received support from teaching assistant Vincent during the last term. ‘I have more room in my schedule now that I don't have to do everything alone anymore.’

She did feel a slight panic that morning when she was called in the middle of her vacation. Evelien Broekhof, coordinator of the second-year course in Psychopathology, was just in the supermarket when she heard that a teacher had dropped out last minute. ‘Two groups of students had work groups at nine and eleven o'clock, and I had to arrange replacement immediately.’

She calls her teaching assistant, Vincent van Twuijver, with the plan to merge the two work groups. Evelien acts swiftly and asks: ‘I'll call the replacement teacher, can you make sure that this teacher gets a larger room in the meantime?’ Vincent arranges a new room and informs all students via email about the changed plans. The work groups can proceed, both are relieved. Evelien says: ‘I thought it was great how he handled this. The nine o'clock work group had already started, and thanks to Vincent's help, we were able to solve the problem quickly.’

About the teaching assistants

As part of a pilot project, student assistants now support course coordinators with administrative tasks in their work. The goal of the pilot is to reduce workload and increase student involvement in education. The plan was initiated by the educational board in collaboration with the educational management. For now, the pilot is only running in Bachelor courses, but if successful, consideration will be given to including the Master's courses.

To learn more about the pilot or to get started with a teaching assistant yourself, contact opleidingsmanager-psy@fsw.leidenuniv.nl or ask the course coordinator of your unit. 

Meticulous tasks

Vincent: ‘I enjoy being able to help people quickly. For a few years now, I have been working as a student assistant at PsyBlend, where we provide support to teachers in the digital learning environment. Here, we mainly work with Brightspace, but we also serve as a kind of referral point to other departments within the Faculty, such as SOLO. Over the years, I have gained a lot of experience that I could use as a teaching assistant.’

Evelien: ‘One of my main tasks as a course coordinator is to focus on content and teaching, but there are also practical matters that take a lot of time. Some of them are meticulous tasks that requires your full attention, such as updating all Brightspace pages or rearranging rooms. Vincent took many of those tasks off my hands.’

Fresh perspective

Vincent: ‘I didn't particulary enjoy rearranging all those rooms, that's mostly administrative work. But it's part of the job.’ Turning to Evelien: ‘And if you had to do it, you'd still have to complete three other tasks in a day and attend meetings.’

Evelien: ‘You also helped a lot with Brightspace. Each workshop has a different deadline, because 24 hours before each workshop, students have to submit an assignment. That means you have to create 24 separate inboxes in Brightspace for the workshops so that students can submit everything correctly. It used to take me a lot of time to figure that out, so it's really nice that I can outsource it now. You also very cleverly pointed out that some information was not in a logical place, that it would be more convenient to put it in another folder so that students could see it faster. I didn't notice that anymore because I've been maintaining that page for years, you had a fresh perspective.’

Vincent: ‘I've learned that some teachers appreciate it when you're involved in the content of the course; others are not asking for input and prefer to do it themselves. It's nice to gain insight into the teachers you've had over the years.’

Time for the content

Evelien: ‘As a teacher, you often work on your own, so it's nice to have someone to discuss things with: how do we deal with the rooms? How do we handle Teams? For example, Vincent had made a Teams page himself and added everyone. This gave me more time to review the course content: I was able to update the literature and revise the assignments. Because it worked so well for me, teaching assistant Mara helps me with the next terms. I think colleagues can benefit from this, and I think it's important to continue the initiative.’

Vincent: ‘Through this work, I've also realized that students sometimes complain a lot, whereas I now think: we've actually arranged things quite nicely behind the scenes.’ Laughing: ‘Although that's also a kind of insider bias.’

Share your educa-tip?

Are you a lecturer at the Institute of Psychology and do you want to tell colleagues about how you teach? Or would you like to nominate an inspiring colleague for the next column? You can send a mail to news.psy@fsw.leidenuniv.nl putting ‘Educatip’ in the subject field.

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