Organizing an IAP class
This IAP others 6.006 TAs and I organized 6.s092!
Mid semester I went to a SIPB meeting where they were discussing IAP classes and I decided that I decided that organizing a class would be a great idea. I convinced other 6.006 TAs to join and then said on the following sipb meeting we were doing it!
Among encouraging words such as "why?" "that is a terrible idea" and "oh jeez", we decided to move forward!
and then ex 6.006 students came to help us as well!
Organizing a class is interesting! You need to decide things such as what classroom size will I need? How do I advertise the class? How do we decide on the grades? What are the topics of each lecture, of each pset? How do I distribute work for people? And so on.
We started with a room that could fit 50 people since who takes IAP classes taught by randoms, amiright? A few people were signing up for it since it was in the EECS website. But then everything changed:
We sent a silly email to dormspam
Take the crash course in 6.006, first time ever being offered! It will be a blast! This class, taught by 6.006 TAs, will try to cover all the 6.006 material over IAP.
Listen to the encouraging words we heard when we decided to organize this class:
"This is a terrible idea" "Good luck, you will need it" "Why?"
6.006 is an awesome 12 units class in algorithms and now you can take it in 12* hours! One hour per original unit! That is a steal!!**
∗ (12 hours of lectures) + pset time.
∗∗ You won't get 6.006 credit by taking this class though.
Then in the end we got to 140 people and everyone was freaking out since that is a lot of people haha. We had to get bigger rooms, office hours rooms, microphones and etc. We were glad we didn't make elevator posters. In the end most people didn't show up to most of the lectures, so nothing matters.
Since I'm super disorganized I though that trying to be the main person organizing the class would be a great learning experience.
To continue the path of terrible ideas, I decided that 30 psets over IAP seemed liked a great idea, together with the topic and objectives of each pset and lectures they went with. We have so many people helping with the class, what could go wrong? Also auto graded psets are not realy psets right?
Turns out that delegating things and organizing people is really hard! I thought that as long as we have a list of exactly what needs to be done and by when and people excited, things will get done. was I wrong….
In the first week of January after I had written 2 psets and setup a catsoop server and written example psets and guides to write questions and all, I had decided to give up and cancel the class, since no one else was helping with the class yet.
I told JJ about this and she took over with an iron fist (just kidding, she was totally awesome and nice).
She messaged each person individually rather than messaging the group. She asked people to signup for tasks on the spot and did decided on reasonable (much shorter term) deadlines. And she met with people who wanted to help in person to make them feel more involved as well.
Everything went super smoothly after that, I gotta say I learned a lot from seeing her organizing people much better than me.
And now, lessons from the class, from an instructors perspective:
– No one solves psets unless they have short term deadlines.
All of our psets had fake deadlines just to make students do them. If you give them the real deadline and it is a few weeks later, no one will do them.
We told the students all extensions would be approved but that they'd need to write us an email asking for them. Students hate writing emails so this was basically equivalent to a hard deadline.
secret: most classes have fake deadlines as well. The real deadline might be 15 minutes later, 1 day later or 2 weeks later depending on the class, because we hate having to deal with real extensions; fake extensions are much easier to deal with. This is true for all classes I've helped with. No, you will not know the real deadline as a student; the deadline is fake to help the students.
Fake extensions mean: we can't even distinguish if you submitted it by the real extension or fake extension.
– I can tell you guys are confused, but we are aiming for 70% understanding because of time constraints. Please, please, please use piazza and office hours, sorry the lecture is so short.
It is not hard to notice when students start feeling confused and to feel dumb when you have to move quickly on part of the material because you have a lot to cover. In a recitation you can simply decide to cover less material since most of it is review; but during a lecture you have to follow your syllabus. It is not the students fault, but more that we have a limited amount of time for lecture.
If we start mentioning or emailing out about office hours, piazza, etc. It is probably because we noticed people confused and we have more time available after the class time.
– No one gives feedback. No one talks to the instructors
Even though it is not that hard to tell if people are confused in a particular moment during the class, it is really hard to tell if people are enjoying the class or how much of it they are understanding.
As an instructor / TA in previous semesters, the thing we want the most is for the students to give feedback, be it good or bad. If we reach the point of directly asking for feedback a few times, it means that we are pretty desperate and have no clue how we are doing.
I still don't know if people enjoyed the psets we wrote in January or found them useful, because no one said anything yet. So I'm just waiting for course evals.
As a short story, a friend of mine told an instructor I TAed with that we was rude on Piazza. He improved a lot in the following weeks
– No one fills up course evals
Since no one gives feedback, we just get really excited about course evals, because it is the one time people might finally say something. But no. No one fills up course evals unless you bother them like, 20 times. We only sent 3 emails + 1 in class announcement + 1 piazza post. So we had a 10% course eval filling rate.
Yeah, that is why instructors bother everyone so much with course evals or make people fill them up during lecture: no one cares enough to fill them up.
– Instructors generally don't know what they are doing
This is true also for the classes I was a TA for. We are doing our best, but since most of the feedback only come through course evals, unless the same instructor is teaching the same class for the second or third time, they are just hoping for the best and not having any clue if things are going well or bad.
For example, if a single student tells an instructor that they like / dislike teal classes, this might very likely become the single reason a class starts being teal/stops being teal. This might or might not have been based in a real story lol.
One student told me that they liked the 6.s092 psets, so that is why I wrote extra optional pset questions for example.
– Making it hard to get 100% is so fun!
This part is a bit evil. But as soon as some of the students in 6.s092 got 100% in the psets, I released a new very hard pset worth 0.03% of the grade. Which means that if they didn't do it, they'd only get a 99.97% average.
That is why sometimes there is extra credit or a single very hard question not worth much. We just want people to try to get even better!
So yeah, it was exciting. Since I suck at organizing people I've decided that I'll be a grade Czar this semester (yes, that is my title in 6.042 lol. I'm responsible for organizing 25 graders and delegating tasks to make sure that all psets get graded in time.) This will be a disaster but I'll try my best. If you know anyone in 6.042 during the semester complaining that their pset grades are late, it will be my fault.