The Continuing Adventures of a DHA TA

Last term, I wrote about my experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a classroom setting for the first time. I’m still doing some work as a TA this term, but not in a classroom setting. One of the main projects we are helping out with this term is a project using Neatline in one of Professor Victoria Morse’s courses. The main goal of the project is for students to explore, grapple with, and try to understand medieval conceptions of space and geography and how they differ from modern ideas of space and geography. This goal is one of the reasons that Neatline was chosen as the platform for this project. Rather than trying to warp medieval maps into our modern understanding of space (one of my old blog posts explored the challenges of trying to do this), Neatline allows images without spatial coordinates to serve as the base map – essentially on the image’s own terms. Since Victoria’s goal was not to match medieval maps to modern maps but rather understand the way the medieval maps display geography, the ability to not match up coordinates made Neatline a good choice.

Martha and I are the designated TAs for Victoria’s class. We have both worked as TAs before, but of course that doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning a lot. One realization we had a couple weeks ago had to do with how we were asked questions. A student in Victoria’s class came to us and essentially said, “I don’t understand.” Martha and I completely understand where this is coming from – when learning a new technology it can be overwhelming and confusing to the point of not even knowing what you are actually confused about. However, this wasn’t a very helpful question for us, which meant that at first we ended up asking more questions than the student, trying to make sure we knew what it was they were trying to find out. We tried to clarify what it was they needed help with: “Do you understand what Neatline is? Do you have an idea of the kind of project you will construct with Neatline? Do you want us to help you with setting up an account? Would it be helpful to walk through the creation of a Neatline exhibit?” This proved to be very useful, and we were able to get the student started on their project. For me, this experience drove home the importance of how questions get asked, since that guides how the question gets answered. In addition, it helped me think through the clarifying questions and what we could do to make sure we helped a confused student.

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