Orientation Day

Yesterday (Monday, August 23) I got my first taste of grad school and what it is going to be like being a Teaching Assistant (TA).  I attended the Grad School Orientation which was held in the Health and Human Services building on East Campus (east side of I-81).    After finding the auditorium (HHS is actually three buildings in one!), I listed for three hours about the policies of the grad school ranging from the Honor Code to Financial Aid.  Assistantships were discussed, but we primarily listened to the Dean of the Grad School tell stories from his life!  The most useful part of the orientation came in the final 45 minutes when a panel of ten second year graduate students discussed life in grad school.  It make me realize just how different grad school will be.  Students have on campus jobs and, in most cases, are considered colleagues by the faculty.  This is what separates undergrads from grad students.  The group of students talked about everything from what to expect as a TA to the best places to get a beer in Harrisonburg.  It was a very open conversation.  That being said, I was surprised by the low turnout.  JMU has approximately 1,800 grad students and I would assume about half are new while the other half are finishing up.  There should have been 900 students at orientation, but in reality there were less than 100. In all honesty, I could have found everything that was discussed online, but the last 45 minutes were the most important.

After chowing down on a lunch provided by JMU, TAs were allowed to attend several workshops designed to help with various topics.  I attended the three (50 minutes each) that I thought would be most helpful.  First, I attended “‘There are so many of you’: Effective Teaching Strategies for Large Classes.”  As many of you know, the class I am TA for a World History course with 110 students.  The workshop offered various solutions and methods to make such a large class feel smaller.  The professor who instructed the workshop suggested small group activities to breakup the monotony of lectures.  I gained several great ideas for this workshop and have discussed a few with my TA professor.  The second workshop I attended was “Grading Using Rubrics.”  This course was strait forward and let us know that JMU has a “standard” rubric that can be used and/or modified for our courses.  Rubrics simply ensure that every essay is graded equally.  It also informs students as to what the professor is expecting.  Finally, I attended “How can JMU Libraries Make your Life Easier?”  I only attended this because I missed the tour of the Library they were going to give at 1 PM because of these workshops.  I did learn how to use the online search for books, articles, etc. and also a new service called RefWorks.  This enables users to export listings for books and articles from JMU’s catalog right to the program.  You can organize these resources by topic or paper and then have the program build a Bibliography for you.  I have played with it and it works great with Turabian and will save A LOT of time!

After I left JMU, I picked up my new iPhone 4, but that is for another post!!!  On Friday I will attend Orientation for the History Department and will write about that this weekend.  I also intend to write in more detail about the course for which I will be TA.  I met with Dr. Davis today and we discussed the syllabus and know what to expect!

-Eric

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