As a TA I conduct computer laboratory classes (the lecture is conducted by one of the professors). These are part-time studies, so labs take place during weekends, 3 clock hours each. Some students are older than me and are mostly male (I'm female). Some students have longer job experience than me, but I still feel I can teach them something important, not particular technologies, but rather an engineer attitude.

I prepared detailed written tutorials for these classes, which students follow step by step. At particular steps there are some general remarks included, like as you just saw, it's a good idea to include validation both at client and at the server site. The reason I don't say these remarks by myself, is that the speed of work differs significantly from student to student.

The result is that I don't have anything to do during these tutorials. I say a small introduction at the beginning, but it's not extensive, because the theory is covered at the lectures. Students don't ask me for help because the written tutorials address a large set of mistakes that students from previous years already did. When they really don't know what to do, they ask their colleagues.

In rare occasion they ask me a question I rush to them and explain everything, I also say in the beginning that if they have any questions I will be happy to help, so I don't think I deter then from asking for help.

But still I sit silent for most of the time. I only make few rounds around the lab, asking if they achieved the particular step, but they say they did and that's all. The rest of the time I do other things related to the classes (for example review tutorials, check homework, answer emails).

Last year I overheard students saying they like the written tutorials very much, because they are clear and include everything they need. Still I'm worried they can give me bad notes for my teaching, because from their perspective I do nothing and I am of no use to them during labs (last year my final score wasn't count because too few students decided to grade me).

What could be strategies to make tutorial-based lessons with tutorials more interactive? Or maybe I should not worry about it?

My idea was to make the tutorials more vague so that they ask more questions but it seems ridiculous. The tutorials are also used by students who could not attend classes or couldn't finish during labs. Also only first part is step-by-step, because the second part contains homework, on which they can practice self-reliance.


This situation also makes them ask if they can do the work at home, without attending labs and just send in homework. I'm ok with that, but I think my department is not.

I also had a situation when student send me an email with finished task during labs instead of showing it to me.

  • When they really don't know what to do, they ask their colleagues Something is wrong here. Why don't they ask you?
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 8:29
  • I don't know. If I knew I would do something about it. I'm always able to answer or give them a tip. But usually colleagues also know the answer, so they ask them. Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 8:41
  • How difficult are the tutorials? Having been in a similar situation myself recently -- from the perspective of a student -- I would usually avoid asking the TAs for help as the tutorials were not too difficult and I could do them by myself after racking my brains for a bit. Good documentation further obviates the need to talk to a person for help. Also, if they have internet access then asking a TA demands more humility then searching StackOverflow. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 9:19
  • 3
    Why not just walk around the room and talk to them as they work on the lab? "Hey, how's it going. I see you're up to part X. Did you have any trouble with Y? It's interesting that Z, isn't it." Talking to them gives them an opening to ask questions, and also helps you tease out those that still hold onto some persistent misunderstandings.
    – ff524
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 5:16
  • 1
    "I prepared detailed written tutorials for these classes, which students follow step by step." To me this seems to be the opposite of teaching an "Engineers attitude"...
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 11:27

2 Answers 2


From your post it appears that the labs are already highly interactive. Students are engaged working on the assignment among each other. From an education perspective the current learning environment is student-centered, which is often the ideal.

However, one common drawback to an engaging, student centered environment is that the teacher is not the focus of the learning. This can be somewhat un-stimulating for the teacher but the goal is always for the students to have maximum involvement.

One option for dealing with this situation is to shift from trying to lead the students to provide expertise when necessary. When students have questions be available to answering them. Another useful strategy is monitoring. This involves observing student progress and providing additional unsolicited support.


These situations require also the structuring of sessions. If they just work, then they just will work. It is especially bad if the students are better than the teacher. Why would they ask you? Teacher is always the authority in the class, so peers are preferred because you can get chatty with them. This is good and should be encouraged as Darrin Thomas said.

We have a bit similar course where we start the sessions by students presenting their solutions. Other students can ask questions, but it is usually only the teacher that does. The students are too shy because they lack the authority. Here the possible intimacy gets in way and the role of teacher is needed. You just ask there easy questions, that have likely puzzled some other students: "How did you end up with that solution?" or "Why did you do it like that?"

If the teacher is not in a hurry, you can spend more time with one question. You can make sure that the student actually understands how and why the solution is as it is. You can stay beside the student while he is solving the problem and monitor while giving tips. You can also interfere with right solutions, like give tips on how to make it more neat.

These will work even if the teacher is not the best one in the class. You always have your perspective that can benefit the students by making them improve their solutions from other perspectives than their own.

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