The average Wharton School student isn’t shy when it comes to expressing his or her honest opinion. However, complaints are rare when it comes to students’ opinions on teaching assistants in Management 100: Leadership and Communication in Groups.
The course, required for all Wharton freshmen, is under fire in the new book, Higher Education?: How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and What We Can Do About It.
Written by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, the book takes issue with the price tag of higher education, and critically examines the performances of the nation’s top-tier universities.
Wharton’s MGMT 100 is singled out as an example of a poorly executed course — particularly in light of Penn’s high tuition costs. Hacker and Dreifus point to the TA’s role in the classroom as evidence for this assessment.
The MGMT 100 course is separated into 54 teams, each led by a TA of varying experience levels. The youngest TAs are undergraduate sophomores.
“Few sophomores have the fund of information, techniques for coping with questions or the skills for conducting discussions that college-level teaching requires,” the book claims.
Anne Greenhalgh, one of the professors and the faculty coordinator for MGMT 100, finds this statement to be misguided.
“If this were simply about transferring knowledge, the authors would have a point,” she said.
Greenhalgh believes instead that the MGMT 100 TA acts more as a facilitator than a teacher, and prefers the term “team advisor” to “teaching assistant.”
The advising function of the job is the defining aspect for most students. This is the area in which Greenhalgh believes that youth and relative inexperience can be an advantage, as they allow TAs to better empathize with their students.
College and Wharton sophomore Janson Pan admits that he sometimes felt as though the TAs weren’t sure what direction the team was heading, but that this was indeed a good thing in a course where the TA’s function is to coach and advise, rather than to teach.
The advising often extends beyond the classroom, as was the case with Wharton sophomore Ben Hardy, who says that his TA helped him with the transition to college.
Nursing and Wharton junior Jeffrey Lee had a similar relationship with his TA. “My TA made the whole experience for me,” he said, adding that he still keeps in touch with his TA.
Greenhalgh understands the relationship between students and TAs, and rejects the book’s implications that MGMT 100 TAs are underpaid and lacking in motivation.
“Students do not become TAs just to beef up their transcripts or to earn money,” she said. “They do it out of a sense of service and commitment to the undergraduate community.”
Wharton junior Phillip Law, who is beginning his second semester as a MGMT 100 TA, confirms this. “Wharton TAs tend to be leaders. They want to give back, and either love the curriculum or see room for improvement,” he said.
Wharton junior Selina Vellani, beginning her third semester as a MGMT 100 TA, feels the same way. “Most MGMT 100 TAs would do it even if they were being paid zero dollars,” she said. “Being a MGMT TA is one of the most exciting and rewarding communities that I am a part of on campus.”
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