Notes for Teaching Assistants Lab 1
CPSC 481 is a demanding but interesting course to TA. Unlike
most CPSC courses, assignments have a large non-programming and
This (and other documents) introduces you to your role as a TA
in 481. It will detail what you will cover in labs and when
student assignments and milestones are due. It will also indicate
my expectations of you and of students, and how you will guide
and grade students.
Your first lab session
Materials you will need:
- overhead (book it with Communications Media for every lab)
- the 681 TA binding, including:
- sheet for recording group assignments, with the headings:
- group number <Section-groupid> eg B01-1 (1st group in Lab BO1)
- student names and IDs
- student email addresses
The first lab is a long one, as you have to introduce
yourself, set the ground rules, and get them started on
assignment 1. Make sure the following points are covered.
- Introduce yourself
- Give students your office location, phone number, and
- All labs are essential. A student's success on the
assignment will depend heavily on coming to labs for
clarification and discussion of assignment material.
- There will be occasional weeks when no lab will be held.
In this case, students will be told of this in advance
(preliminary lab dates and activities are on their
schedule, which is included in the course notes). In
those days, the TA will be available in their office for
consultation during lab time.
- Students must work in groups of three. Groups of other
sizes must get special permission of the professor (who
will only give it if there are an odd number of students
in the lab). Under no condition will groups of one or
four be allowed. Groups will do their work together, and
will hand in a joint submission.
- If friction develops between group members (e.g. if a
member is not carrying their load) inform the TA or the
professor immediately. In extreme circumstances,
student contributions will be grades separately. However,
this will not be done if problems are reported well after
- Groups may change their membership between assignments
(although this is discouraged, especially for the
- Cross-lab groups will be allowed only if no other
arrangement is possible, and only by permission of the
TAs in both labs.
Grading and due dates
- Marking is hard.
- Reminder: students must pass the assignment component to
pass the course.
- Assignments have a major writing component to them. All
write-ups are expected to be professional in appearance,
grammar, and writing style. Excellent English is the
norm. Poorly written documents and/or sloppy submissions
will be failed no matter how good the technical content.
- The final project (assignment 3) contains a programming
component. Excellent program structure and documentation
is expected. Poor / sloppy code will be penalized. All
programs must be demonstrable. A program that does not
execute will be given an F. It is the groups
responsibility to code in small achievable steps.
- If you have a legitimate grievance with your grade, you
must write a paper note documenting the problem, and hand
in the note plus the assignment you did to the TA to
review (the main office will put it in their box). If you
are not satisfied with the TA's response, ask that the
packet be sent to the professor. We guarantee to listen,
but we do not guarantee to change anything! Under no
conditions will our expectations be relaxed.
- Due dates are strictly enforced. Late assignments will
not be accepted without medical documentation.
- Repeat the above; we are serious about this!
- Assignment details will be discussed in labs.
- Assignment 1: Task Centered Design and
Prototyping (13%). This assignment is a
hands-on exercise on applying task-centered system design
methods and low fidelity prototyping methods to the
design of a particular system. The deliverables will
include a well-structured design portfolio as well as
presentations in labs. Its immediate purpose is to give
you experience at:
- articulating good task descriptions
- using the task descriptions to decide upon system
- brainstorming low fidelity prototypes based upon
the above, and
- conducting a task-centered walk-through.
- Assignment 2: Evaluation through usability
studies (12%). This assignment will have each group
use qualitative evaluation methods to unearth problems in
a major software system. The group will deliver a report
that discusses the methods employed, that highlights the
general faults of the system, and that suggests
recommendations for improvements.
- Assignment 3: Iterative design project (25%).
The group will continue Assignment 1 through the rest of
an interface design cycle. Deliverables, spread over
time, are documented in the portfolio and presented in
lab. These include:
- prototype redesigns
- system implementation
- summaries of evaluations and design critiques
- a demonstration of a robust working system,
- At this point, you should give students a 5 minute break,
where they divide up into groups.
- Have a sheet of paper ready for them to indicate their
group members, names, ids, and email adresses. Assign
each group a unique ''number'' prefixed by your lab
section. This number is used to identify groups and
subjects in the first experiment.
- If problems exist that you cannot handle, have the
individuals or groups contact the professor immediately.
Assignment 1 introduction
- Tell them that the general ideas behind task centered
system design will be discussed in class
- Remind them that their assignment and accompanying
readings contain many important details. They must
- Tell students exactly what you want them to do and when.
(See the schedule in the class booklet!)
- Steps 1-3 of the assignment should be done before
the next lab
- In the next lab, students will present
(informally) their choice of project, along with
some sample tasks and system requirements. This
is a reality check, where the TA will indicate if
the student is way off base. There may even be
class discussion of the task and the choice of
requirements. PS Its ok if a student project is
similar to others, as then students can learn
from each other
- Students will then do steps 4-5 before the 3rd
lab, and they will present the prototype as well
as walkthrough summary in lab.
- During all this time, students will be writing up
- Describe the format of the portfolio
- 1" 3-ring binder
- Indexed and labeled section separators
- cover of binder should include project title,
student names, ids, group number, contact phone
numbers, and email
- 1st page an extensible table of contents
- 2nd page the grading sheet
- must be very neat, and organized. We will not
grade poorly organized and/or messy portfolios.
- Present the overheads, which detail the steps as
well as indicate what will have to be in the report. Tell them these
overheads are available on their assignment page, and in more detail on TA section of
the course home page.
- Tell students what you will cover it the next lab.
- you will lead a discussion when students do their
- You will give them more background on prototyping
- You will give an example prototype for the
library system and do a walkthrough with one of