Challenges Faced by Teaching Assistants in Computer Science Education Across Europe [ACM ITiCSE 2021]

   Authors: Emma Riese, Madeleine Lorås, Martin Ukrop and Tomáš Effenberger

 Primary contact: Martin Ukrop <>

 Conference: ACM ITiCSE 2021

   DOI: 10.1145/3430665.3456304

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  Title         = {Challenges Faced by Teaching Assistants in Computer Science Education Across Europe},
  Author        = {Emma Riese and Madeleine Loras and Martin Ukrop and Tomas Effenberger},
  BookTitle     = {Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education},
  Series        = {ITiCSE ’21},
  Publisher     = {ACM},
  Location      = {Padeborn, Germany},
  Year          = {2021},
  DOI           = {10.1145/3430665.3456304},


Teaching assistants (TAs) are heavily used in computer science courses as a way to handle high enrollment and still being able to offer students individual tutoring and detailed assessments. TAs are themselves students who take on this additional role in parallel with their own studies at the same institution. Previous research has shown that being a TA can be challenging but has mainly been conducted on TAs from a single institution or within a single course. This paper offers a multi-institutional, multi-national perspective of challenges that TAs in computer science face. This has been done by conducting a thematic analysis of 180 reflective essays written by TAs from three institutions across Europe. The thematic analysis resulted in five main challenges: becoming a professional TA, student focused challenges, assessment, defining and using best practice, and threats to best practice. In addition, these challenges were all identified within the essays from all three institutions, indicating that the identified challenges are not particularly context-dependent. Based on these findings, we also outline implications for educators involved in TA training and coordinators of computer science courses with TAs.

The data uploaded is the results of a qualitative analysis of teaching assistants' reflection essays from NTNU, KTH and MUNI collected between 2017-2020. In total 180 essays (119 from NTNU, 32 from KTH and 29 from MUNI). The essays were each half a page to a page long. A majority of the essays were written in the official languages of the given country, and a few were written in English. The essays from NTNU and KTH were analyzed in their original languages, while the essays from MUNI were first translated to English.

The essays were analyzed using a thematic analysis. The analysis was carried out for the data from one institution at the time and then merged at the final stage of the analysis. For the set of essays from each institution, two researchers first coded all essays independently and summarized both the initial codes, and identified themes of their respective analysis. The two researchers then met to discuss and compare the findings of their independent analysis. This resulted in an agreement of the final themes and codes identified for each subset of data. The analysis was also conducted with some time between to minimize the interference of the previously found themes. Once the analysis of all three subsets was completed, we started to view the data as a complete set and merged the identified codes and themes.

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