This document outlines the COMP 11 TA office hours policies, the vast majority of which are copied verbatim from Brown University's policy for their introductory computer science course. These policies have two main purposes:
- To facilitate student learning.
- To set expectations on how students and TAs will interact during office hours, and
If you feel that any policy is unfair to your situation, feel free to contact a member of the course staff.
This section lists the TA Office Hours policies and provides explanations for each one. Please read this document on how the TA Office Hours system works in COMP 11 first, as many policies refer to parts of that system.
- If you hit a bug, you should have put significant effort
into fixing it on your own before seeing a TA. You should be able to
show relevant evidence if a TA asks for it. Examples of evidence
include an implementation plan, pseudocode, debugging print statements
cout), and widespread commenting. After the first few weeks of the course, TAs will turn away students who cannot provide evidence of attempting to solve their problem on their own. The student will be reminded of the debugging tools they've been taught, after which they should use those tools to try to handle the bug on their own before asking for help again.
- Rationale: Debugging is one of the most important skills to
develop in Comp 11, and like most skills it cannot be improved
without practice. Many Comp 11 students avoid this practice
because it is uncomfortable, and instead rely on the TAs to walk
them through the entire solution to an assignment. This is a major
barrier to learning, and will only make a student's life harder
and more stressful as the semester continues. Although it may be
frustrating at times, devoting the time to debug your own code is
essential to success in Comp11. TAs are available as a resource
only when it is evident that you have truly attempted to solve the
It is not the TA's job to debug your program; their job is to debug you so that you can debug your own program!
- Rationale: Debugging is one of the most important skills to develop in Comp 11, and like most skills it cannot be improved without practice. Many Comp 11 students avoid this practice because it is uncomfortable, and instead rely on the TAs to walk them through the entire solution to an assignment. This is a major barrier to learning, and will only make a student's life harder and more stressful as the semester continues. Although it may be frustrating at times, devoting the time to debug your own code is essential to success in Comp11. TAs are available as a resource only when it is evident that you have truly attempted to solve the issue.
- The signup system will begin accepting sign-ups 10 minutes before the
first set of office hours on a given day, and everyone who signs up by the time
hours start will be randomized. For instance, if hours start at 4:00, sign-ups
will open at 3:50 and will be randomized once at 4:00. If you sign up earlier
than 10 minutes before the first set of hours, your entry will be deleted.
- Rationale: Many students are in class, at work, or at extracurricular activities when the sign-up sheet goes live. We believe no student should have a disadvantage in being helped at TA hours due to outside commitments; hence, the randomization levels the field so it is fair for all. However, if you are not seen for multiple days due to unlucky randomization, you should reach out to the course staff on Piazza.
- The signup system has a field for “Question,” which must be
specific and may either be a statement or question. Rather than
“Broken program” or "Atom question", say “I can check for
palindromes, but don't know how to check for close-enough
palindromes” or “How do I fix a remote-sync error?”
- Rationale: Providing a thought-out question helps the TA understand how to best help you and also demonstrates that you’ve thoroughly contemplated how to solve your bug before coming to office hours.
- TAs can only help with one question/concept/bug per visit. This policy may
be relaxed at a TA's discretion if the queue is short during their office hours.
- Rationale: We feel a responsibility to give equal support to all students, which means that if we give extra support to one student, we must provide the same for all students, significantly slowing down TA hours. A student cannot expect to be the special case who receives extra help. If you feel like you need extra help consistently, consider contacting the StAAR Center to be connected with a Comp 11 tutor.
- Each visit with a TA is capped at 15 minutes.
The first 5 minutes should be spent explaining your question to the TA
and, in the case of debugging, showing evidence that you've worked on
the problem on your own.
- Rationale: We enforce this time limit in an attempt to meet with all students who are waiting on the queue. If a bug is unusually difficult to solve and has not been solved in the 15 minute window, there is a greater chance you will reach a solution if you redirect your issue to Piazza instead of putting yourself right back onto the office hour queue (particularly if the queue is long).
- If a TA is unable to join your Zoom meeting using the link you
provided in the Google Form, you will be marked as
“Missing” on the spreadsheet and have 15 minutes
to “Edit your response” with a valid URL (you are only
able to do this from the link on the Google Form's confirmation page;
make sure that page isn't closed accidentally). In the
meantime, the TA will skip over you and help the next person in the
queue. If you edit your Form response with a valid URL before the 15
minutes are up, the next available TA will assist you. Otherwise,
you will lose your spot in line and have to add yourself to
the bottom of the queue.
- Rationale: We have a commitment to keep the TA hours line running, and we don’t want students signing up before they have an issue, assuming they’ll come to office hours whenever they hit a roadblock. The Google Sheet maintaining the queue is publicly viewable, so we expect that you will monitor your status in the sheet and make sure your Zoom meeting is set up properly when your turn is soon.
- By default, TA hours will end at the posted time regardless of
the length of the queue left (TAs are students too, with their
own lives). The queue grows exponentially longer as each
homework deadline gets closer, so don't assume that you'll receive
help if you join the queue during the last 30 minutes of office hours
the night before an assignment is due. If a TA decides to extend
their hours, they will post about it on piazza.
- Rationale: TAs are students (people, even!), who also have busy schedules and coursework. We all put in a lot of time to make sure this course runs smoothly, and while we love doing it, we need to care for our own mental and physical health, as well as work on our own homework too.
- Do not expect to receive more than your fair share of TA hours,
especially for debugging questions. Do not contact TAs for help via
social media or personal emails, texts, etc. We want you to get the
help you need, which is why we hold so many office hours, but keep in
mind that struggling through hard bugs on your own is the fastest
route to becoming an expert debugger and one of the best ways to
reinforce the concepts you will learn in Comp 11.
- See all above rationales.
- Starting with the third HW, coding incrementally will be
enforced during office Hours, meaning that if you come to a TA with a
bug, but have coded beyond it so that there are several more bugs, you
will be asked to comment-out the additional progress (and additional
bugs) to focus on the step at hand.
- Rationale: It is harder for TAs and you to find a given bug if there is additional code that has built upon it. By having a focus on a specific piece of code and bug, TAs can do a better job helping you find the bug during the 15 minutes given.