Comp 11

TA Office Hour Policy

Introduction

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:

  1. To facilitate student learning.
  2. 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.

Policies

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.

  1. 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 (sent to cerr and/or 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 issue.

      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!

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
Mark A. Sheldon (msheldon@cs.tufts.edu)
Last Modified 2021-Jan-11