Beat the T.A.!

December 3rd, 2014

Last time, I wrote about adapting a common college game for the purpose of education. Another type of game that I came up with as I hungrily took in ideas about teaching is something I call “Beat the T.A.!”

The purpose of “Beat the T.A.” is to have the students invest themselves in the exam beyond the norm via a friendly rivalry between themselves and a minor authority figure/role model. The teaching assistant, or one of the T.A.s in the class if there are several, takes the exam alongside the rest of the class. The students are tasked with beating the T.A.’s score on the exam. There are a few possible conditions for winning this game that an instructor can choose to use alone or in combination:

  • A curve is used so that the T.A.’s score is the new 100% score and all student scores are adjusted accordingly
  • Students who beat the T.A. get their excess points as extra credit
  • Students who beat the T.A. could get a set amount of extra credit, or some other small bonus to their grade
  • Students who beat the T.A. could get a non-grade related prize

Safeguards may need to be established so that a fluke (either random chance or a parasitic worm) does not result in a complete upset in the students’ favor if the T.A. somehow does not excel. For example, there could be a cap in place for the most that the grades could be curved, or the most extra credit that a student could win.

An issue with this plan that comes immediately to mind is that the T.A. typically already has a task during an exam, though I think the problem is minor. T.A.s are usually proctors who patrol the classroom to make sure that students are not cheating. I think that the T.A.’s time is well spent, if not better spent, as the target of Beat the T.A., though. In my experience, T.A. proctors are not effective at deterring or catching cheaters. During exams, the T.A.s wander the room being absolutely bored out of their minds for the duration of the class. Let’s remember that T.A.s are also students who can take the opportunity to work with their knowledge. This game is also a good chance for the T.A. to show his or her abilities to the professor. Also, I imagine that there is some pride for the T.A. to show off his or her higher level of experience with the material to the underlings. A T.A. who aces the exam could get his or her own reward!

“Beat the T.A.” is a low-cost activity that I think can help students get more involved with the exam portion of their class. Adding a competitive element between the students and a third party, the T.A., may ease inspire students to work harder to get a better score. The chance for a reward also gives students a little more control over their grade in exchange for their effort. There are also benefits to the T.A. as well for having the responsibility to be the the ‘mini boss’ that students are competing against.


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