One of the most popular classes at UC Davis, Nutrition 10 needs no introduction. If you have never heard of the class, you need to get out of your dorm room more often – Nutrition 10 is the only class that has a waitlist line outside the building on the first day of school. But there is another thing that makes the class unique: the teaching assistants.
Nutrition 10 is taught by Dr. Liz Applegate, whose goal is to present the concepts of nutrition in the context of personal, cultural and world aspects, according to Nutrition 10‘s website. But, as Applegate explains, her TAs are not just teaching assistants.
“We work together in a team,” Applegate said in an e-mail interview. “We even have matching T-shirts we wear for exams.“
Applegate has four TAs: Noah Decker, Rachel Scherr, Megan Witbracht and Mary Henderson. These graduate students work with Nutrition 10 for a whole year for cohesion and the development of their skills. Not only is the class a benefit for the students, but for the TAs as well.
“These are graduate students aspiring to be professors and instructors at college level so opportunities for them to create and implement learning is a goal,” Applegate said.
However, the TAs‘ priority is to help the students. Both Applegate and the TAs hold their own office hours to ensure that students can ask questions on most days of the week.
“Since the class is so large, we hold many office hours and encourage students to attend both my hours and the TAs‘,” Applegate said. “This approach has made for a very ‘friendly environment‘ for the students.“
But the TAs do more than just correct exams. They hold their own review sessions and special “chalk talks,“ special office hours held in a large room devoted solely to review specific approaches to answering exam questions. Applegate also gives her TAs the freedom to design their own extra credit opportunities for the students, like Jeopardy.
“Dr. Applegate really wanted us to come up with some creative ideas to help the students learn the material,” Witbracht said. “So I thought it would be interesting to incorporate nutrition [with Jeopardy].“
Developed by Witbracht in the summer of 2008, the goal of the game is to give extra credit to the students as well as reinforce class concepts in a fun way. Like any game of Jeopardy, the students are split up into four groups, with their own team names, and each have to answer questions related to nutrition for various amounts of points. Certain questions act like the “daily double” and if a student picks that question, they have the opportunity to win an individual prize.
But what makes this Jeopardy game different is the energy of the TAs who put it on.
“We typically have a lot of fun with this,” Scherr said. “We try and make it as interactive as possible with lots of cheers and try and set up a dance off if there’s a tie.“
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.