TA'ing 2.009 and 2.744

TA’ing 2.009 and 2.744 has roughly been my full-time job for the past year or so, and 2.744 just wrapped up. This has been an incredibly rewarding, frustrating thing to do, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll try to expand on that, but it’s hard to enumerate all the things that I’ve learned, because so much of it is soft skills.

Background

First, some background. I was a double-major as an undergrad, 2A and 6-3, so I took 2.009 in Fall 2016, graduated Spring 2017, TA’d 2.009 Fall 2017, TA’d 2.744 Spring 2018 (I haven’t ever taken 2.744). Both classes are taught by Professor David Wallace

2.009

2.009 is MIT’s MechE capstone class, “Product Engineering Processes”. Students are assigned to teams of about 20, initially split into two halves. The task of the semester is to design a product for the year’s theme, and present an alpha prototype at the final presentations. The year I took the class, the theme was “Rough Tough & Messy”, and when I TA’d, the theme was “Super”. Themes are generally intended to be fairly open-ended, but there have been some slightly more focused ones in the past, like “Food”, from 2010. 2.009 is very structured, with milestones roughly every two weeks, and most of the lectures focused in engineering process - ideation, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, consensus-forming. I’ll talk more about my experience taking 2.009 in a future blog post though - this one is about TA’ing 2.009.

2.009 overall is characterized by its insanely high production value. Skim through the final presentations from 2017 to get an idea of that. There are usually 4 TAs for 2.009, and we generally handle all of the media associated with the class - nearly 100 thousand photos and many terabytes of video footage, not to mention dozens, if not hundreds, of graphics. It’s a monumental undertaking - I probably worked at least 60 hours a week on average, more than twice as much as I spent on 2.009 as a student. As I mentioned, it was incredibly rewarding, frustrating, and a distinct learning experience.

2.744

2.744 is a graduate product design class, taught every other year by Professor Wallace. Students form teams of about 6, and the primary task of the semester is to design a product for the semester’s client - this year, the client was 5 Wits, a production company by MIT alum Matt Duplessie, and students were tasked with designing gags/games to be used in a new concept that 5 Wits has been exploring. 2.744 is skill-focused, with many lectures on sketching, rendering, prototyping, and general design lectures. There are fewer milestones throughout the semester than 2.009, and teams are much more independent.

2.744 is a much lower-key class than 2.009, but there are still a number of high production value components, and the experience as a whole is still very tightly designed. Again, TAs are generally responsible for the media associated with the class in addition to general class prep. However, the scale is very different - only about 10k photos throughout the semester, as opposed to the roughly 100k from 2.009. The only video components are documentation, there’s no creative video editing to be done, and the number of custom graphics is also smaller.

Learning - hard skills

I didn’t learn many new hard skills through TA’ing 2.009 or 2.744, but I definitely sharpened some existing skills. In no particular order:

Photo editing

Video editing

Celebrate MIT: Quadcopter 2017. Probably my proudest artistic achievement.

Other software/tech

Design

Making

Learning - soft skills

How to make Nice Things™

Designing an experience

Consistent theming

Another aspect of the production value of 2.009 and 2.744 was the consistent theming and design language of everything. Most classes actually achieve this, but only by virtue of having no theming and the word editor default fonts for everything. This is something that I actually felt pretty strong in even before TA’ing - my personal brand/website has always been the same grey/blue color scheme, and my logo has always been the block “LC” of the favicon.

Working on a team

Working with a manager

Final thoughts

TA’ing 2.009 and 2.744 was, as I said at the start, incredibly rewarding and, at times, incredibly frustrating. I am eminently grateful for the opportunity to work on such a large-scale, high quality activity, and my sense of experience design and visual design has grown exponentially thanks to the influence of such a high-expectations, talented group of people. The quadcopter video I made for 2.009 is one of my proudest artistic achievements, and the web design lectures I gave for 2.744 were two of my proudest teaching/public speaking moments. Through all the stress and points of improvement I’ve highlighted, there has been also an extreme trust and level of respect for the TAs, for which I’m grateful. Thank you to David and my fellow TAs (Grace, Chuck, Georgia, Audrey, and Josh, plus bonus TAs Dabin, Victor, and Geoff) for an incredible year.

If any future TAs or students happen across this post, feel free to ping me through the usual channels for any extra advice or opinions. Thanks for reading :)

Tags: #thoughts