How Do I Involve TAs in Online Learning?

 

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Teaching assistants play an invaluable role in your course, whether you’re teaching face-to-face or in a fully online environment. They are critical members of your teaching and learning team; they are there to learn and support you, and you are there to guide and support them. The strategies and examples below are some ways you can involve your TAs in your online course. Keep in mind that you may not be able to integrate all of the examples (given the number of hours your TAs may have), so it’s best to pick and choose the examples that make sense for you and your TAs’ backgrounds, skills, and interests.


STRATEGIES & EXAMPLES

Coordinate and Communicate

Share your expectations. Even before classes officially begin, it would be useful to share your syllabus with your TAs, explaining your course goals and how your assessments tie into those goals. If your TAs are holding discussion sections, it would also be beneficial to talk about your pedagogical expectations for these sessions (e.g., are the sections meant to elaborate on the content students already learned for the week, help build personal connections to the material, and/or provide practice with concepts, etc.?). Ideally, you would want TAs across discussion sections reinforcing similar content and providing students with similar opportunities to apply concepts and practice skills—all to help them prepare for upcoming assessments. Also share your expectations for academic integrity and what your TAs should do if they suspect cheating or plagiarism.

Check for access and familiarity. If you want your TAs to assist you on any of the technology tools you plan to use (e.g., Moodle, Blackboard, Zoom, etc.), ask them about their familiarity and comfort with these tools. You may have to show them how to use certain features or direct them to the IDEAS team for additional support. In addition, you’ll want to make sure your TAs are given certain permissions (e.g., making them a “teacher” in Moodle or a co-host in Zoom) before your classes begin.

Hold frequent meetings. Just like your students need a sense of community, so, too, do your TAs. Holding frequent (weekly, bi-weekly) meetings with your TA team is essential. Throughout the semester it’s always good to check with your TAs on what they’re covering in their discussion sections, any challenges they’re experiencing with students or technology, and any successes they’ve had that their peer TAs could implement. Remember, your TA is an amazing conduit for learning about the student experience in your online course. You can also use meetings to show support for your TAs by asking them how much time they are devoting to your course and helping them balance their workload.

Clarify responsibilities. Confirm with your TAs the number of hours they should be devoting your course each week, since translating your course online may result in shifts in work organization for your TAs. In addition, clarify their roles in the teaching team, including communicating any expectations you may have for them with developing course content, holding office hours, facilitating discussions, monitoring student involvement, grading assignments, and completing tasks in a timely manner. In clarifying expectations, consider developing a contract or guide that lays out your responsibilities as instructor and your TAs’ responsibilities. Click here to see a sample teaching assistant guide developed by Professor Dipak Chowdhury from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. You can also consider creating a duties specification agreement that you ask your TAs to complete.

The following strategies and examples are some activities your TAs can implement as part of their responsibilities for the course.

Embrace Behind-the-Scenes Activities

Review your LMS. In the first few weeks of the semester (and ongoing as you add more content), you may want your TAs to review your Moodle or Blackboard site, both to become familiar with how it is organized (so they can explain to students where to find content) but also to give you feedback on whether it’s difficult to find material, if links are broken, and to double-check that deadlines and due dates are correct.

Monitor the chat. If you decide to hold synchronous sessions with your students and your platform has a chat function, you may ask a TA to monitor the chat while you are leading the session. This allows you to focus on directly addressing your students by video, while your TA can address any student questions and comments in the chat.

Help students with tech issues. If you’re holding synchronous sessions, consider whether your TA could support you by addressing any technical issues students may experience (through private chats or email) so these issues don’t delay the class.

Boost Class Community

Hold office hours. Having office hours gives your TAs an opportunity to connect with students in another venue that can develop a supportive class climate. Think about the best configuration (individual drop-ins, group meetings) and timing for office hours and discuss the plan with your TAs. You may also want to talk about alternative office hour formats (discussion forums, emails) TAs can use to engage with students who cannot attend virtual office hours. In their office hours, you may encourage TAs to reference videos, Zoom recordings, or other materials when talking to students to reinforce what is available.

Facilitate review sessions. Discussion sections may serve as their own type of review sessions, but closer to any upcoming assessment TAs may wish to conduct a synchronous review session. Alternatively, they could record their own short videos to serve as review to help students prepare for the assessment, and oversee a discussion board to answer any student questions in response to the videos.

Manage FAQs. Students often have the same questions but choose to email the instructor or TA directly. Instead of repetitive responses, consider having your TA team create a FAQ document that they display in Moodle or Blackboard and update frequently throughout the semester.

Check-in on group work and discussions. If students are working on collaborative documents (synchronously or asynchronously), consider having your TAs monitor and/or support that collaborative work by checking in with the groups. Similarly, if you are using asynchronous discussion boards, your TAs could jump in to clarify any misconceptions of material and/or contribute or advance the conversation.

Reach out to students directly. If TAs are noticing that students are not attending any synchronous sessions, turning in assignments, or not accessing the Moodle or Blackboard site, they could reach out to students directly and check in.

Provide Feedback

Monitoring discussion forums. You may want your TAs to scan discussion forums and provide you with summaries of student contributions. You can then take that information and craft group-level feedback for the class, emphasizing quality posts that advance the conversation and suggestions for further improvement.

Review instructor-developed assessments. If you have developed your own assessments (e.g., online exam, quiz, writing assignment), ask your TAs to review the instructions for clarity before you administer them to students. Likewise, have your TAs take an online quiz or exam well before you administer it so they can help you determine if any of the questions need revision.

Create and/or review rubrics. One of the typical TA responsibilities is grading, but consider involving your TAs in co/developing rubrics before they use them so they are fully in agreement with the expected criteria.

Please contact the CTL with any questions, or for more details about the examples shared, at ctl@umass.edu.

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References

Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, Indiana University – Purdue University. (2011). Preparing Guidance for Online Teaching Assistants. Retrieved from: https://www.pfw.edu/dotAsset/95590dbc-7703-489e-9933-503cf045ebe1.pdf

Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Working with TAs online. Retrieved from: https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/teaching-with-technology/teaching-online/tas-online/

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Supervisors of teaching assistants. Retrieved from: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/ta-supervisors/#expectations