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Tips for Working with a Teaching Assistant in an Online Course

Teaching assistant holds a conversation via video conference.

Article written by Teaching Associate Professor Julianne Treme

Using a teaching assistant (TA) in a traditional face-to-face course seems straightforward to many faculty. Now that classes are online, many faculty are searching for ways to effectively use a teaching assistant that goes beyond grading assignments. Engaging your teaching assistant with both your students and course content will provide a valuable connection point for students.

Tip 1: Ask TAs to hold virtual student help (office) hours.

Additional student help hours provide students with more flexibility to connect with the course.  This is especially helpful for faculty when there is a homework assignment or exam approaching.  

Ask your TA to attend your student help (office) hours. This can be helpful if more than one student is attending and you need help managing the line of students. If there is a straightforward question, they could help a student while you are with another student.  

If possible, ask the TA to offer hours one night during the week and potentially a Sunday night.  This may not be feasible for TAs with families or other obligations, so be sure to ask your TA if this works with their schedule.

A bonus is that TAs are familiar with your course content, and that makes them more effective in student help (office) hours.

Tip 2: For a synchronous course, make your TA a co-host of the Zoom meeting and ask them to monitor the Zoom chat and breakout rooms.

Zoom sessions can be stressful because faculty are juggling course content and technology.  Students often prefer to use the Zoom chat for their questions, and having a TA there to monitor the chat makes life just a bit easier.  

TAs are also helpful in breakout rooms if students have questions or to let students in if the session has a Waiting Room. They can also pause and resume your Zoom recording when there are breakout rooms to make the recording shorter. Students are far more likely to make it to the end of a shorter recording.  

Tip 3: Ask TAs to create practice questions and/or a study guide based on your content

TAs should be following along with your course. Creating practice problems or a general study guide provides useful information for the students and offers feedback to the instructor from a different perspective. Are there things that the TA highlighted that you had not considered? Did they leave something off the list? This is a good chance for the instructor to reflect on how the information may have been received by students.

Some instructors view study guides as spoon-feeding, but online courses can be difficult to follow for a student who would not have chosen an online course if they had an in-person option this semester. This is a small amount of help with a big impact for students.

Tip 4: Ask your TA to send reminders of assignment deadlines in Moodle through announcements

In the current climate, students are juggling multiple online courses. Organization is key for students, and reminder emails are greatly appreciated. If you set your due dates at the beginning of the semester, TAs can create all of the announcements now and adjust the Display Period to ensure that all announcements are sent out at the same time each week.

Tip 5: Direct students to the TA for extensions and general course questions

This cuts down emails significantly. Make it clear when students should contact the TA and when they should contact you directly. You can emphasize this on both the syllabus and on Moodle. It is also helpful to ask your TA to monitor your Student Help Forum on Moodle.  

Tip 6: If you have forums, ask the TA to monitor the forums

Forums can be an effective tool in an online course but can be overwhelming for faculty to consistently monitor. The TA can monitor the content of the posts and post to get students back on track when necessary. They can also relay issues/concerns that may arise on a forum.