Ten Tips for Graduate Students Teaching Online
A teaching assistant leads a group of students in a virtual webinar using Adobe Connect.
In hybrid and online courses, graduate teaching assistants (TAs) are often essential to the successful execution of a course. Here are some strategies for teaching assistants (written by UC Davis teaching assistants) as they work on a team for an online or hybrid course. These strategies may also be helpful to faculty working on a team with TAs to understand how to effectively collaborate to create a successful hybrid or online course.
- Understand the course’s major learning outcomes.
In order for you, as a TA, to feel like a central part of the course, it is vital to understand how each task and major assignment contributes to the course’s major learning outcomes. If you do not know why a certain activity is included or how a particular activity will facilitate a particular outcome, it is important to get clarity from the course instructor so you can communicate expectations to students clearly.
- Communicate with the instructor about the TA responsibilities and expectations.
The expectations for grading, lesson planning, and interacting with students often differs dramatically between an online/hybrid and face-to-face course. Specifically, TAs in online and hybrid courses often spend much more of their hourly time working independently, giving feedback on assignments submitted through the learning management system, and interacting with students in the online environment. You get to choose your hours flexibly when you TA for an online or hybrid course, especially since you don’t have as much dedicated face-to-face class time.However, ask the instructor for whom you’re working about how he/she expects you to divide your time among different course tasks and responsibilities and remind him/her of your contractual hourly commitment (as a reminder, 25% and 50% teaching appointments have work hour limits). Also the instructor and the TA should be sure to work together to delegate tasks for the course; specifically, it will be valuable to decide who will be responsible for writing e-mail reminders for students or for responding to comments in an informal Q&A space, like a chat room or Piazza.
- Talk to TAs who have taught the course in the past (if you can).
Benefit from others’ experiences. Talk to others who have taught the class before and get their perspective on what they wish they had known prior to TAing for the course, especially for elements of the course that may be unique to the hybrid or online format. You can anticipate some of their concerns, but learning from others’ experience is often the best way to be prepared for teaching a hybrid or online course.
- Become comfortable using the learning management system and other tools for the course.
As a TA for a hybrid or online course, you’ll spend significantly more time working within the learning management system than you would during a face-to-face class. Before the term begins, spend some time tinkering within the learning management system, making sure you feel comfortable with all of the tasks you’ll be expected to do. Do not hesitate to contact UC Davis’s Academic Technology Services for support if you’re struggling with the technology. However, you will feel more confident as a TA if you are already comfortable within the learning environment. Technical difficulties will still happen regardless of how much you prepare yourself, but confidence within the system goes a long way towards improving your own instruction.
- Know the arc of the course BEFORE the quarter begins in order for all of the elements to be smoothly integrated for the students.
In an online or hybrid course, it is essential to develop a clear, early understanding of how the course will move. Become familiar with the syllabus and the lesson plans so that you feel prepared to anticipate questions during face-to-face times in a hybrid course or during synchronous webinars in an online course.
- Establish clear expectations with students about learning in a hybrid or online environment.
Often, students do not know what to expect from a hybrid or online class and for many UC Davis students, your hybrid or online class may be the first one they ever take! Even if the course instructor has already established some of the differences students will experience in a hybrid or online class, be sure to take some extra time to establish your own role in the class and clarify how you will interact with students. For example, explain that you are not online at all times of the day and let them know when you will respond to e-mails or questions from students.
- Develop strategies for building rapport outside of a face-to-face context.
In an online or hybrid course, it can be much harder to build rapport and community with the entire class. However, incorporating small suggestions into the course – like asking students to include a photo of themselves in an avatar or including an activity in a synchronous webinar where students have to share something about themselves – can help build rapport. You may not have the full engagement of a class as you would in a face-to-face environment, but work towards thinking about how you can communicate with students and learn more about them using the tools with which you are equipped.
- Always have a back-up plan when technology fails.
No matter how well you know the tools and the learning management system, something will likely go wrong during the course of the quarter. Don’t panic! Think through in advance what you’ll do in case a particular tool fails you or doesn’t work well.
- Pick new tools or technology to use based on the course goals, not the tool’s affordances.
It’s tempting to pick and use new tools just because they seem exciting or have a lot of potential. Hybrid and online courses don’t need to use a panoply of tools to be effective either. Collaborate with your other teammates to decide first what you want students to learn and do. From there, picking an appropriate tool will be much easier.
- Enjoy the freedom, creativity, and experience you’ll gain!
TAing for a hybrid or online course can afford you with some creative freedom and innovation you may not otherwise have in a face-to-face classroom. Take advantage of that opportunity to reflect on and make thoughtful choices about your teaching!