10 Teaching assistants’ roles
In this chapter
There are three main roles to consider for teaching assistants (). For these options, training will ideally be available to them.
Note that teaching assistants at uOttawa are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – Local 2626. Job postings and contracts are done in line with that agreement. More information can be found on the CUPE 2626 site.
Contributors and co-creators
can help create course content, such as videos and problem sets for laboratory and theory courses. They can help to identify the approaches to be used in the remote course. TAs are also valuable sources of advice during the course—they often have valuable suggestions to improve the course and identifying issues that arise, which will be particularly important in this remote teaching model.
- Facilitate or laboratory tutorials. The chapter on DGDs/tutorials in the TA guide may be helpful here.
- Support synchronous (virtual class) sessions by answering questions in the chat (bringing up common questions/issues for whole class discussion), visiting breakout rooms to answer questions, etc.
- Guide discussion forum conversations
- Respond to emails
- Support the course in other ways.
TAs are often involved in grading assignments, exams, and other work.
Helping TAs prepare for their role
Meet with the course’s TAs before the course to:
- Understand their previous experience as a TA in general and in an online environment. What has worked well for them in the past? What hasn’t?
- Share the syllabus
- Identify the TAs’ responsibilities in the course, including timelines (e.g., responding to students’ emails, marking)?
- Describe the technologies that will be used in the course (e.g., Brightspace, Teams, Zoom)?
- What should the TAs’ level of expertise be in using these technologies?
- How will they learn to use these technologies?
- Ensure that TAs can access the course technologies
- Identify the equipment that TAs will need
- Digital writing method (e.g., iPad + Apple pencil, Windows Surface Pro)
- Identify the aspects of the course in which TAs should participate (e.g., classes)
- If TAs are attending classes, identify their role during that time (e.g., attendee to learn the material and expectations, facilitator to help monitor and respond to questions in the chat, help facilitate breakout groups)
- Share the TA guide or other resources and identify particular aspects that you would like the TA to read
- How do you envision DGDs to be run? The chapter on DGDs/tutorials in the TA guide could be helpful here.
- Identify any examples of past material that TAs can use (e.g., problem sets for DGDs)
- Identify the kind of marking that will be involved
- How is the marking done and returned to students, for example:
- Marking scheme, rubric, other
- Directly in the learning management system (Brightspace at uOttawa), download files (store where/how?), or with software such as Crowdmark, Excel for recording grades
- What kind of feedback should TAs be providing?
- What are the timelines/deadlines?
- How should the TA contact you with questions and/or to review the marking?
- What is the best way to communicate with you?
- Would you like to receive feedback about how the course is going from the TAs’ perspectives? If so, how should that feedback be shared (e.g., survey, email every week with ideas)?
To go deeper
Carleton University has some excellent information about working with TAs in an online environment.
The following articles explain ways in which students can be involved in educational design:
- Healey, M.; Flint, A.; Harrington, K. Engagement through Partnership: Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. High. Educ. Acad. 2014. Link
- Curran, R. Students as Partners—Good for Students, Good for Staff: A Study on the Impact of Partnership Working and How This Translates to Improved Student-Staff Engagement. Int. J. Students as Partners 2017, 1 (2). Link
The next chapter addresses equity in the online environment, with a particular focus on education during a pandemic.
Please feel free to contact us at any time with questions, suggestions, and concerns. In particular, we check this form each semester and will continue to update this guide as the situation evolves.
Discussion Group | Groupe de discussion (DGD). These are tutorial sessions, led by a teaching assistant or instructor