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Top 10 strategies for TAing a virtual course

September 8, 2020
By GradProSkills

Source: GradProSkills

Being a TA is often the first experience of a graduate student in a position of authority to teach and evaluate learners’ development. Supporting a professor as a TA is a big responsibility - and now that our workshops are taught online, that list of responsibilities got longer and diversified.  

Here we share 10 strategies to make your TA online position a successful experience: 

1. Review Concordia’s training resources for TAs 

Online teaching first requires you to hone your communication skills, time management and technology literacy. TAs commonly acknowledge that grading and office hours are core tasks, but increasingly professors are seeking assistance to develop active learning activities, create engaging materials and support technology issues. Don’t fumble though these new tasks, but instead get prepared with Concordia’s Centre for Learning and Teaching (CTL) Teaching Assistant Orientation (GPTK722), hosted by GradProSkills on September 18, 2020.

We also recommend you explore the CTL’s Resources for Teaching Assistants info sheet.  

2. Promote virtual human connections 

Humanize your online tutorial and create a sense of community, so your students don’t hide behind a closed camera. 

Send an email to introduce yourself as the course’s TA, share your profile photo and a short bio, or record a short welcome video. Introduce ice-breaker activities to encourage students’ interactions. For example, set up a virtual class lounge where students can introduce themselves and post profile photos, or post questions about the course. 

It is important to establish a rapport with students while keeping your position of authority. Treat students professionally and not as if you are their friend.

3. Opt for user-friendly online platforms

Prioritize technology commonly used by Concordia’s students like Moodle and Zoom. Moodle has useful features for individual and group activities like discussion forumsquizzespost as assignments, and provide students’ feedback. GradProSkills offers the workshop What Can Moodle Do? (GPTK758), or you can join IT department led Moodle training

Zoom has great interactive features like sharing presentations, virtual breakout roomschatspolls, non-verbal feedback tools (emojis), annotation tools, and more. Concordia instructors, using their employee email, have a personal Zoom licenced account to schedule tutorial sessions and office hours. 

4. Set expectations for communication

Being a TA to an online class does not mean you are available twenty-four hours a day for seven days a week. Working from home is challenging but you need to strike a balance between your personal and professional life to keep healthy, meet graduate school demands and have time to relax. Establish boundaries to your availability with virtual office hours and email response time.  

Be mindful of students’ academic demands and let them know how much time they will work on your tutorials. Use Moodle to send students grades and feedback in a detailed rubric, but no later than one week of submission. Learn how to be an effective grader with our webinar Best Practices for Grading and Providing Feedback (GPTK705).

5. Create an engaging and effective presentation

Be aware of students’ long hours of online learning and limited tolerance to monotonous presentations. Plan an activity every twenty minutes as attention spam declines steeply after this period. Get students engaged in the online environment with GradProSkills webinar on Best Practices for Promoting Interaction & Participation on Zoom (GPTK774).

Deliver class activities and visual presentations that engage students and are fun to participate. Use software that allow you to incorporate multimedia content like Google Slides and Prezi, and add thought-provoking images and videos for class discussion. Learn with experienced YouTubers and public speakers how to communicate complex ideas in an engaging way. Use virtual guest speakers in TED talks

6. Focus on project-based learning activities

Implement active learning techniques to boost students’ autonomy to think about concepts and encourage richer peer discussions. Some active learning techniques can be adapted to virtual classes like Think-Pair-ShareJigsawcase studies, and contemporary issues journal. For a comprehensive list of active learning techniques, please check Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) website. Use Zoom’s virtual breakout rooms to let students work together. 

The in-person high stake tests are stressful enough add the isolation and proctoring to make this evaluation a real nightmare. Try alternative evaluation methods like multimedia or art projects, games and short quizzes

7. Promote critical thinking and class engagement

Link major concepts and theories to case studies, problems and analysis to real-life situations to make learning is more effective. The content learned with a context allows students to establish relationships and connections, instead of memorizing individual facts.

Promote group presentations on key concepts, and ask peers to record their feedback on Moodle. Use prompt questions like: What did you learn (like) about this topic? Peer to peer feedback allows students to learn from each other and be critical about the content learned. 

8. Use technology with a pedagogical purpose

Online learning involves more than just moving off-line content to a virtual format, so technology has to be used with specific pedagogical objectives. Blogs as less formal and short productions are useful to improve student’s writing and analytical skills on readings that you can not fully cover during tutorials. Discussion forums give students the opportunity to discuss with peers and professors about specific topics based on a “prompt” set by the instructor. A successful discussion requires an open-ended question, clear pedagogical purpose and rules of engagement. 

9. Share tools and strategies you learned as a graduate student

You are an experienced student compared your learners so share with them resources that promote self-development like time management strategies, effective reading techniques, and how to structure an essay. Concordia’s Student Success Centre has a wide range of online services and resources, like handouts and writing assistance support. Our GradProBlog is a fortnightly publication with practical tips and strategies to help students to become effective learners and succeed in academia. 

10. Enter your online classroom with a professional setting

Once the tutorial’s content is prepared you need to focus on the delivery. Have a professional setting for your virtual classes by organizing the space around. For instance, have a neutral background, appropriate light, optimal camera angle and good sound quality. Dress up as if you are going to an in-person classroom to show students you are serious about your position of authority. This will also help you fall into the teaching performance more easily. Record yourself presenting the tutorial so that you can adjust tone of your voice, body language or speed of your speech.

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