1. TA Duties
  2. Defining the TA’s Role
  3. Working Effectively with TAs: A Checklist
  4. Building a Team in an Online Environment
  5. Resources for Your TA(s)

Based on the number of students enrolled in your courses, you might be assigned one or more teaching assistants (TAs). Your departmental chair/director (or in some cases another faculty member) is responsible for assigning graduate students as TAs to a particular course.

If you wish to work with a particular student or require additional TAs, make your request well before the distribution of TAs in the late summer. Occasionally undergraduate students are hired as TAs well into the start of classes.

TA Duties

TAs belong to the CUPE 4600 bargaining unit and their terms of employment are spelled out in the collective agreement. Their workload is typically an average of 10 hours a week, to a maximum of 130 hours per term (note: all regular TAs are eligible to attend five hours of paid training each year in the fall and winter terms. For details, visit the TA support website).

Typical TA duties include office hours, preparation time, discussion groups, seminars and lecture attendance as well as lab demonstrations, supervision or clean up.

Defining the TA’s Role

An important component in working with your TA is clear communication of their role. The following questions are designed to help you clarify your expectations of them [adapted from Handbook for Teaching Assistants, University of Delaware, 1989].

  • What is the TA’s role (e.g. lecturing, leading discussions, running tutorials, conducting labs, grading, attending lectures, and reading the textbook/course materials)? How often will they perform that role? How many office hours should they hold and when? What are your expectations for online communications (e.g. email, cuLearn discussions, chat room postings)? How much time should be spent on such duties?
  • What educational technology tools are you planning to use (e.g. BigBlueButton, Kaltura Capture, cuLearn)? Are you expecting them to be efficient in these tools? If not, will you want them to get specific training (note: paid pedagogical training for TAs is only available in the fall and winter terms)?
  • How much autonomy will the TA have to present new ideas, use different teaching methods, or present perspectives that differ from the instructor’s?
  • How much help is too much (e.g. what kind of assistance should they give or not give to students?)? Should they organize virtual group review/extra help sessions?
  • If the TA will grade assignments/tests, are the criteria for assigning grades clear (e.g. is there a process/formula for assigning grades?)? Can you offer concrete guidance, such as model answers or grading rubrics? Who reviews disputed grades? How many grading tasks will there be? How much time should they spend on each?
  • If the TA will conduct labs, what arrangements have been made for online lab work? What are their responsibilities? Should they have specialized health and safety training/credentials? Will there be any on campus labs with social distancing protocols in place? Do they obtain and/or keep track of supplies and materials? Do they design or revise experiments? Do they give demonstrations? What should they do in case of emergency or accident? What is the procedure for reporting broken/missing equipment?

Working Effectively with TAs: A Checklist

Forging a strong working relationship with your TA(s) requires consideration and effort, like any other relationship. The checklists below provide suggestions as to what steps you might take to ensure that you are working toward that goal. As we pivot to online learning it’s important to reflect on the role your TA(s) can play in making this challenge successful.

The first (online) meeting:

  • Determine your TAs’ previous teaching experience, including any online teaching and/or experience as a student of an online course. If they have had online learning experience – what worked? What was unsuccessful?
  • Exchange information with TAs’ regarding all upcoming deadlines and schedules—yours, your course’s, and theirs. Exchange contact information (e.g. email and cell number).
  • What are the learning outcomes of the course? Share your syllabus and course outline.
  • Table a range of possible teaching duties that factor in the TAs’ experience and your respective schedules, and which acknowledge that the TAs’ professional development has been considered.
  • Consider the role your TA can play in student engagement. Your students might be studying online for the first time. Students are used to interacting with each other. How could your TA reach out and connect with isolated and unmotivated students? Can you build learning activities into your course that provide opportunities for student interactivity, time to engage with course content, and feedback to students?
  • Consult/negotiate with TAs on duties to be assigned and time allotments for each. Keep in mind that preparing for an online course can require more time and attention. Encourage your TAs to keep a log of their TA hours so adjustments to allotments can be made if necessary.
  • Enter the agreed upon list of duties and time allotments into the TA Management System on Carleton Central.
  • Connect TAs with the information/tools they need to do their job. Do they need:

Building a Team in an Online Environment

TA as professional:

  • previous teaching experience
  • previous TA assignments
  • previous experience with online learning technology and recommendations

TA as invaluable conduit

  • reports to you on how course is being received and students’ access to internet and technology, suggesting alternatives
  • reaches out to students uncomfortable/isolated by online format

TA as creator of learning activities

  • utilizes online tools to create discussion forums, virtual office hours, break out groups, virtual labs, moderating synchronous presentations, answering emails, monitoring cuLearn discussion threads 

Ongoing

  • Hold regular meetings
  • Communicate all course policies to TAs, for everyday and exceptional situations
  • Provide TAs with consistent feedback on their work
  • Solicit TAs for their feedback on your and your students’ performance
  • Present a united front as a teaching team

Resources for Your TA(s)

We encourage you to provide your TAs with the following resources that specifically focus on being a teaching assistant in an online learning environment: