Having an Effective TA for Your Online Course

We all know that teaching online requires instructors to think differently about how their course is delivered. While the methodologies of learning are still in play, the online medium requires you to proactively account for multiple learning strategies when putting together, delivering and interacting with your course and students.

Online instructors fortunate enough to work in departments who provide Teaching Assistants, feel like they have a lifeline in this strange “new” online world. However, the fact that you have a Teaching Assistant does not make the stars align, world peace occur and automatically make everyone fall in love with your course. There are some things to consider about utilizing TA’s in your online course that can make the overall experience more successful.

Combat Inferred Digital Nativity – #providehowtosforTAs

Digital Native PhotoWe like to think that the next generation is more “plugged in” and that they “get it” (whatever “it” may be) when it comes to technology. While this may be true for their smart phone (Let’s take a selfie!), it does not guarantee immediate understanding of your institution’s Learning Management System.

This is why it is important to put your TAs/Doctoral Fellows through the same kind of technology “how-to” sessions that are available to you as a faculty member. At Sam Houston State University, TAs/Doctoral Fellows have the option of participating in any of the teaching online certification programs, which provide a strong base for starting out on the right foot, particularly for those who will teach online courses in the future. These technology development efforts help increase course interaction, engagement and ultimately satisfaction for both instructor and student.

Use your TA to Increase Student Engagement – #notjustforgrading

Increase Online Student EngagmentThere are three types of interaction in any good online course:

  • Student/Content
  • Student/Instructor
  • Student/Student

Each one of these plays an important role in student satisfaction as well as student success. With online class size growing, it does become more challenging to engage every learner in the student/instructor interaction more than a few times during the course. TAs can play a very important role in helping to increase student/instructor interaction, as they fall under the “instructor” umbrella in this equation.

You can assign your TA to work on specific discussion forums within the course to provide feedback, answer questions, or to gently nudge students in a particular direction to ensure objectives are met. This ability to flex your teaching assistant is not limited to discussions. They can help out with blogs, wikis, web conferences and more. This can help increase the one-on-one interaction time you provider learners throughout the duration of the course.

Use your TA to Increase Instructor Presence – #untilwefindacloningmachine

Instructor PresenceThere are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week and honestly, there is such a thing as a work/life balance. Leverage your TA to help with office hours, web meetings and other times where you may be spread too thin to be in two places at once. They can also help with answering “virtual office” or “general questions” discussion forums if you are at a conference, out of town or fulfilling research requirements.

Put a Face to your TAs Name – #gettingtoknowsue #orstew

More than likely, you have a place in your course where you introduce yourself to the class. It may be in your Virtual Office area or in some other spot. It probably has a picture, some contact info and a brief bio. This would be a great place to add a second item that introduces your TA to the online students. That way when students see discussion replies, grade book feedback and more, they will know who it is from.

Making the course more personal for your students is always a best practice. Connecting your students to you and your TA will allow the students to feel like that they “know” you and this is especially important when it comes to online feedback.

Use your TA to Unleash your Online Grade Book – #feedbackmachine

Online GradingOnce a course is developed, where is the one place where you may spend most of your time in? The answer is overwhelmingly, the grade book. A well-used grade book or grade center can make the difference for you, as well as for student success and satisfaction.

Gone are the days where students would check the door to the classroom twice a semester (midterms and finals) to figure out how they were doing. Nowadays, students receive updates on their phones when an assignment in their course has been graded, when an exam grade has been posted, or when their group projects have been evaluated.

Leveraging your TA to help with the grade center can help decrease grading turnaround time and increase the amount of times a student receives personal feedback on graded items in the course. Any LMS worth its salt has a Rubric tool that faculty can employ to ensure grading guidelines are followed down to the individual criterion by the teaching assistant. Even if you limit your TAs to a particular number of assignments to grade, it will help with the amount of grading you have to do and the amount of time it takes to get that grade to the students.

TAs add value to what you are already doing in the online course. They are an important supplement and providing them with technology skills, leveraging them to increase student engagement, introducing them to your students, using them to increase instructor presence and empowering them to enhance feedback with your grade book are best practices that can contribute to success and satisfaction for you, your students, and your online course.

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