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#IOLchat Report: Teaching Assistants as Part of an Online Teaching Team


Each week we meet via Twitter for #IOLchat to discuss current issues related to online learning. Participants include students, instructors, advisors, counselors, eLearning companies, schools, publishers, and instructional designers.

Whether you are an instructor or student, if you’ve experienced a course with Teaching Assistants (TAs) you know how valuable these “extra hands” can be. TAs, Academic Coaches, and Student Mentors all play helpful roles in supporting learners and faculty members at the course-level.

This week we discussed the potential for these assistants in an online course and created a list of recommendations for those considering working with this support role. Here’s a summary of the conversation:

Emerging Opportunities, New Roles

  • While the typical model of Teaching Assistants in traditional education isn’t new, similar positions are making their way into online courses to assist both faculty and students – large class sizes with multiple smaller sections in which each section has a teaching assistant, all reporting to the instructor.
  • Watch for a variety of job titles – learning coach, course coordinator, student mentor, teaching assistant, and more – with a range of required qualifications from bachelor’s degree to doctorate.
  • This support role usually involves tasks related to administrative duties and grading student assignments.
  • Additional duties may include: being the first point of contact for students, day-to-day troubleshooting, tracking student progress, and initiating outreach to individual students via email or video conference.

Recommendations for Online Educators

  • Students may prefer (or procrastinate) to take advantage of last-minute assistance, such as “virtual office hours on a Sunday evening when assignments are due that night.” Assistants may be able to facilitate the demand for help, especially with large numbers of students.
  • If you are going to employ formal assistants, coaches, etc. consider making it part of course design and development.
  • Provide both instructors and their assistants with training and guidelines to help define their roles in the delivery of the course.
  • Consider assistants as a benefit to all involved – instructors (help in addressing the needs of large numbers of students), students (quick response and troubleshooting in small groups), and the assistants themselves (work with skilled instructor).

Advice for Faculty Members Teaching Without the Benefit of Assistants

  • Look for opportunities to engage students as peer mentors in the online environment as critical friends.
  • “Be approachable. … Be a real person [your students] can relate to. … Share your hobbies in your introduction or bio.”
  • Try new ways to communicate and connect, e.g., Jing/video feedback on assignments.
  • Create a hub of information, centrally located in the course, that provides answers to frequently asked questions and frequently referenced support numbers (e.g., tech help desk, library).
  • “Make things as simple as possible.” Clarify student expectations, “say what you mean in as few words as possible,” and hold students accountable for their own success.

Thanks to @brenstrong and @jshamsy for participating in the live event!

For more from the most recent live session, review the chat feed below. Our past chats can be found on the archives page.

Follow us (@OC_org) and plan to attend our next chat. We meet on Wednesdays at 12pm ET and look forward to hearing your perspective.

This week’s read-aheads:

Graduate Teaching Assistant – Job Description from Career Planner.com

The Economic Advantages of Becoming a Teaching Assistant from the Debt-Free Scholar blog

This week’s chat feed:

Image credit: Stanford EdTech, Flickr, CC:BY-NC-ND

October 18th, 2012 written by (learn more about our authors)

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