Using Teaching Assistants in Online Classes

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Similar to in-person classes, teaching assistants can be a useful resource to resolve in-class issues and improve the flow of larger online class. This article examines possible uses of Teaching Assistants in the online format, as well as how to set up Zoom so that they can take on these responsibilities.

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Opportunities for using teaching assistants

Admitting students into class

One of the most useful tasks that Teaching Assistants are able to help with is admitting students from the waiting room into class. While this task is easy at the start of class, it can be a distraction during class, for example with students arriving late or having to reconnect should they face technical difficulties. Presenting and admitting students at the time requires multitasking, and it easy to loose your chain of thought when a student asks to be admitted to your class as you are presenting, or for you to miss the notifications that there is a student wanting to be admitted.

By assigning the Teaching Assistant the role of a co-host, as described below, it is then possible for them to manage this part of the class administration, allowing you to focus on the main part of  of teaching the class. 

Note: While it is possible to disable waiting rooms once the class has started, this may increase scrutiny issues, and for this reasons, the option has been disabled by many universities. 

Resolving Technical Issues

Another role that a Teaching Assistant can be useful for is to assist with technical issues, for example students not being able to connect or having problems with their video equipment. Suggesting to students that they contact the Teaching Assistant for this has benefits on several levels:

  • Remain focused on class activities: First, it enables you to focus on the rest of the class – while it is unlikely that you would be able to resolve issues on-the-fly, being asked to do so can be a awkward distraction, that interrupts the flow of class
  •  Convey that you want to help resolve issues: While it is infeasible to stop the class to de-bug issues, it is dissatisfying to indicate that there is no way that you can help to solve issues either. Having a resource that you can direct students to reduces the feeling that you ‘did not care’ about their issues, or assist them during class. 
  •  Actual resolve issues: Many technical issues can be easily resolved, for example by users trying a different device, restarting their computer, or logging into Zoom on their browser instead of the Zoom app. Having someone who is able to point students in such a direction can help get students back in the class.

Administering breakout rooms

Another task that teaching assistants can help with is administering breakout rooms (i.e., creating and opening them). While this is not a difficult task, getting a Teaching Assistant to be responsible for it can make the transition to breakout rooms smoother, and result in one less thing that you need to be responsible for.

As part of this role, a Teaching Assistant can also re-assign any student who is ‘unassigned’ a room when prior breakout rooms are re-opened. For example, students who arrive later to class after the first breakout room completed, or has had to log-back in between breakout rooms, will be unassigned a room when breakout rooms are reopened: a Teaching Assistant focusing on breakout-rooms, can likely more quickly identify and resolve such issues. 

Sharing material with students during the class

Another task that a teaching assistants are great for assisting with is breakout activity instructions, or links to assignments to students during the class (e.g., via the chat). For example, if you have a breakout room, potentially when you are explaining it, a teaching assistant can copy/pate (or summarize) the activity via chat, so students can refer to it when they have entered the breakout rooms. 

Assessing participation

Just as in-person classes (and depending on your institution’s policies around the roles teaching assistants can perform), you may be able to use Teaching Assistants to summarize class participation, enabling you to focus on delivering class content.

Allowing a Teaching Assistant to administer elements of the class

Many of the tasks completed by a teaching assistant will require them to have ‘host’ privileges: regular students for example cannot see the waiting room, nor admit students into the class. To allow teaching assistant to be able to undertake these features you will need to make them a co-host. To enable this, right click on the participant, click more and then click Make Co-Host.

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