TA Online

Adjusting to Remote Teaching and Learning

The sudden transition of courses to a remote context in early 2020 has presented unique and unprecedented challenges to instructors, course designers and students. Extra care is required when sharing course materials, managing expectations, and facilitating learning activities. Practice makes perfect, and instructors should plan to learn and refine their strategies as they get more comfortable with online pedagogies.

TA's will need to work with instructors and course managers to determine the most effective ways to transition their TA responsibilities into an online context. A variety of factors can inform these decisions, including technological comfort level and careful consideration of the variety of conditions and environments students may be working from. TA's should investigate adjusting meeting hours and deadlines to accommodate students spread across a variety of time zones. Brainstorm ways that students can build organic, informal interactions to fill in the gap left by classroom chatter.

Online Office Hours and Mentorship

Since TA’s and students are no longer guaranteed to be geographically co-located, it’s recommended that you introduce flexibility into how and when you hold Office Hours and meet with students in a one-on-one context. Consider providing both asynchronous (such as text-based discussions in Canvas) or synchronous (like video or voice chat) channels to ensure that your students are comfortable when they meet with you.

Synchronous Course Sessions

Zoom is the primary videoconferencing tool at HMS for synchronous interactions during courses, meetings, discussion groups or labs. TA’s should familiarize themselves with the details of breakout groups, screen-sharing, collaborative document editing and real-time whiteboarding to facilitate this work. Be mindful of the limitations of students internet access, bandwidth, and equipment, and adapt your strategies to fit your students’ needs.

Set explicit expectations with students about synchronous session participation. Set aside time to periodically revisit those protocols to ensure that students feel enabled to ask questions, submit comments and ideas, and contribute to the discussion. It’s highly recommended to test and familiarize yourself with tools ahead of time, and to designate a “Zoom Ambassador” to handle minor technical issues that participants may encounter in order to minimize disruptions.

Asynchronous Engagement

A key difference in online learning is the amount of work that takes place outside of a synchronous context, either individually or in small groups. For students in time-shifted locations, this can be advantageous.

Helping to structure this asynchronous, outside-the-classroom time can help students maximize their time outside of synchronous classes. Online activities and lightweight collaboration / discussion tools can help students engage with each other and with course content..

Connectivity Matters

Be aware and mindful of your learners’ connectivity, and have a plan ready to help those with unreliable internet access to stay connected to course materials. Use online survey platforms like Qualtrics to create a survey or questionnaire and use it regularly to check in with learners. Students with persistent connectivity problems may require special accommodations like fallback text-based explainers.

Keep Students Actively Engaged

Work with instructors to design and execute activities to generate and maintain student interest during synchronous sessions. Interactivity will encourage student participation and reduce “Zoom fatigue.”

Encourage Student Feedback

Check in often with students to create a comfortability with back-and-forth, lightweight communications. Make sure that students know how best to raise their concerns or submit their comments or questions.

During synchronous sessions, take encourage learners to make use of features like Zoom’s “hand-raising” feature or reaction emoji. Try creating and sharing Zoom polls to quickly take the class’ temperature, or create a more fully-featured interactive experience with a live, interactive Poll Everywhere poll that shows learners’ responses in real-time.

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