Working in a Remote Learning Environment
This page provides resources and information for TAs working in a remote learning environment including strategies for preparing for your role in supporting Instructors and Students, how to communicate with the Course Instructor to outline their expectations and your roles and responsibilities in the course, and identify key questions to discuss with the Instructor before the course starts.
What is the Difference between Remote Learning and Online Learning?
Remote learning is a temporary solution to facilitating courses during an interruption of face-to-face classes due to crisis circumstances (such as the Covid-19 pandemic). Courses in Summer and Fall 2020 will be offered using the Learning Management System at the University of Manitoba, UM Learn. Remote learning allows instructors to provide continuity in teaching and learning in a way that is quick to set up, reliable, and available to all students, wherever and however they may be learning (e.g. at home, on a mobile device, in various places, and at various times). In the future, once it is safe to do so, the intention would be to return to a variety of course delivery methods including face-to-face, blended, and online learning at the University of Manitoba.
Online learning takes place within a course that has been developed with the intention to be fully online. It takes significant time (often six to nine months) to develop an online course at the University of Manitoba and often involves the support from the Flexible Learning Team at The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. These courses follow online learning design principles, incorporate online teaching strategies, and use appropriate educational technologies.
The Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Memorial University in New Brunswick, Canada, has developed a helpful chart to show the differences between remote and online learning. The chart has been adapted here to focus on items relevant to TAs:
|Delivery of instruction||Asynchronous (i.e. recorded lectures) OR synchronous (i.e. real-time classes in the web conferencing applications).||Primarily asynchronous; some synchronous components.|
|Student preparedness||Students may be less technologically prepared, with access to a mobile device only and limited connectivity in their homes; instructional planning should reflect these limitations.||Students know from the onset that all instruction will happen online, so likely have access to the technology that enables them to actively engage in the learning experience.|
|Learning Management System use||General use of system to communicate with students, relay course content, and administer assessments and grades.||Advanced use of tools and components to facilitate social interaction of class and learning activities.|
|Instructor presence||Mirrors expectations of face-to-face instruction.||Students are expected to be self-directed with regular check-ins by Instructor to monitor progress and provide feedback.|
|Interactions with classmates||Periodic; often instructor initiated.||Interaction is built into learning activities; addition of defined spaces within the learning environment for social interaction.|
To see the full chart, click here: https://blog.citl.mun.ca/instructionalresources/remote-vs-online-instruction/
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Online Learning
Remote learning courses typically rely on asynchronous learning methods to ensure that all students can access the content easily and equally during this time regardless of their schedules or the technology they may have access to at home. Knowing the difference between these two concepts will be helpful to your understanding of working in a remote learning environment.
- Instructors, TAs, and Students engage with the course at different times and from different locations
- Students move through the course at their own pace and schedules based on a sequence of units provide by the Instructor
- Each unit in the course can use assigned readings, uploaded media, quizzes, discussion forums, or other tools within UM Learn to facilitate learning
- The Instructor and TAs guide students through the course, provide feedback, and grade their assignments as needed
- Instructors, TAs, and Students engage with the course content at the same time (but from different locations)
- Instructor interacts with students in real time using tools such as Webex, Zoom, or another platform
- Classes may be “scheduled” weekly, similar to a face-to-face class where students are expected to log on and attend live classes and discussions
Your Role as a TA in Remote Learning
TAs are valuable members of the teaching team in remote learning courses. You may be the first point of contact for students and act as a liaison between the Instructor and the Students. At the University of Manitoba, TAs have a variety of roles and responsibilities depending on their position and the course. It is important to communicate with the Instructor to identify your role, responsibilities, their expectations, and your hours of work. Above all, even though each TA’s role and experience is unique, contributing to a positive learning experience for students is most important!
Some of the roles and responsibilities you may have as a TA in remote learning could include:
- Write and post regular announcements
- Moderate discussion forums and post responses to students
- Grade assignments, quizzes, and tests
- Use rubrics for grading
- Provide written feedback to students and enter grades
- Connect with students who are absent or missing assignments
- Respond to students’ emails
- Host TA office hours online using Webex or Zoom
Your Relationship with the Course Instructor
As with a face-to-face course, you will work closely with the Instructor in remote learning courses. In addition to clarifying your role, responsibilities, and their expectations, it is also important to build a professional relationship with the Instructor. The ideal TA-Instructor relationship is based on collegiality, mutual respect, professionalism, and a commitment to student learning. Establishing good communication is essential in any course, but is especially important in remote learning as you will have to connect with the Instructor via email, Webex, or Zoom rather than being able to connect with them in person. It is a good idea to connect with the Instructor before the course starts to review your role, responsibilities, and their expectations.
Tips for Preparing to be a TA
Here are some general tips and suggestions for preparing to be a TA in remote learning courses:
- Prepare ahead of the term and schedule your time – set aside time to complete your tasks every week and align this with how often you need to log in to UM Learn, attend live lectures (if this is part of the course), etc.
- Take time to review the course in UM Learn – look at the course, read the syllabus, and learn any UM Learn tools that you will need to use
- Learn the course schedule so that you know which content/lessons students are working on each week
- Allot extra time for grading during peak times if needed
- Set up a workstation at home – create a space where distractions (as much as possible) are kept to a minimum. Remember that you work in remote learning course requires just as much care and commitment as it would in a face-to-face course.
TA-Instructor Question Checklist
As a TA, you will need to know what your responsibilities will be in a remote learning course. This checklist of questions to ask the Instructor before the course begins will help you clarify their expectations, your role, and your responsibilities.
There are five areas that you will want to consider talking to the Instructor about:
Roles and Expectations
- What is my role in this course?
- What other responsibilities will I have?
- Am I expected to attend weekly lectures? only if there will be synchronous lectures
- Whom do I contact if I am unable to fulfill my duties (illness, emergency, etc.)?
- How many hours am I expected to spend on the course per week?
- Should I log or keep track of the hours I have worked?
Course and University of Manitoba Policies
- Am I expected to hold virtual, weekly office hours?
- If I assist students during office hours, what kind of assistance should I give? How will I know if I am helping too much or too little?
- What do I need to know about course policies and procedures?
- Are there any other U of M policies I should be familiar with?
- How should concerns about academic dishonesty be addressed?
- What should I do if a student challenges me in the course?
- What is the policy regarding assignment extensions, accommodations, and make-up tests? Whom should students contact about this?
- If a student requests an accommodation for accessibility, what should I do?
- What do I need to know about UM Learn?
- Which tools will I be using in UM Learn? Announcements, Discussions, Gradebook, Rubrics, Quizzes, Dropbox, etc.
- If I am monitoring discussions, how often do I need to check in and make posts?
- Do I need to know how to upload videos, audio, or any other course documents into UM Learn?
- Will I be expected to create or modify any course content in UM Learn?
- Is there any additional software or tools that will be used in this course? If yes, what are they and how do I need to use them?
- What are my grading responsibilities in the course?
- Will I be using rubrics to evaluate students’ work? How do I use Rubrics in UM Learn?
- Where do I enter grades?
- Will students be given the grading criteria for assignments, exams, and class participation?
- Will I need to grade Quizzes in the course, or are they fully automated?
- What is the quality of feedback to be provided to students on assignments, tests, and exams? Should written feedback be provided in each case?
- Should grades be saved in draft form in UM Learn (Gradebook, Rubrics, etc.) so that you can review them before they are posted?
- What is the turnaround time for grading?
- If students have concerns or complaints about grades that have been received, how should these be addressed?
- What are your expectations for my communication with students in the course?
- Will there be an area in the course for students to ask questions? Am I responsible for answering those questions?
- Do you expect regular communication between us via email? How often should we
- Will I be responsible for posting announcements in the course?
- What is a reasonable turnaround time for answering students’ questions and emails?
- If there are other TA’s in the course, am I expected to communicate with them about grading practices and other course matters?
- Will we have any virtual meetings to discuss how things are going during the course?
- What other responsibilities will I have?
- Awong, T. & Kasprzak, M. 2015. University of Toronto. Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Your Relationship with the Course Instructor. Retrieved from: http://tatp.utoronto.ca/teaching-toolkit/first-time-taing/relationship-course-instructor/.
- Braun, R. 2015. University of Calgary. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Graduate Student Teaching Development Guide. Retrieved from: http://ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/resources/graduate-student-teaching/graduate-student-teaching-development-guide.
- Hodges, A., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., and Bond, A. (2020, March 27). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning.
- Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. Purdue University (Fort Wayne). Preparing Guidance for Online Teaching Assistants. https://www.pfw.edu/dotAsset/95590dbc-7703-489e-9933-503cf045ebe1.pdf.
- Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Memorial University. Remote vs. Online Instruction. https://blog.citl.mun.ca/instructionalresources/remote-vs-online-instruction/.
- Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Being a TA in Online Courses. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/teaching-tips-teaching-assistants/being-ta-online-courses.
- Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Keep Teaching: Resources for TAs. https://uwaterloo.ca/keep-learning/resources/ta-resources
- Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Teaching. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/teaching-tips-inclusive-instructional-practices/synchronous-and-asynchronous-online-learning.
- Teaching and Learning Support Service. University of Ottawa. Guide: Fully Online and Blended Courses: A Guide for Teaching Assistants. https://uottawa.saea-tlss.ca/media/attachments/2019/12/12/ta_guide_2015.pdf