Faculty, Teaching Assistants, and the Brave OnLine World

Let's say that better integration of lectures and discussion sections was already on your radar. Maybe even on your pre-coronavirus agenda for Spring. What now?

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Will you ever see your TAs? How will you teach them tools you’re just learning for yourself? And a strike? What would a picket line of absent grad students on an empty campus mean?

Many (most?) of the faculty members came up through a system that cast TAs as apprentices. Coronavirus gives us permission to walk away from the guild system. We don’t have to be masters. It’s OK to admit we aren’t expert--hell, we aren’t even comfortable--teaching online. We can use this disruption to create a more collaborative workspace among faculty and TAs. Some of our TAs may well have taken online classes—and so have informed opinions about what works, and what doesn’t. They’re also more likely to hear directly from students about how the class is going. Our TAs have 220 hours to contribute to our classes. In the absence of actual discussion sections, they might: facilitate breakout sessions in a live Zoom session; provide detailed feedback on group projects; take turns providing detailed feedback on selected writing assignments; develop videos, animations, annotated images, voice-overs of document/text analysis, or other course materials; or record lecture segments.

The current changes, unfortunate as they are, provide an opportunity to develop new kinds of teamwork on a teaching staff. Don't be afraid to ask your TAs what they bring to the virtual table.

Laura Mitchell
Director of Pedagogical Development in the School of Humanities