Friday, April 25, 2014

One of the secret ingredients in online courses: TAs!

I’ve just spent the morning thinking about Teaching Assistant (TA) roles for a large online course that I am designing and I thought I would take a moment to share.  It's a second year university course and I have a vision to dseign it such that it can be effective with large enrollment numbers between 200 and 1000 learners.  It's not a MOOC per se, it's just a large online course.

One of the secret ingredients that I will design into the mix is specialized TA roles so I am trying to develop a useful models for segmenting the TA cadre into different roles to provide a range of learner supports that complements the role of the senior instructor.  This will also be a customized model that is tailored to this particular course's subject matter as well.

If we think of student-to-(instructor/TA) interaction from a service perspective, these are some of the the tasks that TAs can contribute to:
  1. TAs can mark student deliverables and provide written feedback on deliverables to students
  2. TAs can monitor the Q&A discussion forum, and be active by asking and answering questions (this can help promote student engagement)
  3. TAs can conduct optional Q&A sessions in a synchronous web-mediated fashion (like online office hours - this can help promote student engagement with students who have a preference for synchronous interaction)
  4. TAs can contribute to a social media stream for the online course. The course can have a twitter account, announcements and motivating tweets (such as announcing a cool solution to a particular problem that has been just posted on the discussion forum, or a current event in the field, etc) could be made by TAs.
  5. TAs could perform other tasks that are specific to the particular course design? (to be determined?)
The pool of available TAs can be ‘triaged’, depending on their skills and experience, into the role that best fits them.  Also, some TAs can be assigned more than one role as long as the work balance falls into the allotted number of hours for their effort over the term.  Naturally, TAs will require a solid training experience before the course starts so all the concurrent activities can be synchronized and all the expectations can be aligned.

Do you have any useful models for various role definitions for TAs in Online Courses?  Also, do you have any training guides developed specifically for TAs in online courses?   Leave a comment below and let's help each other out.