What is it?
Your primary role as a TA is to facilitate student learning. Though learning may look different during periods of remote instruction, you continue to play a key role in the learning process. Moreover, it is essential that TAs work with instructors to create an inclusive and equitable learning environment. To do this effectively, TAs and instructors need to understand the pedagogical, socioeconomic, and social-emotional barriers that may hinder student learning and take action to minimize the consequences of these barriers.
Why is it important?
UC Davis is committed to providing a high quality education for all students. We enact this mission by using inclusive and equitable teaching practices in our remote, online, and face-to-face classes. The UC Davis Principles of Community and To Boldly Go strategic plan emphasize that we “embrace diversity, practice inclusive excellence and strive for equity. (We) make UC Davis a place of excellence for learning and working by supporting a culture that values the contributions and aspirations of all our students, staff and faculty; promotes wellness and a culture of sustainability; and cultivates the open interchange of ideas.”
How to do it?
As a TA, you may be asked to lead online discussion sections or labs. You will also communicate with students regularly, likely using a combination of email, Canvas announcements or discussion board posts, and video conferencing. Here are some strategies you can use to promote equity and inclusion as you go about your duties as a TA:
- 1. Get to know your students.
- Whether you are teaching face-to-face or remotely, instructors and TAs need to understand who their students are and what knowledge, skills, and academic background they bring to our classes. You may want to survey students in your sections or have them write a letter of introduction so that you can get to know them better. It may be helpful to provide them with prompts or questions you would like them to address in the letter (e.g., why are you taking the class, what additional responsibilities or commitments do they have). In addition to learning more about why they are taking the class and what they hope to get out of it, it is also important to know and understand how many of your students may be working part-time or full-time, have families, identify as first-generation college students, etc.
- 2. Know which technological tools students can access.
The instructor of record may have already conducted a pre-class survey regarding technology access. If so, ask them to share. If not, you may want to poll the students in your sections. Then, as you plan your discussion sections or labs, adapt your teaching to be inclusive of the tools that students have access to so that all students can equally participate in the learning process. Stanford's (2020) "Bandwidth Immediacy Matrix" asks instructors to consider how connectivity and responsiveness factor into the remote learning experiences.
- 3. Provide course materials in multiple modalities.
Though the instructor will probably be planning most of the course, you may choose (or be asked) to assign supplemental media or material for your sections. Whenever possible, provide students with these course materials in multiple modalities. For example, give students the option of watching a Ted Talk or reading the text transcript.
- 4. Have students generate community norms or agreements.
This is especially useful if you are going to be leading discussion sections where you might discuss controversial or contentious issues. You can help minimize many classroom conduct issues by taking time early in the quarter to generate Community Agreements (see page 4). Since online learning will be new for many students, it is especially important to generate community agreements around expectations for video conferencing, online chats, and discussion forums.
- 5. Work to create a remote instruction experience based on the principle of “high structure with a high level of support.”
- “High structure” means providing students with clear instructions, deadlines, and expectations. Students should always know what they are expected to do, when to do it, and how to do it. A “high level of support” means that instructors and TAs are consistently available to address questions, concerns, and/or misunderstandings. It may be helpful to develop and maintain a consistent structure for your weekly discussion or lab sections so that students can focus on content rather than navigating changes in structure. In addition to answering questions during online labs or discussion sections, you can provide additional support by offering online office hours via Zoom, devoting time to answering email questions, and/or having a “Course Q&A” thread on the discussion forum.
- 6. Review course elements and instructions for clarity.
As a TA, you might offer to review the instructor’s course documents, instructions, and/or assignment guidelines before they are shared with students. Similarly, you might ask the instructor or another TA to review your documents and instructions before you share them with students. Clarity is more important than ever in a remote or online class. You want to use simple language and avoid idioms and colloquialisms.
- 7. Provide clear guidelines for due dates and grading policies.
Let students know how and when they will receive feedback on course assignments and exams. Let them know how you will be evaluating their work and then apply these criteria to all students. You will likely need to collaborate with the instructor of record in making these decisions and communicating them to students.
- 8. Be deliberate when designing group work.
- It is important to provide clear expectations and structure around group work to ensure equal opportunities for participation. For example, if you have students work in breakout rooms in Zoom during a discussion section, you might assign one student to be the “notetaker,” one to the be the “presenter,” one to be the “researcher,” and one to the be “fact checker.” This way everyone knows their role. You can then rotate roles the next time they work in groups.
- 9. Watch your language.
For example, use gender-neutral terms when possible (e.g., “everyone” or “folks” instead of “you guys”). Avoid examples that may unintentionally reproduce stereotypes.
- 10. Communicate to your students that you value diversity.
The UC Davis Principles of Community can provide aspirational and inclusive language to help frame and communicate your values. Most TAs will not select course materials, but if you are in a position to select course readings, work to include content from multiple perspectives, including historically underrepresented voices. You can also show that you value diversity by using inclusive and multicultural examples in discussion or labs.