Remote Teaching Assistants

Last Updated: September 1, 2020 - 1:44 pm

Northwestern has resources to help faculty and students work remotely. This article contains general recommendations and resources to help you modify your teaching to work in an online format while achieving your planned learning objectives. It also connects you to tools that allow you to continue facilitating courses via Canvas and other online tools

The University continues to update the Coronavirus/COVID-19 frequently asked questions (FAQ). To access answers related to school-specific questions and resources, teaching remotely, academic issues for faculty, and more, you can review the Academics section of the FAQ. You can also refer to the College and Schools Coronavirus Websites. Visit the Libraries website for updates on their services as well as resources for remote research, teaching, and learning. The Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching also offers support resources for faculty and teaching assistance on their website.

Review Expectations

Familiarize Yourself with Canvas Roles and Permissions and Any Other Necessary Tools

As a Teaching Assistant (TA), you have permissions equivalent to the Instructor role in Canvas, including all course-level permissions, such as the ability to add, edit, and delete all content in a course; edit course settings; and manually add individuals with active Canvas user accounts. You are encouraged to become comfortable with navigating all basic Canvas tools and features. Online guides for getting started with Canvas are available as well as ongoing virtual workshops

Please sign-up for ongoing workshops and training with Teaching & Learning Technologies,  as well as those offered through the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching, the University Libraries, and the School of Professional Studies. Please refer to the Canvas Learning Center for in-depth information on Canvas.

Learn about support from the Center for Leadership, including a Teamwork Assessment that helps students apply research-based best practices, provides anonymous peer feedback during the project, and rates each student’s teamwork performance. For advice about teamwork or to use the assessment, contact the Center for Leadership at


Figure Out the Logistics 

Check-in with your instructor to figure out the course logistics, including your individual and shared responsibilities, such as adding content to the Canvas site, leading discussion sections, monitoring the discussion board, grading, etc. You should also agree on communication methods between yourselves and with students. Will you copy the instructor on messages to students?  How should you plan to communicate with each other if there is more than one TA per class? 

Additionally, you and your instructor should agree on the amount of time you should be spending in the course site, including any fixed or recurring deadlines and expected turnaround time for grading tasks.  

As a best practice, be sure to prominently display your contact information and virtual office hours on the syllabus and in the Canvas course site.

Teaching Remotely

Communicate Through Announcements 

When communicating with students through Announcements, consider sharing a friendly welcome, a weekly wrap-up, an accolade, a news article, a Canvas tip, or a reminder of an upcoming deadline. These can be written, video, or audio announcements. Be sure to include a text equivalent (transcript, captions, etc.) on any recorded announcements. 

Participate in Remote Class Sessions  

You can help support an instructor in a class session using videoconferencing tools by:  

  • Muting participant microphones to reduce feedback  
  • Monitoring the chat feature 
  • Organizing the breakout rooms and returning the groups to the larger class
  • Managing waiting rooms as directed by faculty 
  • Sharing their screen to display slides, desktop, or whiteboard features 

 You can also lead your own remote class sessions by presenting content, guiding discussions, facilitating activities and study sessions, and fielding questions. 

Keep Discussions Active  

If leading weekly discussions, plan to actively engage students by asking questions using Zoom breakout rooms, supporting dissenting opinions, and encouraging civil discourse. In addition to facilitating discussions, monitor discussion boards regularly to keep an eye on ongoing or weekly discussions. Ideally, you will summarize questions and challenges for the instructor on a regular basis.  

Assess Student Learning  

Assessment of student learning should be discussed with the instructor, preferably before the course begins. There should be a clear understanding of the timeline for assignments, feedback, and grading. Depending on the type of course, you may be expected to give detailed written or oral feedback, or to grade technical or numerical work. Instructors should follow the same practices for involving you in grading as they would in a face-to-face course. What are the expectations for feedback content, tone, and length? Is a rubric being used to assess student work? How will grading be consistent across multiple graders? 

Host Classes or Discussion Sessions Virtually Through Zoom

Schedule virtual meetings through Zoom, which is available in Canvas. For more information on getting started with Zoom, visit the Canvas Learning Center

With just a bit of planning, you can use videoconferencing to carry out your usual section activities remotely.  

  • Finalize your lesson plan as usual.
  • Identify the Zoom settings that will allow you to carry out each portion of your plan.
  • Communicate with your students about how you will use Zoom.
    • Post an Announcement in your course notifying students of the date and time of the meeting; let them know they can access the meeting through the Zoom tab in your Canvas course.
  • Test the Zoom platform at least 24 hours before the first section you plan to lead remotely.  
  • Record the meeting for students who are not able to attend. Recording options are available both when scheduling the meeting in Canvas and during the session.  


Make Contact Information Clear for Students

It’s important that students are aware of the best way to contact you and understand the way you will communicate with them. Consider including the following on the syllabus and in Canvas: 

  • Name – How do you like to be addressed? 
  • Pronouns 
  • Email – Include how quickly you will respond to student email and Canvas messages.
  • Phone – You may choose whether or not to include your phone number. What hours are you available to speak on the phone? Can students text you? If so, how quickly will you respond? 
  • Office Hours – Are you available to speak with students upon request, or will you hold regular drop-in hours each week via videoconference? 
  • Synchronous Meetings – Will you hold any sync sessions during the quarter? 
  • Biography – Compose a short professional biography that introduces you to the students in your course in an approachable way. Describe your roles and responsibilities as a teaching assistant so that students feel comfortable coming to you with questions and value your feedback on assignments. You may also consider including comments on your teaching philosophy. This statement could be delivered as an infographic, audio recording, or video message.