Many of the principles of effective teaching in the classroom also apply in remote teaching. While every TA role is unique, there are topics for remote learning that are relevant to all TAs. To support you in this transition to remote learning, we have developed some resource pages for you on a variety of teaching-related topics. Additional information will be added as content is developed.

Support for TAs and students

Resources from different units, centres, and departments at the University of Manitoba that you can access should you or your students require additional supports in these areas. Many of these resources have been developed to support you and your students during this time and are specific to the current Covid-19 situation. Additional resources from outside the University of Manitoba found in the community have also been provided below.

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning is an academic support unit that provides leadership and expertise in furthering the mission of teaching and learning at the University of Manitoba.

The Centre’s remote teaching support page. Resources and information regarding teaching remotely, creating and adding content on UM Learn, academic integrity, and guides on Cisco Webex.

The Centre’s well-being and support page

The Centre’s teaching assistant ehandbook

Supporting indigenous students

An Indigenous Students Supports webpage has been created and can be accessed here:

This webpage includes information about the following supports available to Indigenous students at U of M during this time that may be relevant to you as a TA or helpful to your students:

  • Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge closure
  • Personal Support – Elders and Counselling
  • Academic Support – Indigenous Student Centre Advisors, Program Coordinators, Academic Learning Centre
  • Faculty-Specific Resources for Indigenous Students
  • Financial Support
  • Indigenous Student Centre Programming – Qualico Bridge to Success, Neechiwaken Indigenous Peer Mentor Program, Blankstein Momentum Program, EmpoweringU Financial Wellness Program, Indigenous Circle of Empowerment (ICE), Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement (SAGE), and Métis Inclusion Programming

Supporting international students

The International Centre on campus has supports available through their International Student Advisors (ISA). Appointments will take place via email or a pre-scheduled Zoom meeting. Students can make an appointment by contacting with their name and student number.

The International Centre webpage can be found here:

Student Accessibility Services

Student Accessibility Services is available to provide supports for students with disabilities through phone, email, and online appointments.

Their webpage provides information about how to book an appointment, how to register with Student Accessibility Services, and additional resources for students and instructors.

Student Accessibility Services webpage:

Additional Resources for Students and Instructors webpage:

Student Counselling Services

Student Counselling Services continues to be available to provide counselling support to students during this time. Only Individual Counselling Services are being offered at this time – groups and workshops have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

Their webpage includes details about additional resources available to students both at the U of M and in the community including 24/7 Crisis Service Providers, Sexual Violence Support, Self-Help Resources, and the Province of Manitoba’s Mental Health Virtual Therapy Program, AbilitiCBT.

Counselling Resources webpage:

Emotional Wellness and Covid-19 webpage:

Academic Learning Centre

The Academic Learning Centre continues to support students during Covid-19. All Academic Learning Centre supports including individual tutoring (in writing, content, study skills), Supplemental Instructions sessions, and workshops will be provided online until further notice.

Academic Learning Centre webpage:

Academic Learning Centre Workshops:

U of M Libraries

The U of M Libraries have a number of services and supports available to help TAs and students during this time. Please visit any of the links below for additional information.

Subject Librarians

Subject librarians can assist in course-based environments in a number of ways. These may include teaching sessions, one-on-one consultations with students, ordering course materials, and creating content (e.g. electronic handouts) related to research and library services. 

Learn at the Libraries

This resource provides information for students on academic writing, how to search the library, evaluating resources, and creating citations. Sections of the website can also be integrated into online courses. 


This is the Libraries’ online chat service. Students, faculty and staff can ask any questions related to research or using the library. The chat is currently staffed Monday – Friday (9:00am-5:00pm). 

Subject Guides 

This resource can be used to find information within a specific subject area. Search the list by Faculty, Department or keyword.

Additional resources outside of the University of Manitoba

West Central Women’s Resource Centre – List of Community Resources Available During Covid-19

Community Resources Available During COVID Pandemic

Working in a remote learning environment

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:

  Remote Fully online
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:

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?

Technical skills

  • 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
  • communicate?
  • 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:  

Braun, R. 2015. University of Calgary. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Graduate Student Teaching Development Guide. Retrieved from:

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.  

Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. Purdue University (Fort Wayne). Preparing Guidance for Online Teaching Assistants.

Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Memorial University. Remote vs. Online Instruction.  

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Being a TA in Online Courses.   

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Keep Teaching: Resources for TAs.  

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Teaching  

Teaching and Learning Support Service. University of Ottawa. Guide: Fully Online and Blended Courses: A Guide for Teaching Assistants.   

Assessment and grading

Resources and information for TAs working in a remote learning environment with regards to assessment and grading. Strategies for grading and providing effective written feedback are outlined below.

Grading in Remote Learning 

As a TA, you will likely have grading responsibilities in remote learning courses. As each of your roles will vary based on your department and the course, it is important to check with the instructor to confirm your grading responsibilities. Some responsibilities may include grading quizzes, papers, and assignments, grading discussion forum posts, and entering grades in UM Learn.  

Some questions to consider asking the Instructor with regards to grading in remote learning courses: 

  • What are my grading responsibilities in the course? 
  • Which tools will I need to use in UM Learn to grade students’ assignments? 
  • Will students be given the assignment and grading criteria for assignments, tests, and class participation? (if Discussion Forums are graded and used) 
  • Are there rubrics that I should use to guide my grading? 
  • Where do I enter grades? 
  • 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? 

Assessments in Remote Learning 

In remote learning courses, some of the assessments that would typically be used in face-to-face courses will be modified. Instructors may choose alternatives to their assessments (such as in-person final exams) that continue to uphold standards of academic integrity. For example, instead of an in-person final exam that is proctored by the TA and the Instructor, students may be required to complete a “take home” or “take away” exam instead.  

Here are some assessment alternatives that may be used in remote learning courses: 

The Centre – Alternative forms of assessment

Western University – Best Advice for Marking Video 

In this video, TAs from Western University share their best advice for marking. Click on the link below to access the video: 

Best Advice for Marking

Grading strategies – before, during, and after 

Having some strategies or best practices to use before, during, and after grading can make grading go more smoothly and make your grading practices more efficient.  

Before grading: 

  • Familiarize yourself with the course syllabus and assignments 
  • Familiarize yourself with policies related to late assignments, academic dishonesty (including plagiarism), and grade appeals – be clear on what to do in these situations 
  • Determine grading criteria – how will students be assessed on their assignments? 
  • Look at assignment guidelines, rubrics, and grade distribution (what constitutes an A, B, C, etc.)  
  • Consider preparing an answer key for assignments
  • Familiarize yourself with any UM Learn tools related to Grading that you will need to use 
  • Ask the Instructor about the quality of written feedback that needs to be provided to students on their work 
  • If you are not the only TA, consider setting up a virtual meeting with other TAs and/or the Instructor if you have questions before you start grading 

During grading: 

  • Grade one question or topic at a time 
  • If you are grading one question at a time, consider shuffling students assignments so that you remove expectations based on order 
  • Make notes while you grade to identify how you handled similar errors 
  • Avoid over-marking – keep your feedback and comments brief and avoid marking every spelling/grammar error. Focusing on major issues related to the grading criteria and/or rubrics will help you stay on track while grading
  • Find excellent, good, adequate, and poor examples to serve as anchors or standards 
  • Set limits on how long you will spend grading each assignment (essay, test, etc.) 
  • Review and perhaps re-mark the first few graded assignments before posting grades to compare your grading standard across assessments 

After grading: 

  • Even though you are working remotely, if you choose to print assignments or are working on a shared computer, make sure that all student assignments and grades are kept in a safe, confidential place 
  • Consider using a locked file or keep physical files in a locked location 
  • Implement at 24-hour wait period before students can contact you to meet virtually about their assignments – This sets a “cooling off” period where they can read feedback and grades carefully 
  • Ensure that you post your grades within the assigned timeframe outlined by the Instructor
  • Consider checking with the Instructor about whether or not they want to check your saved “draft” grades before you post them to students


A rubric is a scoring grid or scale that features a description of various levels of performance on an assignment. They help to identify the required components and grading criteria for students’ assignments. Rubrics help to enhance the consistency, transparency, and fairness for assessing students work, acting as a guide for how students’ work will be assessed and the weight that will be given to various elements of the assignment. Rubrics can be used to evaluate written, oral, or visual work, and can be used with assignments, tests, and class participation.  

Here is a sample rubric from UM Learn that may be used in a remote learning course: 

Criteria Level 5-6 Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1 Level 0 Score & Feedback
Depth of reflection 5 points

Demonstrate a conscious and thorough understanding of the writing prompt and the subject matter. This reflection can be used as an example for other students.
4 points

Demonstrate a thoughtful understanding of the writing prompt and the subject matter.
3 points

Demonstrate a basic understanding of the writing prompt and the subject matter.
2 points

Demonstrate a limited understanding of the writing prompt and subject matter. This reflection needs revision.
1 point

Demonstrate little or no understanding of the writing prompt and subject matter. This reflection needs revision.
0 points

Does not meet requirement.
Use of textual evidence and historical context 5 points

Use specific and convincing examples from the texts studied to support claims in your own writing, making insightful and applicable connections between texts.
4 points

Use relevant examples from the texts studied to support claims in your own writing, making applicable connections between texts.
3 points

Use examples from the text to support most claims in your writing with some connections made between texts.
2 points

Use incomplete or vaguely developed examples to only partially support claims with no connections made between texts.
1 point

No examples from the text are used and claims made in your own writing are unsupported and irrelevant to the topic at hand.
0 points

Does not meet requirement.
Language use 5 points

Use stylistically sophisticated language that is precise and engaging, with notable sense of voice, awareness of audience and purpose, and varied sentence structure.
4 points

Use language that is fluent and original, with evident a sense of voice, awareness of audience and purpose, and the ability to vary sentence structure.
3 points

Use basic but appropriate language, with a basic sense of voice, some awareness of audience and purpose and some attempt to vary sentence structure.
2 points

Use language that is vague or imprecise for the audience or purpose, with little sense of voice, and a limited awareness of how to vary sentence structure.
1 point

Use language that is unsuitable for the audience and purpose, with little or no awareness of sentence structure.
0 points

Does not meet requirement.
Conventions 5 points

Demonstrate control of the conventions with essentially no errors, even with sophisticated language.
4 points

Demonstrate control of the conventions, exhibiting occasional errors only when using sophisticated language.
3 points

Demonstrate partial control of the conventions, exhibiting occasional errors that do not hinder comprehension.
2 points

Demonstrate limited control of the conventions, exhibiting frequent errors that make comprehension difficult.
1 point

Demonstrate little or no control of the conventions, making comprehension almost impossible.
0 points

Does not meet requirement.

For additional information about rubrics, you can consult the following resources: 

Effective written feedback 

Effective written feedback on students’ assignments can help students’ learning in many different ways. In providing written feedback to students on their work, TAs have an opportunity for more personal dialogue. Providing students with effective written feedback helps to reinforce existing strengths, keeps goal-directed behaviour on course, identifies areas for improvement, and increases students’ abilities to detect and remedy errors on their own.  

Effective written feedback requires action by Instructors, TAs, and students – the quality of your feedback is important, but the use of your comments by the students is equally important. In general, written feedback is most helpful and effective when it can be understood, accepted, and acted upon in the near future.  


In order for students to make improvements to their work and achieve better results in the course, the feedback that you provide needs to be understood. 

  • Ensure that your comments are typed out clearly so that students understand your comments. 
  • Make comments very specific – instead of writing “good job” or “great work,” explain what the student did that was “good” or “great.” If something is particularly well done, try to articulate why, so that the student can duplicate the effort in the future. 
  • If parts of a students’ assignment are confusing, try to isolate the point at which it became confusing or unclear to show the student how they can make improvements.  
  • Use words that students understand – very often, words have specific connotations in each discipline, avoid using jargon.  
  • We assume that students know these words, but no one gains if we assume that students understand, when, in fact, they don’t. 
  • Students express concern when comments are ambiguous (“poor effort, could do better”), too abstract (e.g. “lack of critical thinking”), or too general or vague (e.g. “you’ve got the important stuff”), and too cryptic (e.g. “why?”) 
  • Where words fail, an example or model can help students understand the feedback you are providing and how it is intended to help them make improvements.  


For feedback to be accepted by your students, the following points should be considered: 

  • Give students only so many comments as they can work with at any one moment 
  • It can be overwhelming for students to receive too many comments and they may not know where to start – it might be worthwhile to think of improvements in terms of increments  
  • Be encouraging in your feedback – show students what works and what they should use again in future assignments 
  • Never be mean or sarcastic – e.g. “That is ridiculous!” 
  • Strike a balance between positive and negative comments 
  • Do not comment on every error or circle/correct every spelling/grammar error – this can demoralize and overwhelm students and distract them from the major issues in their work 
  • Instead, try to focus on specific things from the assignment criteria and/or rubric that students did well or need to improve upon 

Acted upon 

For feedback to be acted upon, students need to receive feedback that can be incorporated and used within the timeframe of the course. Some considerations for ensuring that the written feedback you provide can be acted upon are as follows: 

  • Make comments future directed – Feedback should not only be backward-looking and a consequence of action, but forward-looking so that students can make improvements 
  • Link comments (and perhaps grades) to student progress – a graduated series of goals for each student make steady improvements possible, regardless of their initial ability to write clearly and effectively. Scaffolding comments can help students gradually improve over time. 
  • Direct comments at the process the student used to create the paper rather than at the specific content of the paper. Comments on the content of the paper have little, if any, future application, but strategies for writing the next paper are useful. 
  • Provide comments in a timely manner for student to act upon them –  check with the Instructor about the expected turnaround time for grading assignments. 
  • Feedback should be provided quickly after the completion of the assignment. Students often do not remember what they wrote, let alone the thought process that led them to their paper. 
  • If necessary, meet with students virtually to review your feedback to ensure that it is understood, accepted, and acted upon for future assignments

Academic integrity in remote learning 

The transition to remote learning has been rapid and it is changing the ways that we teach and support our students. However, academic integrity remains of high importance as we transition to the Summer and Fall terms. Academic integrity is the commitment to upholding the values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage in all scholarly activities (International Centre for Academic Integrity (ICAI)). Academic Integrity is not only a student responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility at U of M.  

As a TA, it is important to be aware of academic integrity policies in the course you are working in and have some awareness of academic integrity at U of M. Here are two important resources to help you learn more about Academic Integrity in Remote Learning: 

UM Learn Tools/Resources 

There are several tools within UM Learn that you may need to use as a TA related to assessment and grading: Grades, Assignments, and Rubrics. The Centre offers workshops on UM Learn tools, but it is best to check with the Instructor if you need to take workshops before enrolling. Here are some important links for UM Learn Support and Workshops: 

Additional Resources for Assessments, Grading, and Feedback 

Here are some additional resources from the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and other Universities that may be helpful for you about assessments, grading, and feedback: 


Davis, B.G. (2009). Tools for Teaching. John Wiley and Sons. 

French, P. Centre for Extended Learning. University of Waterloo. Teaching Online: Basic Skills for TAs.  

Svinicki, M.D. and McKeachie, W.J. (2014). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 

McMaster University, Graduate Student Day Workshop Handout Material,  

Ryerson University, The Learning and Teaching Office. Marking essays and short answer questions. Retrieved from: 

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. University of Manitoba. Assessment Alternatives.   

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. University of Manitoba. Grading with Rubrics.    

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.  University of Manitoba. Promoting Integrity in Online Teaching 

University of Waterloo, Centre for Teaching Excellence. Fast and equitable grading. Retrieved from:  

Vanderbilt University, Centre for Teaching. Grading Student Work. Retrieved from:   

Western University, Teaching Support Centre, Best Advice for Marking Video. Retrieved from:  

Western University, Centre for Teaching and Learning, Grading with Rubrics.  

Western University, Teaching Support Centre, Marking Practices. Retrieved from:  

Communication and student engagement in remote learning

Resources and information for TAs working in a remote learning environment with regards to communication and student engagement. Strategies for communicating with students effectively via email, in discussion forums, and through virtual office hours are outlined below.

Communication in remote learning courses 

Communicating effectively in remote learning courses is critical to the success of the course. Remote learning can feel isolating for students, especially in the current situation during Covid-19. Remote learning can also feel daunting for students, especially for those who are unfamiliar with remote and/or online learning. The goal in face-to-face communication is the same as online communication: to bond, to share information, to be heard, and to be understood. Effective, consistent communication has to occur in remote learning courses in order to create a sense of community among the Instructor, TAs, and students. It is important to create an engaging, positive learning environment where students feel connected and supported.  

There are many ways that you will communicate with the instructor and students in the course including through email, announcements, and discussion forums in UM Learn. Whatever your role is in the course as a TA or Grader/Marker, find ways to let students know you are there and available to help them and guide them through their remote learning courses. 

General guidelines for communication 

There are some general guidelines for communication (whether you are communicating via email, announcements, virtual office hours, or in discussion forums) that can help make online communication go smoothly. Online communication can be challenging – there is no body language, tone, or facial expressions to guide communication, only written words (except when we are using videos or technology to virtual office hours). 

  • Less is more – Communicate efficiently – Students are more likely to read shorter, concise announcements, emails, and discussion posts. 
  • Be clear – Communicate clearly – Include relevant details only – For example, if you are sharing information about a specific assignment and deadlines, keep the communication focused on that topic. 
  • Know your audience – Your students are diverse and will come from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and knowledge levels. Keep that in mind when you are drafting communication that they will read. 
  • Words matter – The tone of your communication comes through in the words you use, punctuation, and the order of information. Choosing what you say carefully and how you write will affect how students perceive and take in communication.  
  • Straight talk – Avoid using acronyms or slang terms unless you are certain students will know what you are referring to so that they understand clearly. 
  • Be open to questions – Encourage students to reach out and ask if they need clarification from you. 
  • Make communication personalized – Students want to feel connected to the Instructor and to you, as the TA. Communicate in a way that demonstrates respect and acknowledges that students are people, too. Use students’ names consistently and use the pronouns they identify (e.g. he, she, they). 
  • Introduce yourself – If the instructor allows it, consider posting a brief introduction in the course so they can get to know you before the course starts. 
  • “Ask the TA” discussion forum – Check with the Instructor if this is something they would like to implement for their course. Remember that responding to this board would be part of your hours of work. But, this is the ideal place for students to ask questions about course content or assessments. All students would benefit and could check the forum, even if they do not ask questions themselves. It could also reduce email volumes and keep emails for more private concerns like grades and accommodations.  

Communicating via email 

Communicating with students via email may be part of your role as a TA, but it is important to remember that just because you are working remotely, this does not mean you have to be available 2/47 to respond to emails. You should discuss and clarify appropriate response guidelines and timelines with the Instructor. For example: 

  • How often should you check emails? Once a day? 
  • When can students expect a response from you? For example, within 48 hours (including/excluding weekends)? 

Once you have discussed this with the Instructor, make sure that students know when they can contact you and when they can expect a response. You can consider adding an automated response to your email so that students know when they can expect a reply.  

**Remember to use your U of M email address ( when communicating with students and encourage them to do the same to ensure that you receive their emails.** 


Netiquette, like etiquette, is using correct or acceptable ways to communicate online. You can think of it is as a code of conduct for online communication used in an academic or professional setting. It includes topics such as respectful behaviour, appropriate language, seeking clarification, and acknowledging others’ privacy.  

Here are some “netiquette” tips for communicating in remote learning courses: 

  • Avoid dealing with numerous topics in one email unless absolutely necessary. This helps to keep the communication clear and focused on the main topic.  
  • If it is necessary to cover multiple items in one email, consider using a numbered list to keep track of your responses to all of the students’ questions 
  • Avoid emotionally charged emails. It is possible that you will have to respond to students who are upset and you may have to write emails that deal with sensitive topics. Sometimes emotions surface even if we have the opportunity to reflect on the message. 
  • Ask yourself: “Would I say this out loud? Is this how I would speak with someone face-to-face?” – This may help you re-phrase communication that is emotionally charged before it is posted online or sent via email.
  • Try to maintain a positive, or at least neutral tone in your response. This will help you convey a clear message to the student in a polite and respectful way. 
  • Check grammar, spelling, and punctuation – minor mistakes are okay, but communication should be proofread carefully. 
  • Use full sentences to maintain professional communication. 
  • To emphasize something, use asterisks* instead of capital letters as capital letters can look like “yelling” online. 
  • Keep Underline and Italics to a minimum. Not all email applications recognize these features. If you need to use them, do so sparingly.
  • To maintain privacy, ask permission before forwarding any personal communication. 
  • Do not modify the content of an email that you may forward to the Instructor. However, if need be, you can copy and paste an excerpt.  
  • If you cannot respond to a student within the timeframe you indicated – acknowledge the students’ email and indicate when you will respond. Acknowledging their email shows students that they are not being ignored and that they will receive a reply. This will also discourage students from sending multiple emails.

Virtual office hours 

Many TAs hold office hours with students in face-to-face courses to help students and answer questions about course content and assignments. However, it is still possible to hold office hours virtually to support students in remote learning courses. Find out from the Instructor if you will need to hold virtual office hours and how often you should hold these hours.  

You can set up your office hours in UM Learn using Webex Meetings or use another platform, like Zoom. Students can sign up for a specific time slot in a calendar in Webex or you can use a spreadsheet to avoid double-bookings. These one-on-one meetings help encourage contact between you and the students in the course which can have a positive impact on student motivation and involvement in remote learning courses. Hosting office hours virtually can also be more time efficient than sending multiple emails and can eliminate any misunderstandings or confusion from written communication.  

You can post an announcement in UM Learn or send an email to let students know when you will be available for office hours each week. Set specific days and times for those hours and try to be consistent in maintaining them. Provide students with basic instructions on how to access the meeting using Webex or Zoom.   

As the TA, some preparation is needed before holding office hours, just as you would prepare for face-to-face office hours. Some of this preparation may include reviewing assignments, feedback, and students’ questions, as well as familiarizing yourself with the technology you will be using to hold the meeting. Reviewing the relevant course material will ensure that you can provide detailed feedback and discuss relevant topics efficiently and clearly. During the meeting, provide guidance to students to help them make improvements or find the right answer on their own. Giving students the right answer does not benefit their learning and does not help them make improvements on future assignments. You can check with the Instructor about how much help and guidance is appropriate in the context of the course.   

For more tips and suggestions about holding virtual office hours, you can consult the following resources: 

Discussion forums 

Discussion forums, also known as the discussion board or message board, are one of the most popular features in online and remote learning courses. They are a place where students can interact with one another whenever they want (24/7) and also where they can interact with TAs and the Instructor. Discussion forums enable students to share, debate, offer ideas, and share insights, suggestions, and information to stimulate the learning process. Discussion forums help encourage critical and creative thinking, supporting students in their own reflection on course content and the questions they may have. Through dialogue with peers, TAs, and the Instructor, deeper learning is promoted and students attain better retention of course content.  

Moderating discussion forums 

As a TA, you may be asked to moderate discussion forums and engage with students using this tool in UM Learn. Here are some best practices for moderating discussion forums: 

  • Check discussion forums regularly – if students have to respond to a question/prompt weekly, ensure that you are checking their posts regularly 
  • Use your presence to encourage discussion, not dominate it. 
  • Encourage student-to-student interaction by referring to content, ideas, and questions from other students’ posts 
  • Facilitate meaningful discussions by asking good questions, making connections, and responding to a variety of students 
  • Model good “netiquette” by being polite, respectful, and encouraging 
  • Thank students for relevant contributions – acknowledge when students make a valuable contribution as it will encourage them to keep posting. 
  • Encourage students who may not post frequently, but who make an effort. Students may not be comfortable contributing online, but a “nudge” of encouragement can help them overcome shyness 
  • Prevention is better than censorship – if a student posts something disrespectful or inappropriate, but the Instructor has given you permission to moderate the forum, give students a warning, rather than removing the post. 
  • However, if things escalate, contact the Instructor. 
  • If you have to remove a post, the student can be contacted directly to discuss respectful communication guidelines. 
  • Know when it is time to stop responding to posts/end a discussion – if there are weekly or bi-weekly posts with a deadline set by the instructor, when time is up, take steps to ensure that the discussion stops and students move on to the next topic.  

Engaging students in discussions 

To engage students in discussions, it is important to have good questioning skills. It is important to know how to ask good questions to keep discussions lively and ongoing. Asking good questions can help students think critically, be more creative in their responses, help students find solutions, and consider different perspectives. When questions are used to stimulate learning, students can make connections to their previous knowledge and experience, engage with their peers, retain information, and apply course concepts.  

This resource from the University of Waterloo provides a list of six types of questions that may be helpful for discussion forums: Six Types of Questions  

Addressing potential issues in discussion forums 

Sometimes, issues can arise in the discussion forum. Being informed of potential challenges can help you moderate and manage the discussion forum effectively as a TA. The chart below identifies some common issues in discussion forums and provides a few potential solutions. 

Common Issues  Solutions 
Conflict in the Discussion  Maintain an active presence in the discussion Post a reminder about respectful communication/discussion guidelines Explain why diverse opinions and perspectives are valuable 
Personal Attacks/Bullying  Active intervention – contact the Instructor to determine next steps If you are to address the issue, email the student individually to discuss respectful communication/discussion guidelines Post a reminder about respectful communication/discussion guidelines 
Lack of Participation  Highlight posts of students who do not post often as good examples Provide students with positive feedback when they do post If a student continues to be inactive, bring it to the attention of the Instructor.  
Off-Topic Discussions  Monitor the discussion regularly Ask questions related to the original topic to get back on track Remind students that the discussion should be focused on the opening prompt/question 
Weak Posts (e.g. “I agree,” “nice post!”) 

Ask the Instructor to provide a sample, high quality post so students know what is expected If discussions are graded, remind students of post expectations and guidelines Ask a student a probing question to encourage them to respond in more detail 

Adapted from: Sull, Errol Craig. Faculty Focus. September 2012. Tips for Overcoming Discussion Board Challenges. 

UM Learn Resources/Tools 

There are resources available to you to assist you in using the UM Learn tools associated with communication in remote learning courses including Announcements, Class List and Email, and Discussions. 

To access the Support Documentation for these tools, please make sure that you are logged in to UM Learn and then click the following link:

UM Learn Support Documentation – Communication


Mitchell-Holder, S. “Chapter 3: Let’s Talk: Effectively Communicating with your Online Students.” Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning. Ed. W. Kilgore.  

Sull, Errol Craig. Faculty Focus. September 2012. Tips for Overcoming Discussion Board Challenges.  

Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. Purdue University (Fort Wayne). Preparing Guidance for Online Teaching Assistants.

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Asking Questions: Six Types.  

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Being a TA in Online Courses.

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Collaborative Online Learning: Fostering Effective Discussions.    

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Holding Virtual Office Hours Using Bongo and Webex.  

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Keep Teaching: Resources for TAs.  

Centre for Teaching Excellence. University of Waterloo. Online Discussions: Tips for Students.  

Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. University of Calgary. Graduate Teaching Assistants: Teaching and Learning Continuity Information.  

Teaching and Learning Support Service. University of Ottawa. Guide: Fully Online and Blended Courses: A Guide for Teaching Assistants.  

The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. University of Manitoba. Using Cisco Webex to Offer Office Hours.  

The HUB. Learning Online Course. University of Manitoba, UM Learn.