Never have I had to manage and aid more than 200 students at once. Sure, I have a tutoring background, but that was child’s play in comparison to my online TA course. To be completely frank, the first two weeks were a nightmare. I had never used Blackboard and all communication was done via email, since most of the students lived in other areas of the world. I was given leeway to grade all assignments as I see fit and THIS is where I had the opportunity to lay down the law and make my life as a TA a whole lot easier.
First, since the course was heavily graded on one’s writing abilities, I made an announcement on Blackboard clearly stating what I expected from students in each and every discussion post and/or essay. However you wish to do it, make sure it’s understandable and that it explicitly states what the requirements are. That way, if someone has a question regarding what the requirements are or why they’re receiving a certain grade, you can simply refer them to your announcement.
Then, remind yourself of the requirements you stated while you’re grading. This will keep you consistent and it will also keep you away from unnecessary conflicts with students who may feel your grading is sporadic and unreliable.
Once you are finished grading, you will feel a weight off your shoulder. But not so fast! The never-ending emails start trickling in one by one in to your inbox, where you may feel overwhelmed or nervous that maybe you accidentally messed someone’s grade up. The truth is, you probably will mess up a few grades here and there. This is another instance where Blackboard announcements and communication came in handy. I sent many emails admitting to the students that until I become adept and comfortable with the grading process, I may make mistakes. Apologize and then move on.
But back to the never-ending emails—set a time, whether it is for a few hours on a Saturday or in-between classes, where you answer emails from students, and like with most things, communicate when you will be available via email for your students. This will save you the headache of feeling like you have to constantly be on your phone or laptop answering emails.
Last but certainly not least, we will discuss the one thing we all must deal with: Blackboard. Blackboard can be both extremely helpful and extremely frustrating. There were countless times I had no clue what to do or where to go when it came to grading in Blackboard. But I’ll let you in on a huge secret; the online chat saved me every time. I received the friendliest, most accommodating help with a 100 percent resolution to all of my Blackboard issues. Don’t be shy to ask questions, however menial you think they may be.
And that goes for every aspect of being a TA. When I reached out for help, I in turn became more helpful to my students. We are the mediators, the communicators, the aides and the support for our students. It’s a big job, so do yourself a favor by being clear, being consistent and being curious.