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Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Working With Graduate Assistants (Teaching)

By Sreyasi Biswas, Patrick Kelly, Brenda McDermott, Roxanne Ross, Johanne Tottle and Alysia Wright

Graduate assistants teaching (GATs) are invaluable members of your teaching team and you can work with them to increase access and stability during times of disruption. Consider the following information when you find yourself responding to disruptions in your course.

Potential roles and responsibilities for GATs

GATs can help create and organize course content such as:

  • Pre-recorded videos, podcasts, and other multimedia materials
  • Adaptable problem sets for laboratory and theory courses
  • Finishing touches on online learning modules
  • Organizing and maintaining course content in D2L
  • Clarifying instructions for asynchronous work and posting them in relevant areas

GATs can be responsible for supporting virtual and blended class sessions by:

  • Leading discussions on Zoom
  • Answering questions in the chat and bringing up common questions and issues for whole class discussion
  • Visiting breakout rooms to answer questions and gauge progress on group work

GATs can hold virtual office hours and virtual help sessions. Their responsibilities can include:

  • Providing support for students who are unable to come to class
  • Keeping track of students who have made alternate arrangements to complete their course work
  • Adjusting deadlines on assignments for students with sanctioned absences (with instructor permission)

Discuss the protocol for disruption of face-to-face sessions in advance with GATs who lead labs. Some examples to ensure continuity in lab sessions may include:

  • Students working independently or with a virtual lab partner who will zoom into the meeting
  • The GATs can share a video of the experiment and/or the data that was produced and have students work from the data rather than doing the experiment themselves
  • Lab sessions can then be used to discuss the experiments, have students ask questions about the experiments, and/or to run advanced data analysis using the data provided to them.

GATs can help with grading by:

  • Using available technology platforms for collecting and returning student work
  • Making sure all assignments are available online
  • Monitoring progress of students through D2L

​​​​​​GATs can act as technology support in the classroom by:

  • Setting up course D2L shells
  • Scheduling Zoom sessions for synchronous online sessions
  • Monitoring Zoom chat rooms
  • Handling logistical elements of hybrid or online synchronous class sessions, such as troubleshooting technical issues with students

GATs can be responsible for maintaining consistent communication with students by:

  • Sending out weekly course emails
  • Responding to student emails and queries
  • Flagging students who need additional support

For instructors

If you are an instructor who works with GATs and/or other members of a teaching team, plan ahead for absences that will affect your course. 


Communicate and meet regularly

Contact your GAT and/or other members of your teaching team (co-instructor or grader) before the course starts. Meet regularly with your teaching team and extend care and support to all members of the team.

Identify ways in which the GAT will participate

Identify and discuss the aspects of the course in which the GAT (or a member of your teaching team) will participate (e.g., facilitate classroom discussions, help facilitate online breakout rooms, schedule and monitor Zoom meetings, communicate regularly with students, etc.).

Discuss plans for ensuring access

Discuss your plans for ensuring student access to learning during times of disruption. Identify aspects of this plan in which the GAT (or a member of your teaching team) can help with moving course content and activities online, facilitating Zoom meetings, communicating with students and online grading.

Plan ahead for absences

Discuss disruptions and changes with your department head and/or associate dean (teaching & learning), and make arrangements to support student learning in the meantime.

Refer team members who are sick or self-isolating to Staff Wellness or UCalgary Student Wellness Services and inform students of any changes to the course schedule, such as converting in-person learning to online or blended delivery.

For graduate assistants (teaching)

If you are a GAT, use this checklist to help you work with instructors. Make sure to read the course outline and the syllabus in detail, and familiarize yourself with the course policies.

Before the start of the course

  • Make contact with your instructor. Introduce yourself.
  • Share a little bit about yourself, your previous experience as a GAT (if any) and your goals for this GAT assignment. 
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss the course outline and expectations of the instructor from you.
  • Discuss the aspects of the course in which you as a GAT will participate (e.g., facilitate classroom discussions, help facilitate online breakout rooms, schedule and monitor zoom meetings, communicate regularly with students, etc.).

During the course

  • Set up regular meetings with the instructor to discuss course progress.
  • Monitor student progress.
  • Flag students who need additional support.
  • Maintain open communication with the instructor and your students.

After the course

  • If you feel safe and able, ask for feedback from students about:
    • What types of support were most helpful for them?
    • What type of interactions with you they appreciated?
    • What would they like to see most from GATs in future courses?
  • If you feel safe and able, ask for feedback from instructors about:
    • What did they find most beneficial about having a GAT?
    • What did you do well throughout the course?
    • What are your areas of growth for future GAT appointments?
  • You can use this feedback in future applications for teaching positions, assistantships, scholarship and grant funding and awards.

Related content 

Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Instructor Strategies


Increasing Access During Times of Disruption: Supporting Students During Absences