Graduate Teaching Assistants (GATs)

Teaching and learning continuity information

Your contribution to our teaching and learning community is central to the University of Calgary’s mission. Thank you for all you are doing to support student learning!

During this time of rapidly shifting to remote learning, you may have new questions or be seeking resources to address unexpected situations.  This page provides information on some common teaching assistant tasks in a remote learning environment.

Please also see the resources on these pages:

We know that GATs are often the first point of contact for students. During this challenging time, you may become aware of students who need extra support. 

Mental wellness - If you or a student would like to talk to someone who can listen, support, and help focus on learning and wellness, please reach out to the UCalgary resources. Student mental health support is still available at UCalgary through Student Wellness Services and our community partners. Find what’s right for you.

If you suspect that a student or peer may be in crisis, please contact the Student at Risk Team.

Physical wellness - Please ensure that you are taking appropriate precautions for your own physical health (i.e., hand washing, social distancing, etc.), but also try to maintain healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise despite your changing routine. Even just a walk outside in the fresh air is a positive move!  If you do become ill, please let your instructor of record know as soon as possible.

Adjusting to remote learning

Here are some great resources for you and to share with students:

Maintaining communication

Plan for frequent communication with instructor(s) of record and students.

Remember to set appropriate boundaries around your availability for communications – just because you are working online doesn’t mean that you need to respond at all hours.  Discuss appropriate response guidelines with your course instructor and other GATs, i.e., answering emails 3 times a day, responding within 24 hours, etc. Then share that info with students.

  • Use the Announcements function in D2L to keep students updated on essential information. This keeps the most current information at the front of the D2L course shell.
  • Create a FAQ page in D2LOnce you get a sense of what students are unsure or concerned about, start adding information to a FAQ page in the Content area of D2L. Encourage students to check it regularly; they can receive notifications when this information is updated. This is a more effective strategy than responding to numerous emails with the same questions.
  • Hold 1:1 meetings with instructors or students via Zoom (with or without video)Sometimes a short, live conversation can save a flurry of back-and-forth emails.
  • Set up a Zoom meeting
  • Accessing Zoom from D2L

Virtual office hours

Even though you aren’t meeting on campus, you can still hold regular office hours to meet with individuals and/or groups of students.    

Tips and best practices

  • Email students to let them know the specific date and time you will be available online.
  • If possible, be consistent with the days and times you are available for virtual office hours.
  • Consider using the waiting room featureYou can use the waiting room feature in conjunction with your Personal Meeting Room. This will allow you to use the same meeting link for all of your office hour sessions throughout the semester, but to admit only one student at a time into a meeting for privacy. You can still have students sign up for a specific time slot on a calendar or spreadsheet to avoid long wait times. 
  • Log in early. You can mute your mic and camera until you’re ready to begin.
  • You can share documents, screens, or a live whiteboard during a Zoom session.

Other resources for virtual office hours:

Facilitate discussions online

In remote learning courses, the D2L discussion forum can be an important way for students to connect with each other to share and enhance their learning. 


  • Consider including a Virtual Café – a separate Discussion area for more informal, sometimes off-topic social exchanges among students. This helps to humanize the course and encourage questions and advice about important topics like how to be successful in the remote environment. Establish guidelines for appropriate and respectful discussions.
  • Asynchronous discussions provide more flexibility for students and GATs/instructors

Best practices for setting up and facilitating online discussions

  • Clearly communicate with your students about your expectations for online discussions: how many posts are student expected to contribute? Is there any deadline for those posts? How are students graded? 
  • Connect course materials with the design of online discussions prompts or questions. 
  • Ask thought-provoking questions to get students started and encourage students to ask their own questions.

Other resources for online discussions


For courses with labs as a component of the course, please speak with your instructor about the plan for lab work in a remote or online format.

Did you know that many universities are sharing their virtual lab resources?


Alternate forms of assessments

As face-to-face exams will not be held this year, you may be asked to help prepare and assess a variety of other forms of assessment. For sample assignments, links and rubrics, see this list of assessment ideas.

Academic Integrity

Foster appropriate student behaviour by discussing academic integrity with your class and reminding students of their responsibilities for academic integrity.

Fostering consistency in grading

When you are grading as part of a team, there are a number of strategies that can increase the degree of consistency among markers:

  • Develop a rubric (see below), checklist, or common set of criteria with the instructor and other markers before you begin. Discuss how you will all use this tool.
  • Pick 3-5 random papers/exams from a class set and have each person grade them individually.  Then come together (i.e., Set up a Zoom meeting) to compare your grades. These conversations are essential to help calibrate the grading expectations of all markers.
  • If you are grading a set of exams, consider having one person mark the same section for all exams.
  • A more time-consuming but thorough approach is to double score: each paper is graded by two different people who do not see each other’s scores. If the scores are significantly different, then the paper goes to a third marker to make the final assessment.

If all graders are working independently, encourage individuals to set aside idiosyncratic or challenging papers/exams and bring those to a (virtual) meeting for pair/group assessment.

Developing and using rubrics

A rubric is an assessment tool that describes achievement criteria across a range of components and levels. Rubrics can help with grading consistency, accuracy, and speed. They can also be used for peer feedback and self-assessment.

Ideally students are given the rubric ahead of time and can use it to guide their preparation. But it is not too late to work with your instructor and/or fellow GATs to establish rubrics for upcoming assessments. If you create a rubric in D2L, you can also assess in the D2L site or app.

Examples of discipline-specific rubrics you can share and modify.

Practical advice for graduate student markers

If you have questions about how to approach the task of sitting down to mark a set of assignments or exams – anything from setting realistic timelines to limiting bias – check out this guide from Lakehead University.

Audio and video feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the learning process, but not all feedback needs to be written.

Graduate Students Association

If you have questions about your contract or the Graduate Assistant (Teaching) Collective Agreement, please connect with the Graduate Student Association through the above link.

Faculty of Graduate Studies

Please see the updated information and contact options from the Faculty of Graduate Studies.