UT-Austin teaching assistants face challenges in online environment

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Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

Teaching assistants said they experience challenges with student engagement in online classes, but students now have greater accessibility to them when asking questions. Challenges include connecting with students and giving specific feedback on assignments.  

Gregorio Ponti, Graduate Student Assembly president, said he teaches a class to graduate students on preparing to be a TA. Ponti said TAs are struggling with time management as they try to give students valuable feedback and learn new programs.  

 “Giving specific feedback (online) and trying to get that point across to students is different,” Ponti said. “Learning the new system, using Canvas or Gradescope or whatever instructors use  … I think that's a lot of the time disparities this semester. 

Anthony Collier, law student and undergraduate studies TA, said he doesn’t get to know the students as well with a big class.

“I think that you do lose some of the personality when you're online,” Collier said. “Those (400) students would be speaking for themselves, and they wouldn't have to rely on me from the chat.” 

Aditya Tyagi, graduate student and electrical engineering TA, said he feels like his students do not view him as a resource outside the class.

 

“(They only) see me as a grader who is just giving them feedback through Canvas,” Tyagi said. “They go to class. I'm just someone on the Zoom call. After that, they get their assignments done, and then I give them feedback.” 

Alex Issa, graduate student and electrical engineering TA, said he tries to create a collaborative environment for students. 

“When you talk to me, unmute, turn your camera on,” Issa said. “Let's have a face-to-face conversation. While I think students were resistant to it at first … I think students are more comfortable asking questions.”

Arnold Icaro, graduate student and accounting TA, said the virtual class gives students more accessibility to ask questions in class. 

“I encourage students, if they have questions, to put it in the chat, and then I can answer them,” Icaro said. “I think that's helpful if they don't want to interrupt the professor.” 

Icaro said he was a commuter student from Pflugerville as an undergraduate, and having virtual office hours would have been easier for him to attend.

“I feel like virtual office hours gives students a lot more accessibility,” Icaro said. “(It) gives them more flexibility and more freedom.”