While the Flexible Teaching website provides key information that will help teaching assistants prepare for the spring semester, the main audience is Duke instructors of record. Organized by major topics relevant to TAs that are preparing to be members of instructional staff this academic year, this guide is designed to be a resource to directly address your concerns for online, hybrid and face-to-face classrooms. 

The Graduate School has partnered with Learning Innovation to create graduate student specific training resources. If you are interested in accessing these resources, which include online teaching skills workshops, you can send us a request to be added to the Graduate Student Sakai site by emailing learninginnovation@duke.edu.

How To Use This Guide

This Teaching Assistant’s Guide to Flexible Teaching covers topics based on the major tasks you will likely be asked to complete as part of your instructional duties. You are welcome to visit these topics in order or skip around based on your individual needs. Many of these topics include resources and links for you to receive further aid and information.

Topic 1: How will I effectively facilitate discussion?
Topic 2: How will I help create community in the classroom under these circumstances?
Topic 3: What education tool should I use for specific tasks? What training resources are available to me?
Topic 4: How do I make my work for the classroom accessible to students?
Topic 5: What are some best practices for grading student work?
Topic 6: What should I know about copyright and collating course materials?
Topic 7: Where would I go for further immediate assistance?
Topic 8: What Duke resources can assist graduate students?

1. How will I effectively facilitate discussion?

Seminar-style class discussions can be challenging when some or all of the students are participating online. As in an on-campus class, engaging and inclusive online discussions require instructional staff to facilitate the conversation and set expectations for how students should participate. For example, asking remote students to keep their video turned on during discussions helps them stay engaged.

Some students feel anxious about raising their hand to ask or answer questions in the classroom, and that does not change when students participate online. The technique of asking a question and letting the silence get uncomfortable until someone answers does not work online. You will probably need to call on students. One way to make this more comfortable is to ask all students to think about the question, while letting them know in advance you will be calling on a few students. You might consider integrating the “minute-paper” activity into the classroom, where you have students write down their thoughts in-class for a short amount of time, before you ask students to share. You might also consider integrating the “warm call” sparingly. For example, before you ask a question, tell your class, “I’m going to ask Tom and Sue to answer this next question and then we will open it up for discussion. Paul and Phan, you will be up for the next question.”

Depending on the size of your classroom, your instructor might also want to split the class into smaller discussion groups. You can use Zoom breakout rooms to do just about anything that you would do in small groups within a class (for more on how to create effective breakout sessions, see Building Better Breakout Rooms). Examples of activities you can do using breakout rooms include:

  • Think-pair-share: have students think about a question, share their answer in a breakout room and then report out to the whole class.
  • Collaborative artifact creation: students can collaborate on documents, slide docs and longer problems.
  • Polling discussions: take a poll on an opinion-based question and then have students debate the answer in breakout rooms. You can then re-run the poll and see if opinions change.

Use Zoom’s messaging features during discussions, and as a TA, you can help your instructor monitor the chat. For example, Zoom’s private chat feature is a great way for quiet students to be able to ask questions during a lecture or discussion. When students ask questions in chat, answer the question for the whole class but don’t use the name of the student who asked. This lets students ask clarifying or even provocative questions anonymously. This technique can be used in face-to-face classes as well. You can give students a link to a web form to fill out during class if they have questions and then answer all the questions at the end or during a break. Even better, have students answer each other’s questions during the last five minutes of class.

Ed Discussion is a tool, available in Sakai, that serves as an online threaded discussion and question and answer forum to foster collaboration. Available as a limited pilot, many of Ed Discussion’s features like topic categorization and anonymous posting can be useful for teaching courses in any discipline, and equation and code editors are especially helpful for teaching courses with a science focus.

> University of Denver Inclusive Teaching Modules
> Inclusive Teaching Practices Toolkit
> Active Learning (Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching)
> Dear Professors: Don’t Let Student Webcams Trick You
> Active Learning Techniques for the Classroom
> Using Zoom breakout rooms
> Creating Forums in Sakai
> Complete Guide to Sakai Forums
> Ed Discussion Quick Start Guide (PDF)
> Ed Discussion: a Potential Piazza Alternative
> Showing Videos in Your Online Class (Duke Learning Innovation)
> Survival Guide for Leading Discussions Online

2. How will I help create community in the classroom under these circumstances?

A lot of the socializing that helps form a sense of community among students during in-person courses happens before and after class. Students chat with each other as they are waiting for class to start, walking together and socializing between class activities.

While the online environment may not allow you to help students completely emulate these types of socialization, you can use online social spaces to foster community. These opportunities can be built into an online class; not all student activities need to have an academic purpose. Depending on your responsibilities as a TA, you can replicate that beginning of class chatter by starting the first five minutes of class with students assigned to random breakout rooms and given the task of finding something that happened to them in the past week that they can all relate to. Or find two things that they all have in common that not everyone in the class would also have in common. You might create a “water cooler” discussion thread in the course forums: a place where students can post things that are off-topic to the course. You and your instructor might also consider creating a space in the course forums where students can ask their classmates for aid. 

In addition to these spaces in the classroom and course site, you might suggest students use private social spaces to connect. For instance, you might suggest that students connect with each other for study groups or chat on their own, using the platform of their choice. Stay out of student social spaces yourself. Students talk more openly when instructional staff are not part of the conversation. Giving them a private space to talk about personal interests or commiserate about an upcoming test makes it more likely that they will reach out to their peers later when they need help understanding a difficult concept. 

To check-in with your students during the semester, you or your instructor might create a mid-term survey to see how your students are doing and on how you might increase instruction effectiveness.

> Icebreakers and Teambuilders
> Encouraging Interaction and Building Community

3. What education tool should I use for specific tasks? What training resources are available to me?

Depending on the instructor you are working with, you may need to learn specific tools to accomplish specific tasks (e.g., leading discussion on Zoom) or you may need to find a tool capable of performing a specific function (e.g., what tool can I use to upload multimedia). The Flexible Teaching Tools Index provides a list of tools, sorted by function. The index provides a description of each tool’s affordances and links to how-to resources. You can also visit our Workshops page to sign-up for upcoming workshops related to online teaching and to view previously recorded materials. For more direct aid, you can also ask for consultation on teaching tools through Learning Innovation or come to our online office hours, which are held Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1-3 p.m. EDT to provide immediate, individual help with flexible teaching at duke.zoom.us/my/dukelearninginnovation.

If you have specific questions or need help with Zoom, Panopto, Camtasia or Warpwire video production at home or at Duke, please contact help@duke.edu and request a video consultation.

The Graduate School has partnered with Learning Innovation to create graduate student specific training resources. If you are interested in accessing these resources, which include online teaching skills workshops, you can send us a request to be added to the Graduate Student Sakai site by emailing learninginnovation@duke.edu.

For more long-term pedagogical and professional development opportunities, Duke’s Graduate School offers the Certificate in College Teaching program. Through this program, graduate students may take a wide-array of courses centered on pedagogy, including GS 762: Digital Pedagogy. The Graduate School also offers other professional development opportunities. The Graduate School also provides the Duke OPTIONS tool to help you plan your professional development at Duke. For more up-to-date professional development opportunities, please check the Graduate School calendar of events. Your department might also offer specific courses or other types of training centered on instruction.

> How can I use whiteboards online?
> How do I create videos?
> Duke Graduate School Professional Development

4. How do I make my work for the classroom accessible to students?

While instructors design the majority of the course and its original materials (supporting documents, videos, rubrics), as a TA, you may be called on to do tasks that require taking accessibility into consideration, such as giving a lecture over Zoom or creating a lab demonstration video.

Although many of the resources below are written toward instructors of record, they provide useful information on how to ensure your work is accessible for all of your students. 

> Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19
> How to make documents, videos, and social media accessible (Duke Web Accessibility)
> How do I create effective slide presentations?
> How do I address accessibility concerns?
> Duke Accessible Syllabus Project

5. What are some best practices for grading student work?

Although the instructor you are working with may have a specific process they will wish for you to follow when giving students feedback, we have a few suggestions for you as you communicate with students. 

While you may not write assignment instructions, do your best to provide students with as much clarity as possible and answer questions consistently. The more explicit the instructions, the less likely it will be that you receive emails from confused students. Students may also find it helpful for you to have set office hours they can visit, if they have questions about the assignment. You can set up Zoom office hours, using your Personal Meeting Room for office hours or impromptu help sessions. It has a permanent URL, which you can configure and does not need to be scheduled in advance. 

If possible, you may want to set up office hours at different times over a few days. This will give students in different time zones the ability to connect with you. If you are a teaching assistant for a large class with multiple TAs, you may want to coordinate with your fellow graduate student workers to create a schedule that makes many time slots available to students.

Offer meaningful feedback and a timely response when grading. There are many ways to provide feedback to students on submitted work. Regardless of the grading strategy and tool that you choose, there are a few best practices to consider when providing student feedback:

  1. Feedback should be prompt. Send feedback as soon as possible after the assignment to give students an adequate amount of time to reflect before moving on to the next assignment.
  2. Feedback should be equitable. Rubrics can help ensure that students are receiving consistent feedback for similar work. 
  3. Feedback should be formative. In other words, you want to give feedback that considers students’ individual development. For instance, if a student turns in a short reflection that is meant to prepare them for an essay, your comments should help students see what they need to improve upon for that larger assignment. Meaningful feedback focuses on students’ strengths and shares constructive areas to further develop their skills. If you are grading the same students’ work throughout the semester, you might make comments about how they have improved from initial assignments or be able to note common mistakes they repeat throughout the course. 

6. What should I know about copyright and collating course materials?

There are three major copyright concerns you might encounter as a teaching assistant: 1) Using the Duke library system for reserves or finding out other copyrighted materials Duke pays for in your course, 2) Copyright concerns when finding materials and 3) You or your students creating materials.

Duke University Libraries

Sometimes, an instructor might ask you to procure course materials. You can speak with a Duke librarian to find out how to distribute copyrighted materials. Journal articles or other short works may be able to be placed in e-reserves. If you are showing films in class, talk to your librarian to see if a streaming copy of the film is available for student use. There are some limitations on what can be posted online due to copyright restrictions, but the libraries have staff who can help navigate those issues and will make every effort to post what is needed for your course. Rubenstein Librarians are available to help you design engaging and meaningful synchronous and asynchronous sessions, activities and assignments that make use of digitized and born-digital collections in order to meet a wide variety of learning goals. They will pair you with a librarian who will work with you to develop an instruction session and/or assignment tailored to your course’s subject matter and learning objectives. They also offer modules centered on a set of digitized sources from the library paired with an activity or worksheet that you can adapt for your course.

Depending on licensing and availability, you and your instructor may have to consider substitute materials. Other suggestions for curating content can be found on the page Where can I find reliable content?

You may also want to keep in mind that your students may be geographically distributed without access to their course textbook or hard copies of materials on campus. However, an electronic copy of the textbook or text may be available through the library. Students abroad may need to use the Duke VPN to access these materials. When collating materials for a course, please note that copyright also varies by country, so you need to make sure all of your students will be able to access the material.

Copyright Concerns When Finding Materials 

The materials you may wish to use, either in teaching or in creating instructional materials, may not clearly fall under Public Domain, Creative Commons or Fair Use. If there is any question about whether usage of material you’ve collected falls under these categories or how to appropriately use material in any of these groups, please contact Copyright and Information Policy Consultant Arnetta Girardeau (arnetta.girardeau@duke.edu). 

Creating Materials

You might also have questions about copyright in terms of creating your own materials. You can visit What should I know about copyright? for more information about how you can legally use materials. Duke Libraries has extensive information on copyright issues. In addition, many of Duke’s librarians have been trained on copyright issues. The library also has licensed a number of copyrighted resources for Duke instructional use, such as a collection of AP Images

If your students are completing work that might be available to the public, such as creating content for a Sites@Duke page, please note you need a release form for student work. Please see Duke ScholarWorks for a model form. Students may also have questions about what resources they can use without violating copyright law, so you may need to review copyright guidelines alongside the assignment instructions and point them to library resources.

> Copyright in Teaching (Duke ScholarWorks)
> Copyright Resources (Duke Libraries Copyright Consultants)
> Using Digital Rare Book and Archival Materials in the Virtual Classroom

7. Where would I go for further immediate assistance?

Depending on your question and the resources in your department, your instructor or departmental IT may be the best way to get help. You can also contact Learning Innovation to submit help tickets on teaching or OIT for technology issues with any Duke tool.

Video Support
If you have specific questions or need help with Zoom, Panopto, Camtasia or Warpwire video production at home or at Duke, please contact help@duke.edu and request a video consultation.

Learning Innovation Office Hours
Duke Learning Innovation staff hold online office hours Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1-3 p.m. EDT to provide immediate, individual help with flexible teaching at duke.zoom.us/my/dukelearninginnovation, and you are welcome to drop in. 

8. What Duke resources can assist graduate students?

Taking care of yourself is just as important as the care you provide your students. Listed below is a collection of resources that are meant to provide support to Duke Graduate Students.

> 2020-2021 Academic Year and Pandemic Information for Graduate Students
> Safety and Wellness Tips for Graduate Students Serving as Instructors of Record and TAs Who Will Be Teaching In-Person during the Pandemic (Duke Graduate School and Senior Associate Deans responsible for graduate and professional education)
> Blue Devils Care (Mental Health Support)
> Graduate and Professional Student Council Community Pantry
> Remote Mental Health Resources for Students, Faculty and Staff During COVID-19 (Created by Duke Student Government)
> Duke University Guidelines for Graduate Student Teaching Assistants and Instructors
> Make the Connection: Resources and Opportunities for Students This Fall (Duke Today, Graduate Student Specific Resources Included)