Graduate teaching assistants prepare for fall semester

Chloe Byers, sophomore in marketing, multi-tasks to do her homework online using her laptop and an iMac monitor in Kedzie hall. (Paige Eichkorn | Collegian Media Group)

While a sudden move to remote teaching during the spring semester challenged everyone to adapt, Phillip Marzluf, associate professor of English, worked to ensure graduate teaching assistants in the English department had the proper support they needed during the trying time.

“I had to train myself while attempting to guide the GTAs and other instructors,” Marzluf said. “Like many other faculty at K-State, I participated in the Online Course Design Institute this summer, watched videos about online teaching by K-State’s Mike Wesch, experimented with some new digital teaching tools and gathered many online teaching and learning resources.”

Monica Kopenhaver, graduate teaching assistant in English, had to quickly learn the best ways to communicate with students. She also used discussion boards to encourage them to interact with each other.

“I sent weekly announcements and encouraged them to set up Zoom meetings with me to discuss any concerns they may have, although I certainly missed being able to speak directly with them in the classroom when they experienced difficulties,” Kopenhaver said.

Tucker Jones, graduate teaching assistant in psychology, also had a difficult time staying in touch with his students.

“My favorite part of being in the classroom is interacting with my students,” Jones said. “When everything moved online, the interactions basically stopped. Instead of getting to know my students by having conversations with them in class, I feel like I just became a source of information; it was tough.”

He also knew this time has been difficult for everyone and wants to keep that in mind for preparing for his own classes.

“I think for some instructors, it’s easy to think that students now have more time to do work since a lot of classes are online; I don’t think this is true,” Jones said. “I’ve spoken with so many students who actually have much less time now than they did when everything was in-person. As such, I try to approach preparing for all of my classes with perspective, patience and, most importantly, empathy. I let my students know that this is all new to me too, and I ask them to let me know if there is anything I can be doing better.”

Ashley Schiffer, graduate teaching assistant in psychology, knew that in order to get through the changes, a positive attitude is a must, but proper communication prevents having to redo something that could have been initially solved with a quick text or email.

“I try to approach new situations optimistically, and I think that really helped with this pandemic in general, not just in my GTA role,” Schiffer said. “Also, I learned I should be asking questions, I should be clarifying things that I am unsure of, and that communication is so much more important when you can’t pop into someone’s office to ask a question.”

Marzluf said plans for the fall have been made, but flexibility will be necessary, adding that “nimbleness” is a regular word in his vocabulary now.

“Most of our classes will be primarily online and, for those who are using face-to-face elements in their teaching, they are doing so with smaller groups and are going to have online alternatives planned,” Marzluf said.

As Kopenhaver prepares to teach one of her courses completely online during the fall semester, she has developed well-thought out plans based on her experience teaching a summer course remotely.

“I have been working on my online course everyday to ensure that it is accessible and clear for students,” Kopenhaver said. “It was certainly helpful to have experience teaching this course online during the summer, as I jotted down ideas and kept track of what worked so that I may implement those techniques.”

Additionally, Kopenhaver said support and encouragement is especially important now.

“Having a supportive team of peers and faculty is extraordinarily helpful and necessary during this time,” Kopenhaver said. “Although online teaching may feel intimidating and distant at first, it’s important to know that it doesn’t have to be a lonely experience.”