Your role as a TA in the lab will likely be determined by your contract and your orientation meeting with the instructor. It might be helpful to review the infographic entitled "4 Key Questions for TAs Teaching in Lab Settings", a Image of an infographic called 4 Key Questions for TAs in Lab Settings resource created by the CTL at Queen's to get you started, and thinking about what question you might ask the course instructor at your first meeting.
These guiding questions will help you determine what questions you need answered in order to excel at your new TA role. It’s important to clarify your responsibilities in the lab so that you feel empowered to perform to your full potential. Feel free to revisit any of these questions with your instructor throughout the course.
You are not required to do anything in the lab that you are uncomfortable with. Creating and maintaining a safe working condition for yourself and your students is always the number one priority.
Some great questions to consider are:
- What are the safety protocols in the lab?
- What are the goals of the laboratory class and the instructional expectations?
- Where do you find course information?
- Are there rubrics for grading reports and lab work?
- When should you answer students' questions and when should you encourage them to think through the answers themselves?
As you prepare for your role in the lab, remember that you will be the first contact for the students in your group. You will provide the personalized feedback, individual academic support, and encouragement that will help your students succeed in the virtual or physical classroom. It’s important to create a learning atmosphere in which students feel comfortable taking chances and making mistakes. Students learn through problem-solving and skill-building, and they can develop these skills through active participation, question and answer periods, and independent and group work. While the exact activities will vary depending on discipline, many of the principles are the same.
TA Tip: As an early-career instructor, it can be difficult to figure out how to guide students towards the correct answers without explicitly showing them the correct procedures. Often it can be helpful to take a step back and ask students to explain their process without taking control. Give the students agency in their learning. Remember to check in with other TAs for support (especially if there is a lead TA for your course). This kind of lateral mentorship is essential in teaching and you and your colleagues will benefit from each other's experience.
While you will likely not be responsible for setting up online iterations of labs, there are some resources that can help you feel more comfortable in this learning environment.
- The Teaching Assistant Checklist: Questions to Ask - Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo
- TAs in the Sciences:Best Practices for Labs - Centre for University Teaching, University of Ottawa
- Teaching Laboratory Courses - Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
- Online Resource for Science Laboratories (POD) - Remote Teaching: All Resources: Harvard’s LabXchange
- Lab Teaching - The University of Michigan
- Remote Lab Kit - Portland State University