Undergraduate Instructional Assistants Best Practices
This document offers best practices and baseline suggestions for how to best utilize undergraduate instructional assistants within a variety of classroom or instructional capacities. It includes best practices for scope and responsibilities, selection, hiring and training, supervising and mentoring, compensation, and handling conflicts of interest.
Faculty, Staff, and Students
The following guidelines are broad in nature to encompass the unique needs of different departments on each campus while recognizing that individual units have varying goals, contexts, and restrictions for undergraduate students in instructional roles. These guidelines do not outline prescriptive practices, but rather provide a foundation that departments can build upon as needed.
Undergraduate students who aid in the classroom are valuable assets that help with classroom logistics, non-discretionary grading, and mentoring. Utilizing undergraduate instructional assistants in a course is also a great way to offer peer support and mentorship to students enrolled in the course. However, the scope of undergraduate instructional assistants’ responsibilities and authority should be defined in both the job description and during training in order to alleviate any confusion on what they are qualified to handle while protecting them from becoming involved in challenging situations that they may not be prepared for.
The university naming convention should be utilized when posting positions to hire undergraduate instructional assistants. Titles that clearly explain role(s), “undergraduate instructional assistants,” “undergraduate graders,” or “undergraduate peer mentors;” can assist in delineating the difference between their job and the role of a graduate teaching assistant (GTA). Clarity in the job title could also be helpful to students in the course in understanding who to go to for help. Additionally, a clear and detailed job description should accompany the position title to provide an additional level of clarity to responsibilities.
In general, undergraduate instructional assistants should be utilized in a way that does not require them to make discretionary teaching decisions. A non-exhaustive list of appropriate responsibilities for undergraduate instructional assistants based on existing positions and programs, includes:
- Classroom Logistics
- Undergraduate instructional assistants can assist with tasks such as handing out papers, collecting assignments, and/or helping proctor exams.
- However, when giving a test, the best practice is that the instructor for the course or a GTA should be present. This helps ensure that if last minute accommodations need to be made, a safety incident arises, or a student in the class asks a question beyond the scope of the undergraduate student assisting in proctoring the test, there is someone in the room to handle the situation.
- Peer-to-Peer Learning
- Undergraduate instructional assistants who have taken the class before and then serve in an instructional capacity can help identify challenging points in the material, assist students in overcoming obstacles to learning in discussions and problem-solving sessions, and offer strategies for learning new material.
- However, undergraduate instructional assistants should not be involved in creating curriculum.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants who assist with grading should be performing non-discretionary grading that does not require content expertise. For example, an undergraduate instructional assistant could grade from a key developed by the instructor/GTA. They would also need to be trained on how to use the key and be monitored by the instructor/GTA.
- Instructors should remove student identifiable information before utilizing undergraduate instructional assistants to assist with grading.
- An undergraduate instructional assistant’s grading responsibilities should not include grading course material completed by graduate students enrolled in the course.
- The instructor/GTA should communicate to the class that the undergraduate instructional assistants have limited authority for grading and that any disputes should be brought to the instructor/GTA. Students need to know that requesting a re-grade will not penalize them in any way. Ideally the instructor/GTA should have a formal re-grading process outlined in their syllabus (i.e. have students in the course email them, explain areas of concern in the grading, and timeline for when students have to request a re-grade). Ultimately, grades are the responsibility of the instructor/GTA.
- Office Hours
- Undergraduate instructional assistants can hold their own office hours, either in-person or virtually. They should have instruction about what types of assistance they can provide during those hours.
- The instructor/GTA should help undergraduate instructional assistants schedule office hours at times that will also benefit the students enrolled in the course.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants should have adequate resources, including space to host their office hours.
- Office hours should be hosted in an area where undergraduate instructional assistants are not alone in a room with a student, but rather in a more communal space.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants need to know how to quickly contact a full-time staff member or the instructor/GTA if they need assistance during office hours.
- Virtual Learning
- Undergraduate instructional assistants can help students in a course navigate virtual resources, answer student questions on a discussion board or via email, hold virtual office hours, and assist with grading as outlined above.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants should have proper security on their devices and in any Zoom meetings (i.e. set passwords, activate the waiting room, how to share screens without sharing personal info, etc.).
- If there are multiple undergraduate instructional assistants for a virtual course, consider connecting them to one another. This may provide an opportunity to benefit from peer-to-peer learning.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants should be introduced to students in the course either synchronously or asynchronously (i.e. create a post in the Learning Management System, set-up a time to meet virtually, or send out an email).
- The instructor/GTA should work with undergraduate instructional assistants to create a virtual communication plan for urgent, impromptu, and scheduled meeting times or communications.
- Leading Labs or Discussion Sections
- Some departments utilize undergraduate instructional assistants who are majors to lead non-major students’ labs or discussion sections. This is only appropriate if the curriculum is designed by an instructor or GTA, and the undergraduate instructional assistant follows a strict framework supervised by the instructor or GTA.
- Undergraduate instructional assistants leading labs or discussion sections need many strong points of contact with the instructor/GTA and detailed guidance, including what is and is not within their scope of duties.
- The instructors/GTA or other professional staff member should be available for undergraduate instructional assistants to contact during a lab or discussion section in case of emergency or questions beyond their scope of duties.
Undergraduate instructional assistants should also report any concerns or issues directly to their supervisor or department. This includes but is not limited to academic misconduct and sexual harassment.
The Memorandum of Agreement between The University of Kansas and GTAC/The American Federation of Teachers – Kansas (Representing the Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition at the University of Kansas, Lawrence) on file with KU Human Resources Management is a valuable resources to ensure that the department or course is utilizing undergraduate students in a manner that does not infringe on the MOA. This includes, but is not limited to, abiding by GTA time limits and FTE appointments with regards to their interactions with undergraduate instructional assistants. It can be helpful to explain to undergraduate instructional assistants who work with GTAs who to contact if a GTA is unavailable as they have limited availability.
Selection, Hiring, and Training
When selecting undergraduate students to serve in an instructional capacity, especially in roles where they would be working with students enrolled in the course, the best practice is to hire students who have already successfully completed the course. Departments should also solicit a diverse pool of qualified applicants for undergraduate instructional assistant positions and carefully review descriptions/announcements to make sure they use inclusive language (i.e. use they instead of he/she).
On an annual basis, undergraduate instructional assistants should be provided with a clearly documented scope of work and employee expectations. While performance evaluations are not required for student hourly employees, supervisors are encouraged to provide feedback. Human Resources Management has a student hourly evaluation template available for use.
New and continuing undergraduate instructional assistants should receive training before performing their duties. Regardless of a student’s prior engagement with a course, training all staff on an annual or semester basis will help ensure consistent performance in line with course guidelines and compliance with applicable university policies.
Undergraduate instructional assistants should be trained on day-to-day tasks and the scope of their work responsibilities. Undergraduate instructional assistants should be trained on procedures and expectations regarding reporting instances beyond their scope (i.e., academic misconduct or grade disputes). It is best not to assume that students know how to properly use technology or campus systems, especially as a university employee, and they should be trained on all appropriate systems and comply with all University mandated trainings.
Training can be conducted online in some scenarios, through a department-wide undergraduate instructional assistant training, or in partnership between a few departments if there are only a few undergraduate instructional assistants in each department. Many campus units are available to visit with you or your staff, either to conduct a training session or to provide an overview of information.
The following trainings, workshops, and resources are offered by campus units and are strongly encouraged for all undergraduate student instructional assistants:
- Data Management, Technology, & Software Trainings:
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging:
- Reporting a Concern:
Undergraduate instructional assistants ideally should report to the instructor/GTA for the course but may be supervised by a staff member in the department. Reporting structures may also look different depending on the type of course. For example, the undergraduate instructional assistant may report to a GTA for large lecture courses or to an instructor in a small course with only one section. If an instructor/GTA does not supervise the undergraduate instructional assistants, they should be in regular communication with the assigned supervisor to assist with setting expectations and training as well as to provide feedback and updates on instructional assistant performance.
Ideally, undergraduate instructional assistants should be provided opportunities to meet regularly with their supervisors whether through individual or group meetings. Regular interactions with supervisors help undergraduate instructional assistants stay up-to-date on any course changes and be prepared to best help the students in the course. Undergraduate instructional assistants should receive feedback throughout the semester from their supervisor. Depending on the undergraduate instructional assistant’s role, it may be helpful to solicit feedback from students in the course as part of the evaluation process. Formal and informal recognition opportunities are helpful in building staff morale. The University Career Center solicits annual nominations for Student Employee of the Year.
It is also important to share with undergraduate instructional assistants that the department values and supports all students regardless of what identities they hold. This goes for both students in the course as well as the undergraduate instructional assistants. It includes, but is not limited to, calling all students by their chosen name and pronouns. Supervisors of undergraduate instructional assistants should be sensitive to undergraduate instructional assistants’ identities. Lastly, undergraduate instructional assistants should be informed of who to contact if they feel that they are not being treated in a safe and inclusive manner during their role as an undergraduate instructional assistant. This includes the Office of Civil Rights & Title IX and any department specific procedures.
Compensation and workload are up to each individual department as long as they meet university standards. When determining how many hours per week an undergraduate instructional assistant should work, account for training, meetings, tutoring hours, time spent attending the class, and time spent grading. Weekly hours should stay relatively consistent throughout the semester.
Instructors or GTAs should help undergraduate instructional assistants understand and identify potential conflicts of interest. Potential conflicts of interest for an undergraduate instructional assistant may include, but are not limited to, a relationship with anyone in the class (i.e., current/former roommate, family member, friend, or partner), a student of particular notoriety in the course (i.e. student body president or student athlete), or graduate students in the course (i.e. an undergraduate student should not grade a graduate student’s work). Supervisors should ask undergraduate instructional assistants to identify and share any potential conflicts of interest. However, students do not have to disclose why they feel it may be a conflict of interest. For students of particular notoriety or graduate level students, the instructor/GTA can identify that conflict of interest without the undergraduate instructional assistant disclosing that information.
Once a student discloses a potential conflict of interest, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to manage that conflict. For example, if a student is friends with another student in the course, they should not be grading their assignments. If that friend is in the undergraduate instructional assistant’s discussion or lab section, they should not treat them differently than any other student or offer private tutoring outside of class.
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Instructor/GTA: The instructor of record for the course or the graduate teaching assistant (GTA) for the course.
Students: Part-time or full-time students enrolled in a course or program.
Supervisor: The instructor, graduate teaching assistant (GTA), or staff member who is responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the undergraduate instructional assistants.
Undergraduate Instructional Assistants: Any student who offers peer support and mentoring for a specific class.
09/02/2021: Updated Institutional Opportunity and Access to the Office of CIvil Rights & Title IX.
06/08/2021: New Guidelines published in Policy Library.