Course Assistants

Who are course assistants in the College of IST? 

The College of IST supports courses with Assistants, who coach students’ learning and help instructors with course administration each week. Assistants can be undergraduate students, master’s students, or doctoral students, and they are named differently according to their level of study (with a few exceptions).

  • Learning Assistants (LAs) are undergraduate students.
  • Instructional Assistants (IAs) are Master’s students.
  • Teaching Assistants (TAs) are doctoral students, and occasionally Master’s students.

With the exception of grading, LAs, IAs, and TAs can be assigned similar responsibilities; but with each higher level of education, the Assistant brings more maturity to those responsibilities. With grading, instructors can ask IAs and TAs for help with all exams and assignments, provided the instructor offers a grading rubric. Instructors can ask LAs to assist in grading objective exams and smaller assignments (e.g., pre-class essays to check reading, lab reports with clear outputs, early drafts of papers, and other 2-3 page assignment deliverables).

While TAs and IAs are generally assigned to higher-level courses, LAs are often recruited by faculty members from the classes they teach. See the Learning Assistants page for an LA job description and recruitment tips.

Each position carries particular advantages.

LAs are undergraduate students who have previously taken and succeeded in the course to which they are assigned (i.e., having earned a grade of at least A-). These students also have high GPA’s (at least 3.2 CUMGPA—most are higher). Having taken the course a short time ago, the LA brings to the job a level of familiarity with the content that a typical graduate student Assistant won’t have. The LA also brings knowledge of where students struggle with the material. Instructors working with LAs must provide more guidance regarding grading. LAs should not be in charge of grading work longer than a 2-3 page lab report or a 2-3 page paper. All assignments, even shorter ones, should be accompanied by a detailed grading rubric that should be supplied by the instructor. 

IAs (Master’s students) and TAs (doctoral students) typically bring to the job maturity and at least some experience (even if only technical experience from their own Bachelor’s degree). Sometimes — especially with more senior TAs — they also bring some knowledge of the course and/or knowledge of related research areas that can be directly applied to assisting with course assignments. TAs and IAs typically have not taken the course that they are assigned to; and, on occasion, they are not well-matched with the content of the course and will need to use many of their initial hours to read ahead of students and become familiar with the course content. TAs and IAs can be asked to grade larger assignments than LAs can be asked to grade; but they, too, should be provided with a detailed grading rubric created by the instructor. They can also be invited to lead lab sessions and to assist with teaching from your lesson plan once or twice in the semester, if they are expert enough in the material and you feel that they are up to the task.

All Assistants are prepared in a 1-credit course–IST 389: Leadership and Technology for Instruction for LAs and IST 602: Supervised Experience in College Teaching for the IAs and TAs. The courses focus on

  • learning theory
  • interactive teaching strategies and methods
  • coaching skills
  • inclusive and supportive learning environments
  • best practices in grading using feedback and rubrics
  • facilitating effective teamwork

In order to support the learning of students enrolled in your course, Assistants can be assigned to:

  • hold office hours
  • participate in the College’s common tutoring hours
  • host study sessions
  • circulate among seated students (in person) or small group break-out rooms (virtually) during scheduled class time
  • facilitate exam review sessions
  • lead virtual lab sessions
  • collect feedback (on surveys) about what students do or don’t understand
  • facilitate other learning-focused activities as assigned

In order to assist instructors with the teaching-related elements of the course, Assistants can be assigned to:

  • distribute electronic materials
  • communicate with students about due dates and assignment questions
  • grade student work (with a grading rubric that the instructor provides—and within the limitations described above for LAs)
  • provide feedback on early drafts of students’ work
  • assist with technologies for teaching

For more ideas on how you could work with course assistants in you classes, consult the follow guides:

For more information on the responsibilities of TAs, IAs, and LAs, see the following agreement forms that are completed by instructors and their Assistants each semester:

TAs, IAs, and LAs can all help to proctor exams in your classrooms. Consider these best practices as you prepare them for proctoring:

  • Inform Assistants of the rules you intend to establish for students during the exam. Types of rules might include:
    • Put away any electronics other than what is necessary for the exam
    • Turn off cell phones
    • Take off baseball caps, hoods, or other articles of clothing that obscure your view of their eyes
    • Establish rules for bathroom breaks
  • Ensure Assistants are aware of exam time limits
  • Instruct Assistants on how to handle student questions during the exam
  • Provide Assistants with a protocol for how to address errant behavior
  • Instruct Assistants on what to monitor (e.g., browser should only be open to Canvas quiz, students should keep their eyes on their own computer screen or paper, cell phones and backpacks should be put away, etc.)
  • Assign Assistants to areas of the room to walk around and monitor student behaviors
  • Announce to students that Assistants will be walking around to help ensure the integrity of the exam

Adding Assistants to Canvas

Add assistants to Canvas courses using these instructions:

  1. In Canvas, go to the course where you’d like to add an assistant.
  2. Find the course navigation menu on the left, and select People. (Please note that we refer to the course navigation menu, and not the Canvas dashboard menu beside it).
  3. On this new page, click the Add People button.
  4. An input box will pop up. In the box, enter the assistant’s PSU User ID and click Retrieve User.
  5. Locate the small panel of user information. Among this information, change the Role from the default, Student, to TA or Course Admin. (If you are unsure whether to give your assistant TA or Course Admin access, see the text under the “User Roles” heading below).
  6. Select Add User, and then Close.

Consider the appropriate User Role for Assistants:

“User Roles” determine an assistant’s access to a course in Canvas. Assistants are typically given one of two user roles: TA or Course Admin. TA’s can grade students, moderate discussions, and post announcements, but they cannot edit any content, such as quizzes or assignments (including changing deadlines). The Course Admin role has the same access as teachers, so Assistants who are in given Course Admin roles can do everything a TA can do plus edit content and change deadlines. (The Course Admin role is labeled distinctly from teachers so as not to confuse students.) In the end, the right role depends on whether you’d like your assistants to be able to edit your content if necessary.

Assistant Hosting and Editing Rights in both Zoom and Canvas

For information on how to incorporate Assistants into Zoom as Co-host or a Host, see the following links for instructions:

For more information on Canvas Roles and role permissions, see these links:


Space for office hours varies, depending on the Assistant. In normal semesters:

  • Teaching Assistants (doctoral student and sometimes Master’s students) are generally assigned to a shared pod office in Westgate Building. Contact Lisa Crownover at for information.
  • Instructional Assistants (Master’s students) and Learning Assistants (undergraduate students) do not have designated spaces to hold office hours. Often these assistants place a placard sign on a table in the Reese’s Café area of Westgate and hold office hours there.
  • Many course assistants hold office hours via Zoom to better accommodate student schedules. 
  • All assistants are invited to hold office hours in the classroom reserved for common tutoring hours, listed on the College of IST learning site’s Tutoring page each semester.