You will communicate with your students through a variety of technological means and in a variety of venues. Planning ahead about how to communicate effectively can help avoid potential pitfalls in communication later.

  • The syllabus should include your office or at least the departmental telephone number. It is up to you whether you provide your home telephone number to students.

  • ICON offers many opportunities for communication, such as threaded discussion forums, chat rooms, and more. There is also a wiki service available for more interactive communication and group activities.

  • Just as in their discussion sections or lectures, TAs and faculty members can make creative use of their time during office hours. To become familiar with your students and help ease them into the course, you might Your course supervisor or department may dictate grading guidelines, although you may have discretion in assigning at least some percentage of grades in a course. TAs who serve as graders for a professor should receive clear instructions about how to evaluate subjective responses. If more than one TA works with one class, the assistants and professor should meet to hammer out consistent grading standards. TAs also can rehearse and “calibrate” their grading. During this process, TAs review identical exam answers or papers, compare the responses and grades they would have assigned, and discuss differing reactions and perceptions. They and the supervising faculty member then develop a rubric that specifies the criteria everyone will use to evaluate student work. T for the TEACHING ASSISTANT 28 schedule individual conferences with them during the first month of the course. As the semester continues, you might also use office hours to host small-group workshops or reviews.

  • Email is a popular way for students to communicate with instructors, and instructors sometimes incorporate online discussion via email as a course requirement.

    • All students are assigned an official University email alias ( All official University email is sent to this official University email address, and every student is responsible for the information contained in official University email messages sent to the student’s official email address. For more information about email and email support visit the ITS HelpDesk.

    • The course management system, ICON, also has email capabilities, including a method to send email to the entire class.

    • Include your email address in your syllabus, as well as your expectations for email communication. Inform students that you are not available via email (or otherwise) except during certain hours, and that they cannot expect you to respond immediately.

    • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) generally prohibits disclosing educational records (including grades) to anyone other than the student or a university official with a legitimate educational need to view the record. Instructors communicating via email about grades need to be certain they are, indeed, communicating with the students. In general, sending an email to a student’s University address (e.g., or via ICON provides adequate assurance that the recipient is the student. Emailing to another address such as Gmail or Yahoo does not provide adequate assurance.

    • Some instructors accept assignments as attachments, and some do not due to potential viruses or system incompatibility. Indicate in your syllabus whether you will accept assignments via email attachment. The “Dropbox” feature on ICON is a safe way to accept electronic submissions.

    • Be alert to the possible risks of communicating via email, in particular, the challenges of interpreting intent and tone online. Irony and light sarcasm can be devastating to a student. Maintain a friendly, but professional tone and focus, and insist your students do the same. Write your messages with the assumption that your supervisor or department chair will read them

    • You may encounter the rare electronic message that is inappropriate, hostile, or bullying. If you are a teaching assistant, forward it immediately to your faculty supervisor. If your supervisor feels you should respond, maintain professional integrity, copy your supervisor, and let the student see that you have done so. Faculty members should also keep a record of all communications with students, and in extreme cases should forward the hostile student communication to your DEO and potentially the Office of Academic Support and Retention so that appropriate actions can be taken. 

Save all messages and make paper copies for your course file.