By Matthew Brett

Instructors, administration and staff across McGill University were faced with a rapid shift in teaching modalities when the pandemic first struck Quebec in the spring of 2020. Coupled with this, many students found themselves without part-time work as cities and towns went into lock-down.

Following the decision to teach the Fall 2020 semester predominantly remotely, the Remote Learning Assistant (RLA) initiative was launched in September 2020 – a win-win response to the twin pressures of new technological needs for faculty and underemployment for students.

The initiative is designed to train RLAs, who then provide tailored technical support to overburdened faculty and staff members, providing some McGill students with income and experience in the process.

With 169 RLAs employed in the Fall semester across McGill, 25 of whom worked across the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the initiative has been well-received, and has extended and expanded to this Winter semester. The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is projected to increase the number of available RLAs to 29.

“We’ve had great feedback across the board,” says Maggie Lattuca, Manager of Online Program Development at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) office. “I’ve received excellent feedback from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. I think it’s helped alleviate the work of instructors and staff who work with them, so it’s been very successful.”

How does the RLA initiative work?

The RLAs assist faculty with technical and logistical needs to foster an engaging remote learning environment for students using Zoom, myCourses, Microsoft Teams and other platforms.

Hiring students through TLS saves faculty and staff time and energy required to post job opportunities, vet, hire and train candidates and support RLAs as they navigate the experience.

A TLS “community of practice” was created for the RLAs and TLS Teaching Technology Consultants, allowing them to share best practices and resources and pose questions with the ultimate goal of alleviating the workload for instructors and improving the learning experience.

RLAs also complete reflections on their experience, reporting back to TLS regularly. One of the most common responses received from the RLAs is they find satisfaction in being helpful to professors and learners.

RLAs are also gaining invaluable experience in pedagogy, learning from experts about what goes into course planning, delivery and evaluation.

“We’ve been talking about student engagement for a long time,” Ms. Lattuca notes. “In a remote context, it became so important. These students are seeing what goes on behind the scenes in designing learning experiences from a teacher’s and administrator’s perspective.”

About the initiative

McGill received over a half-million dollars in federal wage subsidies through the Government of Canada’s Student Work Placement Program to fund the RLA initiative, according to an October 2020 McGill press release. Funds are being disbursed through TECHNATION, a national technology association.

McGill’s need-based Work Study Program contributed to the initiative, further reducing the amount Faculties need to pay for RLA wages, making the costs to Faculties manageable.

The RLA effort was undertaken by McGill’s Career Planning Service (CaPS), Scholarships & Student Aid Office, and Teaching and Learning Services (TLS), in close partnership with McGill’s Faculties.



February 11, 2021