(78a) Learning Assistants: Learning about Learning | AIChE

(78a) Learning Assistants: Learning about Learning


Koretsky, M. - Presenter, Oregon State University
McColley, C., Oregon State University
Montfort, D., Oregon State University
There has been recent interest in the incorporation of undergraduate learning assistants (LAs) to support, catalyze and enhance active learning in STEM classes. LAs are undergraduate students who have typically completed the particular course and return to assist with its instruction. Practicing LAs increase interactive engagement of the students in active learning classes by providing near-peer help. The processes of facilitating student learning are also construed as a learning experience of LAs themselves.

The LA Program utilizes the three core elements suggested by the Learning Assistant Alliance (https://www.learningassistantalliance.org/). First, in the LA Pedagogy Seminar, LAs receive pedagogical development in in a formal class with their peers, generally in their first term as an LA. Second, LAs meet weekly with the instructor and the graduate teaching assistants as a member of the instructional team to prepare for active learning in class that week. While LAs elsewhere are often used in large lecture sections, in the context of the unit studied, the LAs facilitated learning in smaller studio or laboratory sessions. Third, LAs facilitate active learning in the class in which they are assigned.

In this paper, we briefly describe the LA Program at Oregon State University, focusing on the weekly LA Pedagogy Seminar. We then discuss a reflection tool where students are directed to respond to a weekly prompt and an instructor interface to select prompts and to provide feedback. The tool was piloted and developed iteratively over two years in the LA pedagogy seminar and is available for faculty to use in their courses through the Concept Warehouse (cw.edudiv.org). Finally, wea present research on the changes in the ways undergraduate LAs conceive instructional practice.

At the start of the term, LAs responded to the prompt, “Think about teaching and learning in the environment that you are working in as an LA (e.g. studio , lab, ...). Identify two or three strong beliefs that you have about your role to support learning in that environment.” Thematic coding is used to characterize the aspects that the LAs identify as salient to teaching, the ways their thinking has shifted, and what concepts from the LA pedagogy seminar are being incorporated into their thinking. We ask the following research questions:

  1. What are the common elements of the beliefs that LAs bring to instruction? How do LAs differ in their expressions around these beliefs?
  2. How have the expressed beliefs shifted over the first term of the LA experience? What concepts from the LA pedagogy course are incorporated into the second reflection?

While research on LAs has addressed gains in their technical knowledge as a result of instruction, this research contributes to understanding other ways LAs benefit from their experience.