(130c) A Spectrum of Beliefs: A Study of Undergraduate Learning Assistant Reflections As Novice Teachers | AIChE

(130c) A Spectrum of Beliefs: A Study of Undergraduate Learning Assistant Reflections As Novice Teachers


Auby, H. - Presenter, Tufts University
Jeong, B., Oregon State University
Koretsky, M., Oregon State University
Teaching complex chemical engineering classes like thermodynamics, transport, or reaction kinetics effectively requires sophisticated instructional design as well as many in-the-moment decisions during instruction. Attention has been paid to instructional design issues often focusing on content, but more recently including pedagogical strategies such as active learning as well. Less examined are the instructional choices that are made during instruction. In this study, we posit that these in-the-moment choices during instruction are based on an instructor’s beliefs about teaching. In this qualitative study, we examine, in detail, the beliefs that two cohorts of undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) express about their instructional practice. One cohort taught during in-person instruction and one during remote. While these beliefs are specific to the context and role of the individuals studied, we argue that to the degree that the expressed beliefs represent the culture of chemical engineering teaching practice, a close examination of the LAs’ beliefs can inform instructors in other chemical engineering settings.

For the past six years, the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering (CBEE) at Oregon State University (OSU) has integrated Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) to support delivery of the core undergraduate courses in the curriculum. 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. Third, LAs facilitate active learning of small groups and individuals in the class to which they are assigned. While LAs elsewhere are often used in large lecture sections, in the context of the unit studied, the LAs facilitated small group collaborative learning in smaller studio or laboratory sessions.

As part of the LA Pedagogy Seminar, the students are assigned weekly readings and then asked to reflect on the reading in relation to their own practice. The study reported here examines student responses at the start and end of their first term as an LA. Weekly reflection were collected from twenty-four LAs during the pedagogy course during in-person instruction and eighteen LAs the following year during remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants provided informed consent to be in the study. 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.”

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?
  3. Are there substantial differences between the cohort teaching in-person and the cohort teaching remotely?

Thematic coding was 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. The beliefs were consolidated into five major themes: Instructional Climate, Group Work, Feedback, Student Thinking, and Course Content. Students bring different histories-in-person to their instructional role and we discuss these different perspectives using a histories-in-person lens.