Learning Assistants (LA's) are undergraduate students who assist with small-group discussions during large lecture classes. They are a bit like undergrad TA's who do no grading. Generally, LA's are selected because they recently completed the target lecture class with a good grade (B or better).
Individual professors and departments at USF are free to pursue any business model for LA's they desire, including paying students hourly or via a financial aid award using departmental funds. The centralized system, and the easiest one to implement, follows a course model: LA's sign up for a zero-credit course (LDR3930) which is taught by ATLE personnel. In this course, students complete small readings and attend a face to face session once a week to learn the basics: how learning actually works, how to lead small-group discussions, and how to set expectations and other elements of classroom management. This course also provides the incentive for the student to meet weekly with the lecture instructor for a planning session, and then attend the lecture to do the "work" of facilitating discussions. The course and program are structured to ask six hours per week of students' time (one hour reading the LDR materials, one hour attending the LDR live training, one hour at the planning meeting with the faculty member, and three hours per week "working" in the lecture class). This model has no costs to the students, faculty, or departments, as there is no textbook to purchase for the course.
The ratio of undergrad learners to LA's is usually 20:1
Benefits to Learning Assistants
Students who work as LA's realize several benefits:
- Transcript credit for the LDR course ("Selected Topics in Leadership")
- Ability to highlight the LA experience on resumes and applications to graduate/medical school
- Personal satisfaction and ego boost experienced when helping other students succeed
As one peer leader wrote after his experience:
“I love being a peer leader for several reasons. When a student is confused and you can help clarify the misunderstanding it is unexplainable. Also I am shy when it comes to speaking in front of other individuals, and me being a peer leader helps me to meet this uncomfortable feeling head on and conquer it. Peer leading also invites the unique opportunity of being a leader. Some people are natural born leaders, but with practice and a good work ethic others can become taught leaders. As a peer leader you can learn this unique ability.” -- Evan Thomas, Peer leader of Spring 2013
Benefits to Faculty Members
Large classes are notoriously difficult to teach interactively, given constraints of space, noise, and the ratio of teachers to students. LA's make it possible for small-group interactions to take place even in large lecture halls, with activities being guided locally rather than a chaotic free-for-all. In short, LA's can make large classes feel like small classes. This enhances learning and student success.
Additionally, as students become familiar with the LA they have been working with, the LA takes on a mentor role and can field questions directly from the students, further reducing demands on the faculty member's time.
Benefits to undergrad learners in the Lecture Class
Learning in a lecture-only large class is challenging for students. Without LA's, many lecture classes struggle to find ways to students to interact meaningfully with their peers. With LA's, however, several benefits emerge:
- Students who don't understand but are too shy to ask questions will be exposed to group discussions that will illuminate the course content better than just the lecture
- Students have an opportunity to PRACTICE the material, often in an application, rather than simply hear about it from the lecture.
- Students receive instant feedback from their learner peers and the LA on their attempts to practice the material, further enhancing understanding and later performance on assessments.
- The class environment shifts to a more active, engaging, and interactive format, which enhances the students' pleasure at attending the sessions and even their enjoyment of the material itself, which has been shown to have a measurable impact on their ability to learn it.
Faculty using the centralized model will need to interface with ATLE regarding ways to convert their courses, and training in how to teach with LA's.
The training will include two half-day retreats at the beginning to introduce methods for course redesign, and five group meetings in that "conversion semester" in a faculty learning community of colleagues working on similar conversions. They may also perform classroom observations of other faculty currently utilizing LA's. Faculty will learn about methods to use LA's for interactive activities. This course conversion and training will take place in the term before the target semester.
These are the steps for faculty to initiate participation in the centralized LA system:
- Faculty member emails email@example.com to indicate interest in the program, and when they would like to begin.
- ATLE will work with the faculty member to guide course redesign/conversation and faculty training in advance of the target semester.
- Meanwhile, the faculty member recruits students to work as LA's in the target semester. This is often done by an open call on a survey such as Qualtrics, or can be a manual process of identifying and asking students to participate. Students need to be available at the scheduled time of the LDR course for the target semester.
- When the list is finished, the faculty member sends student names and ID numbers to firstname.lastname@example.org so that students can be added to the LDR class for the target semester.
- During the implementation semester, students attend the LDR class, attend a planning session with the faculty member, and attend the lecture class to "work" with the undergrad learners. The student earns the LDR grade (S/U) by successfully completing all these components during the semester.
- For students who complete all requirements, ATLE provides a certificate for their records and resumes, and will list their particiaption on the ATLE website for external verification.
Register for upcoming LDR3930 class
The class is offered every term (summer, fall, spring). It is not open enrollment, but by permit-only.
For summer 2019:
Summer C session
For fall 2019:
Tuesday OR Thursday (you choose), 3:30-4:30
Monday OR Wednesday (you choose), 11:00-12:15
Note: the M/W class should only be used if the student cannot attend T or Th, which is the "primary" section and has more enrollment space.
Faculty need to collect onto an excel file a rundown of each student’s name, email address, U-number, which LDR class (T/Th being the preferred), and which one day of the week they will attend. When the excel file is all the way finished, send it to email@example.com and she will directly add the students since it’s a permit-only course.
Although LA's are optimally deployed in a large lecture class, there is no foundational restriction on class size. Instructors of smaller classes thinking of incorporating even a single LA can still participate.