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Learning Assistant Program
Faculty and motivated students
Focused on enhancing the science and math classroom learning experience

The Eberly College of Science Learning Assistant Program is supported by the Pennsylvania State University Center for Excellence in Science Education (CESE). The CESE identified the need for peer facilitation in classrooms where faculty were trying to engage students in collaborative active learning activities and, in response, catalyzed the Learning Assistant (LA) Initiative in the Fall of 2011. The LA initiative encompasses a group of faculty and motivated students who all have the common goal of enhancing the learning experience in science and math classes.

The goals of the Eberly College of Science Learning Assistant program are:

  1. To enhance the learning environment in ECoS classes that have chosen to use collaborative active learning activities as a part of the course curriculum.

  2. To train students to serve as learning assistants. This training will take place largely through a pedagogy class that focuses on how learning works and the strategies that LAs can use to facilitate learning.

  3. To provide support to faculty who want to use LAs in their courses.

This Penn State Classroom seats 650 students. A team of 28 LAs facilitate group work, clicker questions or other learning activities in a 50 minute lecture

Faculty Resources for Using LAs

INITIAL QUESTIONS

  • Is there a time that you wish you had extra help engaging students?

  • Do you have the time and desire to work with an instructional team?

  • Are you open to engaged learning in the classroom and willing to try associated techniques?

 

RECRUITING

  • How will I select my LAs?  *Many departments already have systems in place for LA recruiting and we can connect you to the correct person*

  • What criteria do I value in a LA?

  • Do I want to interview each applicant or have other LAs interview?

 

CLASS TIME

  • How will I incorporate LAs to make my class more active and student-centered?

  • Will LAs work in lecture, recitation or with a Penn State Learning GSG?

  • What specific task(s) will LAs complete?

  • Are there activities that you wish you had extra help?

  • Are there topics your students find challenging?

 

OUTSIDE WORK

  • Do you want LAs to hold office hours or LA group sessions?

 

LA PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • Do you have time to meet with your LAs once a week?

  • Do you enjoy mentoring students in leadership, communication and professional skills?

  • Are you open to authentic conversations with LAs about your teaching?

CESE can help with any of these areas as you plan to incorporate LAs into your class.  Please contact Dr. Jennelle Malcos (jlh608@psu.edu) with any questions.

Responsibiltiy of Faculty Members Using LAs

 

Be open to engaged learning in the classroom

  • Engaged learning means that students become active in their learning and have a voice in their education.

  • Activities often include clicker questions, case students, problem sets, interactive games or worksheets.

 

Willingness to meet regularly and have open communications with LAs

  • Faculty should plan on meeting weekly with LAs to discuss content, common misconceptions within the content, course climate, student issues and other feedback.

  • Deeper conversations about how LAs are helping to achieve course goals/objectives or how assignments help achieve course goals/objectives will strengthen the instructional team.

  • This does mean being open to different perspectives with the willingness to change.

 

Provide support for LAs with course material

  • Faculty should provide access to necessary course content, including keys to activities (or discussion of correct answers)

 

Assign a final grade for LAs

  • LAs receive 1 credit of SC240, BIOL400 or BMB408 for their participation as a LA and will require a final grade.

  • Faculty are provided a general syllabus for SC240 from CESE that can be modified for individual courses.

  • All LAs should be given this syllabus and understand their specific responsibilities for the course they LA.

 

Assess the effectiveness of LAs

  • This can be completed with SRTEs, focus groups, mid-semester evaluations, simple anonymous clicker questions or through conversations with students.

LA Course Registration

CESE Learning Assistants (LAs) receive credit for their work:

  • 1 credit SC220 (self-registered after acceptance to program) for training

  • 1 credit  SC240 (or BIOL400 or BMB408) as compensation

One of the hallmarks of a Learning Assistant (LA) program is that the LAs complete a training course that integrates effective peer learning strategies with learning theory.  Through this training, the LAs are empowered to not only interact with students, but to used research-based methods in cognitive science to maximize learning.  SC220 only needs to be completed once to participate in the program.

SC220 is a 1 credit, seven-week course based on the framework created by the LA Alliance at University of Boulder, CO.  All LAs that are selected to work in a course are required to complete SC220 concurrent with their LA experience (a few courses require completion the semester before).  At this time, non-LAs are not allowed to take this course due to the demands of the LA Program.

In addition to receiving 1 credit through training, LAs also receive 1-credit of SC240 (or BIOL400 or BMB408) as compensation for their work as a LA.  ASTRO, CHEM, PHYS and MATH LAs are assigned SC240, BIOL LAs are assigned BIOL400 and BMB LAs are assigned BMB408.  It is the LAs responsibility to self-register for SC240 and failure to register may result in loss of credit for the experience.  BIOL and BMB LAs must contact the appropriate instructors to ensure BIOL400 or BMB408 is added to his or her schedule.   At the end of the semester, you will be asked to provide a grade for your LAs work.

A list of requirements that students must meet to participate in the LA program

LAs-in-training make concept maps in SC220. Concept maps are a tool LAs use to help students make connections between course concepts or to help LAs reveal where a student might be missing important connections.