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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

THOUGHTS

  1. LAs are students AND LAs.  They will be stressing about how to handle remote learning for their own classes while at the same time wondering about new responsibilities in their LA role.  I have reached out to them as a group to let them know we recognize this balance, but also that faculty will still need help so please keep their eyes open on communication from you all.  
  2. Keep communication lines open.  Even if the note is just to explain that you don’t yet know the role of LAs, a note can help to ease the stress and uncertainty.
  3. You can still ask LAs to help in remote learning.  At the end of this note are some initial ways they can help.  Please be clear with your LAs about any new roles you may ask them to take on.  It might take Week 1 to organize LAs and then implement plans on Week 2 and 3, and that's ok!  You need to be comfortable with the course of action you chose.  
  4. Consider asking your LAs how they might like to help.  They may have some creative solutions we have not considered.

HOW LAs CAN HELP (from easy implementation to more complex)

Moderators to Canvas Discussion Board

Discussion boards are quick and easy ways to allow students to ask question and seek help.  LAs can help reply to questions or summarize questions for you (if they are not comfortable answering).  You keep discussion boards manageable by dividing the class into smaller groups and assigning each group a LA OR by dividing by topic and assigning a LA to each topic.  Some faculty members use other platforms for discussions (like Piazza or Packback) that also work well but may require more work if they are new to you and your LAs. 

Chat Moderators during Zoom Sessions

If you plan on running synchronous Zoom sessions, LAs can easily monitor the chat options.  During this time, they can either answer questions or collect and report the questions to you in real time.  This will free you up to focus on the content delivery while at the same time ensuring that students can ask questions and receive answers/feedback.

Group Leaders during Zoom Breakout Sessions

It is possible to break a large Zoom audience into smaller, break-out rooms that LAs can run.  Please see: https://itld.psu.edu/learning-path/zoom-learning-path-hosts for instructions.

Facilitators of Zoom Sessions

Like in-person office hours or LA sessions, a Zoom session run by a LA can allow students to interact with a smaller group of participants (compared to the whole class).  In this situation, LAs will need to have plan or activity to help structure the Zoom session, so it will take more planning to make this option feasible.  A simple session goal of completing a problem set, discussion a set number of learning objectives or worksheet as a group will help LAs keep the students focused and give LAs control over the session.  These can also be recorded (with LA permission) for students to watch as review.

LA Mini-Movies

Maybe your LAs have a great way to think about or to study a topic in your course?  LAs could make short videos (even using their cell phone) explaining their study strategy or topic to share in a Canvas page.  For example, “When I studied the carbonic acid equation, this is what I did.”  Videos uploaded to YouTube or Kaltura can quickly request machine-captioning for captioning and then be embedded in Canvas. 

 

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.