Learning Assistant (LA) Program
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The Learning Assistant (LA) Program hires undergraduate students to collaborate with faculty mentors with the overall goals of: (1) transforming classes to be more interactive and (2) enhancing student success.
As take a credit bearing class in pedagogy which provides them with skills and training to effectively reflect on student learning, make meaning from that reflection, and provide insight and ideas to work collaboratively with faculty to improve outcomes.
RIT Learning Assistant Program Overview
The LA program is based on the model developed at the University of Colorado - Boulder. The RIT LA program is a part of the Learning Assistant Alliance, an international organization which connects the more than 500 different LA programs across the world!
What Do Learning Assistants Do?
Learning Assistants are undergraduates who are hired to support classroom transformation and enhance student success. There are three main components (The three Ps) to the LA experience:
- Supporting student success and faculty pedagogy goals (“practice”)
- Preparing and planning for this support through weekly, 1 hour meetings with the faculty mentor (“prep”)
- Completing a 2-credit course in pedagogy which provides training in how to be an LA (“pedagogy”)
The work of an LA takes many forms. Some examples include:
- Facilitating of peer-to-peer small group conversation in the classroom
- Creating class materials by applying novel pedagogies
- Holding outside of class LA-designed sessions which provide additional support tailored to the unique needs of the class
Some examples and benefits of LA work include:
- help transform RIT courses by creating environments in which students can interact with one another, engage in collaborative problem solving, articulate and defend their ideas, and practice complex critical thinking skills
- attend class and facilitate collaboration among learning teams by formatively assessing student understanding and asking guiding questions
- collaborate with faculty in weekly preparatory meetings
- carry out discipline-based education research and learn to analyze student data
- gain experience and training in teaching as a possible career
- achieve mastery of coursework by revisiting and teaching materials to others
- be a member of the LA community and network
LAs are typically allotted up to 10 hours/week (150 hours maximum/semester), with specific hourly allotments indicated to each LA in their acceptance letter. Being an LA is a paid position. LAs receive an hourly wage set by the State of New York ($13.20/hour for Spring 2022).
In the ever changing higher education landscape, the LA program is a resource which provides support to faculty throughout a whole semester. LAs have the chance to contribute to the changes being made in our classrooms so that student voices remain at the forefront. The position of an LA is flexible and dynamic such that LAs can support all styles of classrooms including workshops, recitations, labs, high engagement lectures, and others, and in all modalities from online-asynchronous to fully in person.
Previously Supported Courses
Don't see a course? Reach out to your representative!
- Applications of GIS
- Cellular and Molecular Biology
- Concepts of Environmental Science
- Environmental Science Field Skills
- General Organic Biochemistry I
- Introduction to Biology I and II
- Introduction to Bioinformatics
- Soil Science
- Boundary Value Problems
- College Algebra
- Complex Variables
- Mathematical Modeling
- Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations
- Biochemistry I
- General and Analytical Chemistry I and II
- General Chemistry for Majors
- College Physics I and II
- University Astronomy
- University Physics I and II
- Experiments in Modern Physics
- DC Circuits
- Electronics Measurements
- Engineering Communication and Tolerancing
- Fundamentals of Engineering
- Mechanical Dynamics
- Principles of Statics
- American Sign Language
- Interpreting I and II
- Sign Mime
- University Writing
- Metacognitive Approaches to Scientific Inquiry
- Introduction to Performing Arts
- Don't see a course? Reach out to your representative! There is the possibility of adding further course support with enough interest.
Faculty mentors work with LAs to transform courses. They guide their learning assistant(s) in facilitating and planning coursework moving forward the educational goals for the course. With a focus on training in pedagogy, faculty and student LAs discuss how best to assist the classroom in problem solving and instill student self awareness of how they learn best.
For faculty, working with an LA can provide opportunities for incorporating new active learning strategies by providing the necessary student-focused insight and sustained in-class support for crafting and implementing novel pedagogies. For LAs, working with a faculty mentor can provide networking and professional development opportunities for those interested in exploring careers in education research, teaching, and more.
- mentor during one-on-one weekly meetings
- support and integrate LA ideas for class transformation
- utilize active learning practices
- encourage small group facilitation
- describe and collaborate on researching classroom dynamics (projects, symposium poster, etc.)
Preparation with faculty mentors
Each week LAs meet with their faculty mentor for at least one hour. In these preparatory meetings, LAs and the mentor discuss course content, class activities and pedagogies, student achievement of learning objectives, and more. As LAs are a near-peer mentor to students in the class, LAs are often privy to the needs of students in a unique way. Weekly prep meetings allow LAs to communicate the needs of students in the class to the mentor thereby serving as a bridge between faculty and students. The use of a meeting agenda helps organize ideas and tasks during these meetings. See a sample prep meeting agenda
Training in Pedagogy
LAs from all departments are required to take a special 2-credit pedagogy course where they reflect on their own teaching and learning and make connections to relevant education literature. This course is offered in both Fall and Spring semesters. It must be taken concurrently with your first LA experience.
As part of successful completion of the pedagogy course, students will carry out a research project that connects pedagogy coursework to Learning Assistant work. Using the tools of formative assessment and the theories learned in class, the project will examine some aspect of teaching and learning in the classroom. Through class discussions and work with the faculty mentor, LAs identify a problem or question of interest and craft a research project to examine that question throughout the semester.
Goals of the Research Project:
- Learn more about yourself as a teacher and develop your teaching identity OR
- Provide insights into how students learn the course content by identifying things that enhance or hinder student learning OR
- Design instructional intervention that can help students work through their difficulties OR
- Investigate student work to better understand learning and student ideas
In and out of class activities are included throughout the semester to support the completion of the project. LAs collaborate with their faculty mentor throughout the term to address any shared questions the faculty and LA might generate. This collaboration opens up opportunities for peer-reviewed discipline-based education research. View examples of past Learning Assistant posters
The pedagogy course is taught by the program manager, Emily Mehlman. Contact Emily with specific questions.
- Talbot et al. (2015) Transforming Undergraduate Science Education With Learning Assistants: Student Satisfaction in Large Enrollment Courses. Journal of College Science Teaching. Vol. 44, No. 5, pp. 24-30.
- Otero et al. (2006) Who Is Responsible for Preparing Science Teachers? Science. Vol. 313, No. 5786, pp. 445-446. DOI: 10.1126/science.1129648
- Close et al. (2016) Becoming physics people: Development of integrated physics identity through the Learning Assistant experience. Physical Review – Physics Education Research. Vol 12, No. 1., 010109.
- Van Dusen et al. (2016). The impact of learning assistants on inequities in physics student outcomes. In D. L. Jones, L. Ding, & A. Traxler (Eds.), Physics education research conference proceedings pp. 360–363.
- Finkelstein et al. (2006) Teaching to Learn: The Colorado Learning Assistant program's impact on learning content. This piece [is a summary article that] discusses the Colorado Learning Assistant (LA) program, and focuses on its impact on the content expertise of future physics teachers.
- Top et al. (2018) Development of pedagogical knowledge among learning assistants. International Journal of STEM Education, Vol. 5, No. 1.
- Nadelson and Finnegan. (2014) A Path Less Traveled: Fostering STEM Majors’ Professional Identity Development through Engagement as STEM Learning Assistants. Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice. Vol. 14, No. 5. pp. 29-41.
- Gold. (2019) Transformative Learning Gains in Undergraduate Learning Assistants. Honors thesis, Bowling Green State University.
- Goertzen et al. (2011) Moving toward change: Institutionalizing reform through implementation of the Learning Assistant model and Open Source Tutorials. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research. Vol. 7, No. 2, 020105., DOI:10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.7.020105
- Davenport et al. (2017) Exploring the Underlying Factors in Learning Assistant - Faculty Partnerships. Physics Education Research Conference 2017 Part of the PER Conference series Cincinnati, OH: July 26-27, Pages 104-107. DOI: 10.1119/perc.2017.pr.021
- The Learning Assistance Alliance
- Teaching Elements (strategies) from RIT's Teaching and Learning Services
- The Chronicle of Higher Education
- The National Science Teacher Association
- CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning)
- Teaching in Higher Education Blog
- The Cult of Pedagogy Blog
- The Journal of Higher Education
- Journal of STEM Education
- International Journal of STEM Education
- American Association of Colleges and Universities
- Liberal Education (Journal)
- Peer Review (Journal)
- Diversity and Democracy (Journal)
- National Teaching and Learning Forum
- Sage Journals: Education
- Active Learning in Higher Education
- European Educational Research Journal
- Arts and Humanities in Higher Education
- The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors, by Peter Filene
- What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain
- Student Engagement Techniques: A handbook for College Faculty, by Elizabeth F. Barkley
- Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
- Classroom Assessment Techniques, by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross
- Mindset, by Carol Dweck
- Drive, by Daniel H. Pink
Become a Learning Assistant
To be a part of the Learning Assistant program, all faculty and students must submit an application. These applications, along with interviews, are used to make optimal matches between student LAs and faculty mentors. Pairings are based on pedagogical needs/plans, personality match, experience, scheduling, and alignment of goals between the LA and mentor. Decisions and placements are typically made within the two weeks preceding the start of the semester.
Program Faculty Committee Members
- Jennifer Bailey (Department of Biomedical Engineering, Kate Gleason College of Engineering)
- Dawn Carter (Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences)
- Paul Craig (School of Chemistry and Materials Science)
- Andrew Ferrante (School of Physics and Astronomy)
- Scott Franklin (School of Physics and Astronomy)
- Daniel Maffia (Department of ASL and Interpreting Education, National Technical Institute for the Deaf)
- Tony Wong (School of Mathematical Sciences)