What do the LAs do?
The LAs, comprised so far of 1-16 undergraduates who have demonstrated sufficient physics knowledge and peer interaction in a previous course, sign up for an undergraduate honors or practicum course worth 2-4 credits. Based on number of credits, they perform a variety of duties of their choosing, including attending weekly pedagogy seminar, weekly course planning meetings, lectures, and discussion sections; setting weekly goals and writing reflections on goals; responding to students on the course discussion forum; reading physics education research; hosting peer office hours and review sessions; analyzing data on learning; and creating and evaluating potential discussion and exam problems.
The Spring 2015 cohort summarized their main duties and lessons learned in this "Peer Tutor Survival Guide".
Photo credit: Marisella Garcia (89HC student), taken of Ryan Chen, Phat Mai and Lauren Penix (192 students), Spring 2015.
What does the instructor do?
The LAs learn evidence-based pedagogy techniques in a separate pedagogy seminar. The content instructor meets weekly with the LAs (can be combined with TA meeting) to review upcoming content and activities.
LAs benefit the instructor by providing feedback on what students are struggling with. The LAs also can save the instructor time by responding to student questions on the online course discussion forum (average response time generally less than an hour, thanks mostly to LA responses).
How do the students benefit?
Students get extra help in lecture and discussion, extremely fast responses to questions posted on the discussion forum, and additional office hours each week. Moreover, the LAs are often seen as more accessible and approachable.
A recent PLOS article found that peer-led team learning (i.e. having peers facilitate group problem-solving in a manner similar to that of LAs) helps under-represented minority students succeed in STEM classes.
In a chapter on retaining under-represented minorities in STEM, the National Academies Press highlighted five successful programs in the U.S., two of which involve Learning Assistants and all of which involve some form of peer interaction.
Undergraduate Learning Assistant Program
To help students learn more effectively, I've worked with faculty in Life Science and Chemistry to co-found a UCLA Learning Assistant (LA) program, in which successful students from a previous course learn evidence-based pedagogy to help other students learn more effectively. My students benefit by having more accessible, approachable learning guides, and the LAs increase both their physics and teaching abilities. This program is based on the nationally successful and evidence-based Learning Assistant program from CU-Boulder. Here is a recent NPR story on the CU-Boulder LA program.