by Asmira Alagic, Assistant Professor, Chemistry and Peyton High, Learning Assistant, Chemistry
Monotonous, one-sided, and non-interactive are among several descriptors of common large lecture settings. In order to change student’s perception of dull large lectures, we’ve implemented the use of Learning Assistants (LAs), undergraduate students who, through weekly preparation sessions and a pedagogy course, facilitate discussions among several student groups in learning settings to promote active learning. The Learning Assistant Program initially began at the University of Colorado Boulder where research has shown increases in student achievement in LA-supported courses (“Learning Assistant Program,” n.d.). At SLU, LAs have been implemented by biology faculty members for many years and more recently by those in the chemistry department. LAs disperse themselves among lecture-style courses and help students work through in-class problems as well as answer any questions that may arise along the way.
From a student’s perspective, LAs are incredibly valuable in the way that they are able to contribute to a more collaborative classroom environment. In doing so, the learning styles of many students are supported. Additionally, the implementation of LAs helps to break up what are often repetitious, sometimes mind-numbing lectures in favor of a lecture with intermittent student-student/peer-peer interactions in the form of LAs interacting with students. These interactions encourage a greater understanding of the course material as LAs are trained to prompt more questions to help students solve very complex problems, rather than simply giving the students the correct answer. LAs encourage students to ask questions, as students seem generally more comfortable asking questions to their peers compared to professors. The presence of LAs in lecture also provides an additional resource to students when they have questions outside of class. LAs are available to schedule meetings or office hours with students if they have questions over course material which has the potential to be much less intimidating than scheduling the same meeting with a professor. The presence of LAs in a lecture setting is incredibly beneficial to the learning environment of the student. In addition to this, however, the implementation of LAs is also of great benefit to professors and the LAs themselves.
There are several positive outcomes for both students and faculty members as a result of the implementation of LAs. Among these are increased opportunities for more personal professor-student interactions. With LAs available to help answer several students’ questions throughout the lecture, professors devote more attention and care to questions that an individual student may have whilst LAs assist other students. This, in turn, promotes a greater understanding of the course material for these students who now find themselves in a highly collaborative, active learning environment. As faculty members learn to use and implement LAs in the classroom to the class’s benefit, student achievement of the learning outcomes for the course also have great potential to improve. For LAs, their experiences in the class setting and pedagogy course offer valuable opportunities to learn lessons about teaching and collaboration, as well as to review relevant subject material.
Since the implementation of using Las at SLU, we have seen great enhancement in the learning environments, by making large lectures seem small in those courses supported by the presence of LAs. We believe that the increase in collaboration and student-student learning interactions has led to increased comfort in lecture settings and promoted a greater understanding of subject matter. With the promising results already seen since their implementation, we hope to see the continued implementation and expansion of learning assistant programs here at SLU and those around the country.
Learning Assistant Program. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2020, from https://www.colorado.edu/program/learningassistant/
Note: Peyton High is a current LA in general chemistry II lecture and a student who has experienced other LAs in his courses. Peyton helped write this blog post.