Chico State's Learning Assistant (LA) Program
Talented undergraduates at Chico State are serving as Learning Assistants (LAs) to support student learning through the transformation of courses throughout the College of Natural Sciences.
Learning Assistants (LAs) are undergraduate students who, through the guidance of weekly preparation sessions and a pedagogy course, facilitate discussions among groups of students in a variety of classroom settings that encourage active engagement.
Talented math, science, engineering, and computer science majors are hired as undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) to help faculty members think about how they might make small to large changes to their courses to improve the experience and outcomes for enrolled students. The LA experience consists of three main components; LAs (a) lead Learning Teams consisting of 6 to 20 students (depending on the particular department’s instantiation of the model) where students work in small groups on problems that require that they articulate, defend, and revise their ideas, (b) meet weekly with the lead faculty member of the course to plan for the upcoming week, reflect on the previous week, and analyze assessment data, and (c) attend a pedagogy course in science, math, and engineering education once per week. This education course is required for all first-time LAs. It introduces LAs to practical techniques as well as to the learning theory that underlies these techniques.
The LA model was developed with four goals in mind, to: (1) increase the use of research-based instructional strategies in introductory undergraduate courses, (2) explore the effects of multiple “experiments” on ways to use LAs, (3) instigate departmental and institutional change, and (4) increase the number and quality of science and math teachers produced.
The LA Alliance
The Learning Assistant Alliance is a collection of people from LA Programs who are sharing resources and information and experiences to further the objectives of transforming large-enrollment courses and recruiting future K-12 math, science and engineering teachers through the use of Learning Assistants.
The LA Alliance hosts a number of resources of LA-using institutions that can be found at its website: learningassistantalliance.org
Chico State’s Learning Assistant (LA) program started in the Fall ’16 with 13 LAs in 4 departments (Science Education, Physics, Math, and Biology).
Faculty who are interested in implementing LAs in their courses will need to contact CSU Chico’s LA Program Director (Ben Van Dusen). There is an application process for using LAs to ensure that funds are being properly distributed and that LAs are being used in appropriate manners.
In order to document the impact of LAs, LA-using faculty will be required to utilize the LA Supported Student Outcomes (LASSO) student assessment tool. LASSO is a free online tool for administering, scoring, and analyzing Concept Inventories as student pre and post tests. LASSO currently has Concept Inventories that cover material from the Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy disciplines. The LASSO tool is hosted on the LA Alliance website.
Note: The LASSO tool is free to all faculty and does not require the use of LAs.
LAs are generally paid from several different sources including: Department funds, Course Redesign with Technology funds, Math Science Teacher Initiative funds, and other grant funding. To inquire about the availability of existing funding, contact the LA Program Director (Ben Van Dusen).
Research on LAs
There are currently over 40 peer-reviewed publications documenting the impacts of LAs on a variety of student outcomes across the STEM disciplines including: conceptual learning, conceptual retention, retention within majors, graduation rates, DFW rates, teacher recruitment, robustness of classroom social networks, online learning, teacher recruitment and preparation, and closing of performance gaps. Many of these publications can be found on the LA Alliance resources website.