Learning Assistants

Developed by: Valerie Otero and Dick McCray

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical  Modern / Quantum +4
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Lab  Studio

What? A program to recruit science majors to become K-12 science teachers and to improve undergraduate education by implementing large-scale teaching reform. Learning assistants are undergraduates who assist in reformed courses, providing the additional instructors needed for many research-based methods.

Why? Provide more facilitators for active learning. Students may feel more comfortable talking to near peers than to instructors. LAs can gather student ideas and difficulties to improve instruction. Being an LA helps students develop conceptual understanding, science identity, and interest in teaching.

Why not? Starting a learning assistant program and training learning assistants can be time intensive and expensive. While there are ways to minimize the time and expense, some departments may not have the resources to do this.

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Metacognition
Can be adapted for:
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Lab skills
  • Making real-world connections
  • Using multiple representations
  • Designing experiments

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • TAs / LAs

Developer's website: Learning Assistants
Intro Article: V. Otero, S. Pollock, and N. Finkelstein, A physics department’s role in preparing physics teachers: The Colorado Learning Assistant model, Am. J. Phys. 78 (11), 1218 (2010).

The Learning Assistant Alliance website provides resources for implementing an LA Program, including national conferences and regional workshops for training program directors, and course materials for LA pedagogy courses.

You can find video lessons for LA training from Periscope.

Bronze Validation
This is the third highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 1 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 1 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication


Compatible Methods

Peer Instruction PhET Interactive Simulations Tutorials in Introductory Physics +48 more...

Related Workshop

CU LA pedagogy course

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