Teaching with Learning Assistants

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: September 3, 2010

Stephanie V. Chasteen and Valerie Otero, University of Colorado at Boulder

What are Learning Assistants?

Students in tutorials
Students work on a tutorial in introductory physics at the University of Colorado. A Learning Assistant (middle) helps them discuss the material. Details
Learning Assistants are talented undergraduate students, primarily in mathematics and the sciences, chosen for their broad interest in teaching and prepared to provide support for student learning in interactive classroom environments. Primarily used in group work, Learning Assistants are specifically prepared to focus on student ideas and facilitate group conversations and conceptual understanding. Learning Assistants are chosen from the top students who took the course in previous semesters, and receive a stipend or class credit for their assistance.

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Why Teach with Learning Assistants?

The Learning Assistant program aims to improve the learning of all students, from K-16 levels. Students in courses that are supported by undergraduate Learning Assistants learn more than those in non-supported courses. Additionally, the Learning Assistants themselves improve their understanding of the science content, and many become interested in future careers as K-12 teachers. The Learning Assistant program also supports innovations in the college classroom and faculty's reflective improvements of their teaching practices.

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How to Teach with Learning Assistants?

It is important to consider both (1) What activities make the most appropriate use of Learning Assistants, and (2) how to create the most supportive atmosphere so that Learning Assistants can do the most effective job possible. We'll address these questions in this section, as well as common challenges in using Learning Assistants and some tips in running an effective Learning Assistant progam.

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Examples of Teaching with Learning Assistants


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