2023 79 SBE

Exploring Benefits, Challenges, and Relational Dynamics in an Expanding Learning Assistant Program

By: Cynthia Ibrahim

Department: Physics & Astronomy

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kimberly Coble

To transform large, traditionally lecture-based STEM courses at a Hispanic-serving institution to more active and inclusive learning environments, we launched an undergraduate Learning Assistant (LA) program in Spring 2017 in physics, astronomy, and chemistry. Reflection essays from the LA pedagogy course provide insight into challenges and benefits for LAs and perceived dynamics between faculty, LAs, and students. We iteratively coded a total of 142 essays between Fall 2017 and Spring 2022. 82 of the essays were across 5 semesters, pre COVID-19, between Fall 2017 and Fall 2019. The remaining 63 essays were across 5 semesters, during Covid-19, between Spring 2020 and Spring 2022. Frequency counts of emergent themes were tallied. Consistent with the literature, LAs found the pedagogy course and readings helpful, cultivated a greater appreciation for STEM teaching, felt that they became better learners, enjoyed helping others, and appreciated being part of a STEM teaching community. Across all 10 semesters, 3 out of the 5 most common themes were the same: enjoy helping others, became a better student, and STEM teaching attitude improved. LA suggestions for future improvements included opportunities to clarify expectations of LA roles with their students. These results give insights into LA experiences as we continue to revise and expand the program to math, computer science, and engineering.