This evidence-based practice paper studies the expansion into the College of Engineering of the Learning Assistant (LA) Program implemented at a public state university. LAs are undergraduate students who successfully complete a course and then return to the course to help instructors deliver evidence-based or research-based practices. Development of the LA Program is part of a larger initiative at XXX University to implement the use of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) in science, engineering, and mathematics courses.
The LA Program at XXX began in 2014 in one department as an effort to provide support for the implementation of active learning in large enrollment Biology courses. Since its start, the program has spread to include courses in five out of seven departments in the College of Science and four out of six departments in the College of Engineering. The three core elements of the LA Program at XXX University have been adopted from the generalized program elements developed by the Learning Assistant Alliance. First, LAs receive professional development in pedagogy during their first term as an LA. Second, they work regularly with the course instructor as a member of the instructional team to better understand the content that they will deliver in class. Third, they facilitate active learning in classes of near peers, and reflect on their learning and practice in writing.
LA programs have been widely applied in science courses at many universities and there is research evidence that the programs effectively enhance the success of the students in LA-facilitated courses and of the LAs themselves. To date, the implementation and research about engineering LA programs is sparse. At XXX, we identified specific course logistics and educational goals in the College of Engineering and developed an adapted engineering LA Program, which has a different recruiting procedure and pedagogy professional development using a workshop model rather than requiring a pedagogy course. In this paper, we study (1) characteristics and rationale of the adapted Engineering LA Program and (2) assessments of the desired learning outcomes from this program.
Adopting the frameworks of legitimate peripheral participation and communities of practice, we employed mixed research methods. We collected survey data and qualitative data from a cohort of 50 engineering LAs through an academic term, including program development documentation, observation notes of 26 teaching sessions, weekly meetings, and training sessions, 15 in-person interviews with LAs and instructors, 52 responses of LA online weekly reflections, and 13 responses of LA online surveys.
Preliminary analysis shows that with LAs, the LA-supported classes were better staffed and students received more immediate and strategic feedback. LAs recognize that the experience helped them solidify content knowledge, understand others’ perspectives, improve public speaking, better communicate with people, develop teamwork skills, and learn to deal with complex social situations. LAs also recognize how these skills transfer into professional engineering practice. Implications for engineering educators are discussed.
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