Learning Assistants (LAs) are talented undergraduate students who serve as learning coaches and mentors for students, while supporting instructors with teaching-related tasks. LAs are assigned to a particular course and work closely with instructors to provide challenging and meaningful learning experiences for students enrolled in the course.
Instructors who are interested in working with LAs should recruit their best students to apply each semester. Information follows on what the job entails, best uses of LAs, how to recruit, and the application process.
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Successful LA applicants must show good understanding of course material (having completed course with either an A or A-), academic success (a minimum cum GPA of 3.2), good communication skills (both speaking and writing), initiative, and a desire to help others. LAs must also arrange their schedules to allow them to attend the class in which they are working.
Mandatory responsibilities are listed in the LA Job Description. All LAs are required to meet with the instructor at regularly scheduled time each week; communicate regularly with instructor, teaching team, and students in the course; prepare for specific teaching- and learning-related assignments; and attend class (unless otherwise specified by instructor).
Instructors determine what LAs will be responsible for from the full list of responsibilities on page 3 of the LA-Instructor Work Agreement. LAs may assist with explaining course concepts in office hours, providing ungraded feedback on assignments, helping teams get organized for large projects, coaching students on problems related to course assignments, and collecting informal feedback on how the course is going. They may also assist with grading (provided the instructor supplies the student with a grading rubric).
Instructors should provide regular, verbal feedback to LAs throughout the semester. In addition, instructors will be prompted at the end of the semester to provide written feedback using an online evaluation form. Students enrolled in the course are asked to provide written feedback to LAs at the end of the semester as well. Links to online evaluation forms are sent to instructors to distribute to students.
The LA Program makes a presentation each semester to explain the application process to new applicants. In addition, faculty members help inform students by presenting recruiting slides in their classes around the middle of the semester.
Instructors rely on LA support across many facets of their courses. Below is a list of suggestions for making best use of LAs.
- First Day of Class
- Explain the role of the LA to students enrolled in class
- Allow LA to introduce himself/herself
- Communication with LA
- Meet with LA on a regular basis (usually once a week or biweekly) to discuss LAs feedback on students’ progress and to brief LA on upcoming class lessons
- Provide performance feedback to LA at mid-semester and at the end of the semester
- Class Preparation
- Prepare materials to be handed out in class in time for LA to distribute
- Check with LA 10 minutes prior to class to determine if anything needs to be done
- Coaching in Class
- Invite LA to assist with group and individual work during class
- If necessary, assign LA to specific teams to help keep students on task
- Team Management
- Provide the LA information and guidelines for constructing teams if LA is assigned to create teams for the course
- Outline role of LA in intervening with troubled teams
- Brief LA on what teams should be doing in in-class group activities (e.g., give LA key questions to ask of groups), so that the LA knows how to help keep teams on task during in-class activities
- Give LA access to team collaborative spaces so that LA can monitor team meeting minutes, progress toward deliverables, and team communications
- Classroom Management
- Give LA appropriate level of access in the Course Management System
- Outline attendance procedures and any other procedures LA is responsible for
- Communicate whether you will ask LA to help maintain desired classroom environment
- Provide guidelines to LA on what to say and what not to say if LA monitors quizzes and exams
- Review academic integrity policy and procedures for reporting cheating
- Feedback on Students’ Learning
- Determine if you want LA to set up an electronic medium to collect student questions and/or encourage online discussions
- Work with the LA in creating Classroom Assessment Techniques (surveys, diagnostics, or 1-minute activities) if you want to know what students understand, how class is going, or how students study
- See Feedback from Students for ideas
- Grading and Written Feedback on Students’ Work*
- Explain to the LA the kind of written feedback to provide on homework assignments
- Familiarize the LA with your grading rubrics for assignments
- Review grading policies and procedures
- Train the LA in understanding your grading expectations and, if working with more than one, train them together until you achieve inter-grader consistency that meets your expectations
* LAs may be assigned to a class in which friends or classmates from other courses are enrolled. Work with your LA to minimize conflicts of interest. At a minimum, this means that LAs should not grade assignments, quizzes, or tests of an acquaintance or friend in the class and should not be solely responsible for proctoring exams.