In the face of pandemic-induced academic challenges, Tech’s new Learning Assistant (LA) program was created to facilitate interactive learning in campus classrooms.
The LA program acts as a hybrid of two existing tutoring and academic support programs: Teaching Assistants (TA) and Leaders of Peer-Led Undergraduate Studies (PLUS).
During a lecture, recitation, studio, or lab, LAs help facilitate active learning and collaborative teaching by answering student questions one-on-one or in small group. This interaction helps to make lessons more student-centered and reduce the student-teacher ratio, which is especially useful for larger lectures.
To help promote student learning, LAs must take a one-credit pedagogy course (CETL 2001) to learn a variety of interactive teaching techniques.
In addition to their classroom duties, LAs also meet with their instructor to plan upcoming assignments and activities, arrange office hours for students, and can help with grading.
Professors must apply each semester to have their courses supported by an LA. Current courses involved in the LA program include AE 2010: Thermodynamics and Fluids, CHEM 1211K: Chemical Principles I, ME 2202: Rigid Body Dynamics, MGT 3062: Financial Management, and several others.
The LA program was created and is now coordinated by Stephanie Reikes, who teaches pre-calculus courses MATH 0999, MATH 1111 and MATH 1113.
Reikes is also the director of the Math Lab, which offers private math lessons to Tech students.
“The inspiration for the Learning Assistant program came during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reikes said. “My course, MATH 1113, previously had PLUS sessions. However, during the pandemic attendance had dropped and MORE was cut from my course. In the absence of PLUS, I felt that my students could still use additional support, and I thought that if I could give them the support in the form of built-in tutors, I might see better academic success. »
The LA program website describes in more detail the need for the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As teaching returns to an in-person format, instructors will need to decide which elements of remote learning they wish to retain. For example, by moving content delivery to online videos, the in-person component could be used for collaboration and discussion. It’s a great opportunity to turn the classroom experience into an active environment with the help of learning assistants,” the website describes.
Joshua Kretchmer, who teaches CHEM 1211K, uses LAs as suggested on the program’s website to facilitate a flipped classroom with students participating in person and virtually.
“I teach a large lecture class using a flipped classroom model. Most of my time is spent working on problems in the classroom…LAs move around the classroom answering questions and surveying students as the students solve the problems,” Kretchmer said. “LAs also help answer questions online from students who are not attending in person… [because] I don’t monitor the online chat.
The overall response from faculty, LAs and students regarding the program so far has been excellent.
Second-year BA Joseph Galanti is LA for MGT 3062.
“It was a highlight of my time at Tech,” Galanti said.
“I answered many questions that clarified and reinforced a student’s understanding of the material, and it’s always exciting to see them experience that light bulb ‘aha’ moment.”
Galanti explained how he plans to take an active role in leading class activities like Kahoot! online quiz.
“Leading these activities helps keep students engaged and builds their understanding of the material,” Galanti said. “I think the physical presence of knowledgeable peers in the classroom and the hands-on interaction with students greatly benefits the way material is interpreted and remembered.”
Galanti also discussed the additional benefits of the LA program to help students during class.
“I think what separates the LA program from other support programs is our…ability to help on-site students who might be struggling,” Galanti said. “Although some students may not make the time to attend office hours or tutoring sessions, being there during class hours to address any concerns helps relieve some of the stress they may to have.”
Students in classes with LAs agree on the benefits of the program.
Reikes has received many positive comments from students, including comments about LA’s accessibility, helpfulness and patience who have aided in learning by providing study tips based on their own course experience .
Reikes’ aspiration for the program is for it to have a lasting positive impact on campus, even as the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“I hope to continue to expand the program each semester to support even more students,” Reikes said. “I hope this new program will help teachers rethink the way they teach so they can see the benefits of an active learning classroom. »
Professors who wish to apply for LA support in their courses in fall 2022 can do so until March 11 at tutoring.gatech.edu/la-program. Students can begin applying for open positions in LA at the end of March.