In the fall of 2020, a group of university students took part in a pilot program testing a new way of training Learning Assistants (LAs). In a cross-disciplinary seminar facilitated by Dr. Josh Brummer, an assistant professor of practice in the mathematics department, the students engaged in a semester-long course aimed at improving their understanding of effective teaching and learning techniques. The goal was to better equip the students to serve as LAs in their individual fields of study with a cross-disciplinary approach. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the course was offered both synchronously and asynchronously and run through Canvas.
LAs are undergraduate students, usually in STEM-related majors, who serve as peer mentors to other students and help create a more enriching learning environment. LAs are students who have demonstrated an advanced understanding of a course, and who are interested in helping their fellow students learn. LAs typically express an interest in teaching in their field of study. Beyond tutoring students on the material, LAs often help facilitate group discussions in class and strategically bring about more meaningful interactions for students. LAs are particularly effective because they are truly peers of the students they are working with and thus can better relate to their challenges. LAs are actively involved in the courses and classrooms they are assisting. UNL’s use of LAs is new, but several other institutions have mature programs that have impacted student learning for the better. Brummer’s newly developed training seminar, which saw enrollment of over 50 students representing 15 majors, was novel because of its cross-disciplinary focus.
This seminar was made possible by a grant through the Center for Transformative Teaching. Applications for the next round of CTT Teaching Grants are due April 30th.