The Learning Assistant Program (LA program) has made big strides since its inception in 2014. The program puts high-achieving undergraduate assistants in large enrollment, often first- and second-year STEM classrooms, to facilitate and strengthen undergraduate learning. Over the past five years, the LA program in the College of Science has reduced the drop-fail-withdrawal (DFW) rate in several key courses by half, and has now become a model for other colleges in the university.
Learning assistants are advanced undergraduate students who are given an opportunity to develop scientific content knowledge and valuable teaching and professional skills. They work with course faculty to implement and support innovative student engagement strategies and active learning exercises in undergraduate STEM classrooms. The latter has led to greater rates of student achievement as well as more positive feelings of inclusion and belonging in large-enrollment classrooms.
Most of the introductory science classes are gateway courses serving as graduation paths for many different science and engineering majors. Failure in these courses can hold students back from earning STEM degrees.
The LA program was founded by Lori Kayes and Devon Quick, senior instructors in The Department of Integrative Biology and Dennis Bennett, director of OSU’s Writing Center, to support learning in large classrooms, usually numbering 500 students or more. The program has spread to freshman- and sophomore-level courses in physics, engineering, statistics, mathematics and others, and impacts 3500-4500 STEM students per term.
“LAs support course transformation by facilitating more student-centered methods of teaching and learning, for example, peer engagement and increased student discourse during lecture time, which are essential in large-enrollment classes,” share Kayes and Quick.
“Having a peer learning assistant available to help a student grasp a difficult concept or simply be available to talk through a problem with a student can make a huge difference.” — Christine Vernier
The LA Program was initially supported by a four-year $2 million grant from National Science Foundation’s Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-Based Reforms (NSF WIDER) and ESTEME@OSU project (Enhancing STEM Education at OSU). The grant supported training for faculty developers, creation of LA support materials and dissemination to other units.