Learning Assistants are changing the way students learn in some of our core chemistry classes, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Learning Assistants are undergraduate students who assist a professor in one of our core classes. They are campus employees who have taken the course and received a B+ or better. In addition, they must complete a one-credit pedagogy course to learn about teaching and form relationships with other LAs. They meet weekly with the professor of the class to review upcoming topics. LAs are paid for the work they do and are hired through TILT (The Institute for Learning and Teaching). Along with interacting with students during formal class time, LAs provide academic support in the way of review sessions, drop-in tutoring, and facilitating study groups. The number of LAs in the Chemistry department has increased since the program started in 2020 in Chem 113 and has expanded to include Chem 107 and 111.
The professors who teach these classes are thrilled with the work the LAs are doing. Professor Harmony Tucker, who teaches CHEM 113, said:
“Having LAs circulating around every time students have a question to discuss makes it possible for me to gather my thoughts for how to discuss it when we come together as a class and having more undergraduate involvement helps the students to feel the peer influence that can make them feel that mastering this is possible and accessible! The LAs might explain things a little differently than I do – it can reach students in a different way – a new perspective.”
LAs like the program because it helps them reinforce what they have learned and teaches them critical thinking skills. Many say that the work they do is rewarding; Alex Millan who is a LA for Chem 107 said:
“When it comes to the LA role, it definitely gives you an experience that will last a long time after this job, and on top of that it is really enjoyable. Working with the students – helping them progress through the course and figure out a lot of those things that maybe you struggled with when you took the course – it’s just really cool, and you get to build relationships with the students and your LA team. It’s just a really fun experience overall.”
Students have said that LAs make learning less intimidating and create an interactive learning environment. According to a poll of students who have taken a class with an LA, 81% say that assistance from LAs gave them a better understanding of the material. In the same poll, there was a 5% higher student success rate between the Fall of 2019 and the Fall of 2020. That number is at 9% among racially minoritized students.*
“All the out-of-class support – the group learning sessions, the one-on-one tutoring, the cohort tutor groups, even the exam review sessions – these are all my favorite part of being an LA because this is where you are directly helping students with their learning. And this is where you get those ‘oh moments’ in terms of students finally breaking through with their learning,” said Alex.
The LA program in Chemistry is growing and the professors of these core classes are looking for outstanding students to take on this role. Commitment details and an invitation to apply will be sent to every student in a core class who earned a B+ or better. If you know of a student who did well in one of the core classes, please encourage them to apply.
*Student-reported data was gathered through an end-of-semester survey emailed to all CHEM 111 students in December 2020. The response rate was 13% for CHEM 111.