Learning Assistant Program

What is a learning assistant? A learning assistant (LA) is an undergraduate student who facilitates group work in 400 level courses.  There are three kinds of assignments for LA's (each LA has only one of these assignments):

  • facilitating in studio courses, where students do group work a majority of time they are in class
  • facilitating in recitations that accompany lecture courses (once a week for 90 minutes)
  • running peer led team learning sections in Physics 401/402 (the algebra based physics course taken mostly by life science majors and pre-health professionals).  These are small sections of 6-8 students that last 60-90 minutes once a week.  Many of you may be familiar with PLTL from Chemistry.

This is a very important role, as LA's provide timely feedback to students as they work together in groups, and this has been shown to be effective in increasing student learning.  LA's must have done well (B+ or better) in the introductory physics course that they took.

What would this entail?

1) One hour each week to reviewing the content of the course and considering what students will find challenging, and how to guide them through the material.


2) A seminar course on "Issues in teaching and learning physics" (Phys 501), Monday nights (usually from 4-5pm), and doing the assigned readings (about 1 hour per week). Topics will include the following:  different kinds of questions, how to facilitate group work, deep and surface learning, different kinds of questions, student initial understandings in physics.  This is required only the first semester you are an LA.

3) Facilitating student work in class; the time depends on which assignment you have: Studio LA's are in class 3-6 hours each week; Recitation LA's are in class 90 minutes each week; PLTL leaders are in class 60-90 minutes each week.

4) A total of about 4-5 hours a week for PLTL and recitation,  6-9 for studio LA's.

What will you get out of this ?
1) Review of the content to give you an even firmer foundation in physics that will be useful in your upper division courses (whatever your major)
2) A better understanding of how people learn, so that you can help others and be a more self-aware and effective learner yourself
3) 2 credits for Phys 501.  (This is a pass/fail course.)  You do not need to pay extra for this course, even if it puts you over the 20 credit limit.
4) In subsequent semesters, we are likely to be able to hire you to be an experienced LA.


How do I get started?
If you are at all interested, please send email to Prof. Dawn Meredith:
1) your available times in the upcoming semester (typical times needed: Recitations are Tues OR Thurs 9:40-11:00 OR 11:10-12:30; PLTL times are flexible - you would need only one class slot each week; studio is MWF 11:30-1 OR TR 3:40-5:30 OR MWF 2-4PM)
2) how sure are you that you would like to do this  (over 80% sure, between 50-80% sure, less than 50% sure)
3) Any questions you might have.
4) A few sentences about why you would like to do this.

It is possible that we will have more students interested than we have placements, so we cannot promise you a seat in this program; we will do our best to accommodate everyone.  Preference will be given to those who can take or have taken Physics 501.