This spring, the CU Denver Learning Assistant (LA) Program celebrated its 10th Anniversary of supporting STEM student success. The LA Program was started in spring 2012 by Dr. Laurel Hartley, associate professor, integrative biology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), and Dr. Robert (Bud) Talbot, associate professor, STEM education, School of Education & Human Development (SEHD). A celebration of the program was held on May 5 in the Learning Commons building, and was attended by Learning Assistants, faculty, administrators, and guests from CU Boulder.
In her remarks, CLAS Dean Pam Jansma noted that LAs are integral in helping CU Denver deliver high-quality instruction during the pandemic. She also pointed out that students in LA-supported classes are more likely to pass the courses. Jansma also celebrated the new space in Learning Commons on the second floor, where LAs further support students outside of class during help session hours.
Dr. Valerie Otero of University of Colorado Boulder also attended the celebration. Otero is the originator of the LA model, which first started at CU Boulder in 2002. Otero pointed out that CU Denver is a leader in the International Learning Assistant Alliance and that universities all over the country and even outside the country are looking at CU Denver as a model.
LAs are undergraduate students who have succeeded in a course and are subsequently recruited and hired to help students to learn in that course. They also help faculty to develop learning communities and transform courses to be more student-centered. LAs are paid to do this work. First-time LAs take a course in teaching and learning taught by Talbot in SEHD.
A student in general chemistry this semester said, “LAs help me to ask my questions more confidently and find different ways to solve a problem. And having LAs from different ethnicities helps us feel like we belong here.” A LA in that same class said, “Being an LA means I have a wonderful opportunity to make an impact on students by being a resource to them and helping them succeed.”
The LA Program has grown from having 15 LAs working in three courses during the first spring semester in 2012 to having over 110 LAs working with 20 faculty and serving over 1,500 students each semester. Hartley and Talbot have secured over $2 million in funding to conduct research on LA-supported courses and have advised four doctoral students and one postdoctoral researcher. Research shows that students in LA-supported courses are two times more likely to pass than students in the same course without LA support. And pass rates in LA supported courses are at least 10% higher than non-LA supported courses. The research data also shows that faculty who teach with LA support use more student-centered pedagogies. And exciting new research shows that LA support may be most beneficial to women who are underrepresented in STEM, and all groups of students see some benefit from having LAs help them learn.
The LA Program’s new space includes a program office and meeting rooms for LAs to hold office hours. The dedicated space has helped build the LA community and is a testament to the ongoing support for the LA Program provided by CU Denver.
This story was written by Dr. Robert (Bud) Talbot, associate professor, STEM Education, School of Education and Human Development (SEHD); Dr. Laurel Hartley, associate professor, Integrative Biology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS); and Julie Bickner, program coordinator, Learning Assistant Program.