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Takeaways From the Northeast Regional Learning Assistant Alliance Workshop

Last week, Adrienne Gauthier (EdTech), Cindy Tobery (DCAL), and I participated in a regional Learning Assistant Alliance workshop designed to support institutions in developing and implementing Learning Assistant (LA) programs on their own campuses. Across the country, campuses are launching LA programs to recruit talented undergraduates and provide comprehensive pedagogical training in order to revitalize courses and provide faculty with resources to support active learning.

A map showing the pipeline of LA programs at various institutions.
A map showing the pipeline of LA programs at various institutions.

According to the Boston University LA Program, “A Learning Assistant (LA) is a high-performing undergraduate student who is hired to help with teaching a course they have successfully completed. As opposed to other undergraduate programs, learning assistants help in transforming the class to focus on active and collaborative learning.” The LA model primarily focuses on STEM disciplines, but has potential to be adapted to support student learning and engagement in an interdisciplinary context in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields – which is exactly what we hope to do at Dartmouth.

Here are our reflections from the 2015 Northeast Regional LA Workshop:

“A goal of LA programs is curricular/course transformation through more active and engaged learning.  Preliminary data show that courses with LAs have fewer students who withdraw or get failing grades than similar courses taught without LAs.  The students in the class find their LAs very approachable and faculty have another way to learn where their students may be struggling.” - Cindy Tobery

“What struck me in particular, are the narratives from the professors who have LAs in their courses and from the LAs themselves. The faculty talk about the extremely successful LAs who when they took the course, were the “mid-level” student who really had to work at getting the good grade and deeper understandings. These students have the perspective of “the struggle” and in turn can better help the struggling students in the course. Additionally, they become even more expert at the content, potentially affecting their retention in the STEM major. The LA student reflection panel and group lunch really demonstrated how articulate and leaderful the LAs become after the experience. There are many qualities and skills they showcase, and not yet realizing, that will take them well into the future as a successful professional or teacher in their field.” - Adrienne Gauthier

“The LA model integrates experiential, peer-to-peer, and active learning while creating meaningful mentorship opportunities for undergraduates and support structures for faculty. I really think this model is the ultimate fusion of resources and experiences leading to high-impact teaching and learning on multiple levels. A program like this at Dartmouth would add significant value for undergraduate students who need extra support, for the students serving in leadership roles as LAs, and for faculty and departments interested in teaching active learning courses.” - Ashley Kehoe

For other models of LA programs, check out:

Tell us what you think! How can we design a Learning Assistant (LA) program at Dartmouth to best support our students, faculty, and departments? What would an optimal Dartmouth LA program look like?

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