From teaching assistants to learning assistants – lessons learned from learning assistant training at Excited

  • Madeleine Lorås NTNU

Abstract

As enrollment in higher education increases, our courses grow larger and educators sometimes struggle to scale good pedagogy. In many cases, the use of learning assistants (LAs) is one way of keeping the educational design and quality of courses intact. The fact that LAs are students themselves is viewed as an essential aspect of their success, as they are closer to the students both socially and academically. LAs understand the curriculum in a similar way as the students and can perhaps draw from their own experiences in the course, not that long ago. On the other hand, they are still students, most often not studying or aiming to become teachers. Although being a good LA may fall naturally to some people, most students are in need of some training in the art of teaching. NTNU has recently made a LA training course mandatory for all new LAs. The whole course is 20 hours in total, where six of them are specific to the subject they are teaching.

This paper presents how we do the course specific training at the Department of Computer Science. We have approximately 500 LAs in action every year, and around 100-150 take the LA training course every semester. Instead of having the various lecturers run individual modules, we gather all LAs in seminars covering topics relevant to learning and teaching in the computing disciplines. We also discuss concrete ethical and pedagogical cases, as well as reflection on the role as a teacher. The paper also includes some reflections on the main challenges these LAs face in their practice as both teachers, facilitators, mentors, FAQ-bank and evaluators. Both feedback from LAs, students and lecturers have been very positive, and we wish to share how and why our system works with other educators.  

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Published
2020-04-17