The learning assistant program brings student tutors into the classroom to support their peers and the professor. The program is an important resource that provides valuable learning opportunities for students, tutors and professors.
November 22, 2022
Jenn Tucci ’23 has always been passionate about helping others. She has repaid by volunteering at community cleanups, fundraisers and children’s reading programs at her local library, and now she is giving back to the university community by offering her support as a tutor.
A forensics major, Tucci serves as the Learning Assistant (LA) for the university’s Center for Learning Resources (CLR). She is assisting with a basic statistics course – a course she has already attended and a subject she knows well. Her role has also allowed her to get to know her fellow loaders while also taking on a leadership role.
“Being LA gives me the opportunity to help students and build a relationship with the professor I work with,” Tucci explains. “I’ve also made friends with the students I work with, so they’re happy to ask me questions about statistics, other courses at the university, extracurricular activities, and more. I can mentor some of these students and be a resource to them on campus.”
“A Stronger Foundation”
Tucci is one of several student tutors – Learning Assistants – who are part of the CLR’s new and rapidly growing Learning Assistant Program. It’s a sort of “inverted classroom” model that gives students a unique opportunity to learn from their peers. LAs work with a professor who teaches a class in which they have previously attended and excelled, including many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses.
The program is a way to encourage active learning in the classroom. LAs present short lessons, answer students’ questions, and serve as a source of support for students in the class. LAs work in small groups or one-on-one. They are also available both in person and virtually during office hours.
“In my role as a learning assistant, I really enjoyed being able to help students in the classroom,” said Mackenzie Pavlik ’23, a forensics major who spent two semesters as an LA. “I find this helps increase the overall understanding of the material as there can be a stronger foundation to grow from. Learning assistants can also be a more accessible option for students who have questions or are struggling with the material.”
“Students become independent learners”
The CLR, the university’s main tutoring center, offers peer and professional tutors available to students of all majors, both in person and virtually. The CLR also offers competency-based tutoring, such as: B. Assistance with laboratory reports and help with programs such as Excel. The CLR is recognized as one of the top tutoring centers in the country and received the 2016 Association for the Coaching and Tutoring Profession Award for Excellence.
The Learning Assistant Program is one of many branches of the CLR, along with the Writing Center, which provides writing assistance; the Learning Lab, which includes course-based tutoring; the International Student Academic Support Liaison Program; and the Grad Lab, which offers tutoring for college graduates.
According to Jeff Hunt, MA, academic operations manager for the CLR, the Learning Assistant Program has made communication between students and professors easier. He also says that many students feel more comfortable approaching a fellow student than speaking to their professor when they need help.
“The flipped classroom model fits in with all of the general tutoring we offer at the CLR, where tutors are trained not to provide answers but to help students become independent learners and think for themselves,” said hunt “We’ve also found that LAs give professors great feedback on things that they wouldn’t always hear until course evaluation.”
“When the Lightbulb Goes On”
Learning assistants include students from countless courses. Many are active members of the university community—resident assistants, athletes, campus leaders—and all are passionate about helping their classmates succeed.
While LAs are typically undergraduate students, Jyoti Bhandari’s 25 MS is also part of the program. Bhandari, who is from Nepal, is one of two LAs who are international students. She wanted to make sure her international fellow students got the support they needed and she wanted to play a role in providing that support.
During her freshman semester pursuing her Masters in Data Science, Bhandari took Introduction to Data Science with Ardiana Sula, Ph.D., and she did very well. She now serves as the LA in that class and offers her fellow students and Dr. Sula support. She works with dr. Sula collaborates on course materials, assists with labs, and helps students develop a growth mentality. Having completed the course herself, Bhandari says she has a unique ability to help current students excel.
“Sometimes students learn better from students just because they feel more comfortable asking them questions instead of asking professors in the classroom and feeling local,” she said. “A learning assistant is just another student capable of helping others understand a concept better. Students can get individual help and support. This program is not just for struggling students, it can help all students become better students. So it’s a great resource and every student should use it.”
“It’s extra rewarding”
The Learning Assistant program has grown to nearly 40 segments this semester — including some online courses — and is expected to include even more next semester. In the spring, the program will expand to the university’s campus in Prato, Italy, and LAs will be helping with classes for the first time during the upcoming winter prayers.
Intercession is something Briana Hojo is looking forward to in ’23 as she will serve as LA in a general chemistry class. A forensics major, she focused primarily on teaching organic chemistry during her final two semesters in LA.
“What I like best is being able to see the students grow and learn throughout the semester,” she said. “It’s especially rewarding when you’re working with a student who’s struggling with some material and you get to the point where it just clicks for them. When the lightbulb lights up in their head and they begin to understand, it’s an incredible and exciting moment to witness.”
“This will help me in the future”
Serving as LA was also educational for Hojo. She says learning about the different learning styles of her classmates has helped her tailor her tutoring to each student’s unique needs, making her more flexible and creative. Hojo says her role also helped her develop “a deeper appreciation for all educators.
“It showed me all the behind-the-scenes work and preparation that professors and instructors do for their courses,” she continued. “It’s more than just a PowerPoint presentation in class and marking exams. There’s a lot of planning and hard work behind it, and I don’t think many students realize that. It was amazing to see how much the professors care about the success and well-being of their students.”
For Tucci, a forensic scientist major and statistics learning assistant, participating in the program was also educational. It has allowed her to strengthen her own understanding of statistics as well as her ability to explain the concepts. She anticipates that her increased confidence in leadership skills and deepened interest in research will benefit her in completing her honors thesis project and in her career.
“In forensics, it’s important not only to understand the subjects you specialize in, but also to be able to explain them to a jury,” she explains. “As a learning assistant for a statistics class, I learned to explain topics to students from different mathematical backgrounds at different levels. It has given me the opportunity to find new ways to explain topics and create visual aids for students. That will help me in the future when I have to testify as an expert.”