Peer Learning in STEM

The UGA Office of STEM Education is currently partnering with several departments across campus to develop Peer Learning Assistant models for implementation in select courses. This program aims to leverage the success of undergraduates who have completed the course in which they serve and wish to share their knowledge and abilities with their peers. Peer Learning Assistants provide valuable knowledge, insight, and learning strategies for the students they work with, while also furthering their own mastery of material they have already learned.

On Friday, February 17th, Dr. Valerie Otero visited from CU-Boulder to provide a presentation on using Learning Assistants and development of an LA-style program.

An archived recording of that session can be found here!


BIOL 1107 - Dr. Norris Armstrong

Building on success from fall 2016, Dr. Armstrong will continue to develop his PLA system in one section of 1107, serving approximately 270 students. This course meets in an auditorium classroom at the SLC. For spring 2017, 11 new PLAs will be joined by 7 veteran PLAs who will explore potential for enhanced leadership roles.

Each PLA has previously successfully completed the course, and will be able to share their learning strategies with current students. To supplement the content knowledge each PLA brings to the table, they will also participate in a course dedicated to teaching the fundamentals of learning and strategies for working with peer learners. PLAs will earn an hour of upper-level credit for this experience. .


CHEM 1312 / 1412 - Dr. Chuck Kutal

For more than 10 years, Dr. Kutal has utilized Student Learning Assistants in his Honors Chemistry labs. In this capacity, undergraduate SLAs worked with graduate TAs in a lab environment, and participated in weekly reflection seminars. Beginning in spring 2017, Dr. Kutal's labs will be supported by PLAs participating in the larger program. Dr. Kutal led efforts during fall of 2016 in the creation of two new courses. FCID3100 is a 1-credit-hour pedagogy course designed to provide training for PLAs from all disciplines. CHEM3900 is 2-credit-hour 'practicum' course designed to provide credit for PLAs' time spent supporting their courses. The former is a potential candidate for classification as experiential leearning.

In addition to 11 new PLAs for CHEM1312, Dr. Kutal has three veteran PLAs participating in the program. Two of them are participating in a pilot partnership with Athens Technical College, in which they travel to ATC's Athens campus weekly to support students in labs.


CSCI 1301 - Dr. Bradley Barnes

After a successful fall 2016 semester, Dr. Barnes will continue to augment one section of CSCI1301 via PLA-supported instruction. This class, which is taught in one of the new SLC SCALE-UP classrooms, closely matches the Learning Assistant model developed at CU-Boulder. Three PLAs provide support during class meetings with Dr. Barnes. Additionally, these PLAs provide support to smaller lab sections in cooperation with graduate TAs.

Having already successfully completed this course themselves, the PLAs are able to offer their mastery to new students. In addition to supporting the CSCI 1301 lectures and labs, the PLAs also receive pedagogical training via FCID 3100, a 1-credit-hour course.


ENGR 2120 - Dr. Tim Foutz

Beginning fall semester 2016, two sections of ENGR 2120 (Statics) will be supported by PLAs. Each section will incude 38 students. PLAs in this course will utillize the argumentation, writing-to-learn method in their support of students. Training on this method of learning will be provided by representatives from the College of Education. Additional pedagogy training will also be provided.

Peer Learning Assistants for this course will be selected from a pool of students who have previously completed the course with a grade of 'B' or higher. Those selected to serve as PLAs for ENGR 2120 will be compensated.


MATH 2250 - Dr. Malcolm Adams; Dr. Gary Iliev; Dr. Robert Benim

Starting spring semester 2017, six sections of an intensive-level MATH2250, Calculus I for Science and Engineering, are supported by Peer Learning Assistants. The classes of 19 students will each be supported by two PLAs, who will attend each class meeting and work with students during designated times. Selected PLAs will be compensated for their time.


PHYS 1112 - Dr. Bill Dennis

Starting spring semester 2017, certain sections of PHYS 1112 will implement PLAs. During fall 2016, Dr. Dennis will monitor the PLA model used in Biology 1107 to help define his strategy for employing Learning Assistants in Introductory Physics - Electricity and Magnetism, Optics, and Modern Physics. Similar to BIOL 1107, PHYS 1112 will be offered in the new Science Learning Center's auditoriums. Fall semester 2016 will also be used to recruit and select PLAs for this course. Dr. Dennis anticipates a PLA to student ratio of 1:15 to serve approximately 160 students. Students enrolled in the physics courses will be asked to complete pre and post surveys to measure whether or not their perceptions of science are affected by learning with assistance from the PLAs.


PHYS 1211 - Dr. Andrei Galiautdinov

Starting spring semester 2017, certain sections of PHYS 1211 will implement PLAs. Each section of Physics 1211, Principles of Physics for Scientists and Engineers - Mechanics, Waves, and Thermodynamics, has approximately 45 students enrolled. Dr. Galiautdinov plans to use his fall offering of the course to recruit PLAs for the following spring. Two sections of this course will include the PLA implementation.


Pedagogy Training

In order to best prepare our Peer Learning Assistants, curricula and materials have developed to provide training in pedagogy, including strategies and techniques that can be used in mentoring environments. A long term goal will be to distill the content created into a scaleable training course able to serve all STEM disciplines.

  • BIOL 3910 - will continue to serve as the training course for PLAs in BIOL 1107 during spring semester 2017. Peer Learning Assistants will be receiving course credit for their participation. This course will feature face-to-face and online elements.

  • FCID 3100 - After being approved during fall semester 2016, this new 1-credit-hour course will serve as pedagogical training for PLAs from various disciplines. Two sections have begun for spring 2017, with nearly 40 PLAs enrolled across the two offerings. This course is discussion driven, and meets one hour each week. Currently enrolled are PLAs from Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics and Astronomy.

Resources

University of Colorado Learning Assistant Alliance - The University of Colorado-Boulder has been an early pioneer in the use of Learning Assistants in higher education. Their techniques have proven successful, and have influenced the plans in development at UGA. The University of Georgia is a member institution of the Learning Assistant Alliance, a network of institutions who are "sharing resources and information and experiences to further the objectives of transforming large-enrollment courses and recruiting future K-12 math, science and engineering teachers through the use of Learning Assistants." Visit learningassistantalliance.org to learn more. Faculty and staff can also create an account to access resources.

Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire - This instrument has been used in ENGR 2120 to measure factors contributing to student learning in college courses. Comprised of two sections, Motivation and Learning Strategies, this tool helps identify students' goals and strategies. Click Here for a manual on this instrument.

 

Courses Included

The following courses plan to develop and implement Peer Learning Assistants into their classrooms by Spring 2017. Not all sections of each course will implent PLAs.


Learning Community

Representatives from participating STEM departments regularly meet to discuss plans and progress related to the Peer Learning Assistant program. Meeting notes are archived and available HERE.


Spotlight

Dr. Chuck Kutal, Professor of Chemistry, presents on his experience using PLAs at UGA during the 2016 USG STEM Summit in Macon. Watch the video below for a little bit of history as well as future plans for the use of PLAs.