Learning Assistants (LA) are a huge help in my First-Year Engineering Lab classes. Engineering is such a broad field, and LAs always are able to speak to what they are currently working on in their discipline and skill set. They really help students grasp the realities of college in a way that I cannot.
For example, this past semester I taught a time management skill that none of the students had heard of. It was incredibly helpful to have my LA there to tell them that they implemented this same skill into their daily work routine and it helps them organize their time so much.
So many of my students want to work with robots or in the medical field, and that is not where my expertise lies. I often look to my LAs to talk about what their class experiences are like in these fields and that is just an incredibly valuable contribution that they make to the class.
LAs are essential for any type of group work that happens in my classes. They are great at distilling the main points of the project and helping to break things down. My classes emphasize a lot of collaboration, so LAs are encouraged to share any ideas or feedback they may have and that can really help a group that is stuck and looking for some helpful feedback.
LAs are also great at reporting back things that are going on in the classroom that might be hard for me to see or understand without their perspective. I have been teaching hybrid classes and it is all I can do to keep up with making sure everyone is getting the information they need. LAs are great at picking up on what needs to be explained better or reviewed.
I joined the LA program because I’m working on making the classes I teach more active learning environments and LAs are taught about those principles and know how to foster an environment that promotes active learning. I also teach a lot of first-year students who are really looking for the perspective of a more advanced undergraduate and LAs provide that for them.
The LAs, and the program in general, continues to impress me and help me achieve my classroom goals. I get to work on and troubleshoot ideas during our CAT LA meetings and it always helps to hear what others are doing. I’m also continually impressed with how willing and able LAs are at engaging students with where they are at.
LAs are way more adept that I am in understanding the context of being an undergraduate student because they are students themselves.