Letter from the Editor

Beth Lindsey, Penn State Greater Allegheny

For this edition of the FEd newsletter, I chose to invite articles from a few exemplary Learning Assistant (LA) programs. At the University of Colorado where it was developed, the LA program is described as follows (taken from the University of Colorado LA Program website):

“The Colorado Learning Assistant (LA) Model at the University of Colorado-Boulder uses the transformation of large-enrollment science courses as a mechanism for achieving four goals:
  • To recruit and prepare talented science majors for careers in teaching
  • To engage science faculty in the recruitment and preparation of future teachers
  • To improve the quality of science education for all undergraduates
  • To transform departmental cultures to value research-based teaching for ourselves and for our students

The transformation of large-enrollment courses involves creating environments in which students can interact with one another, engage in collaborative problem solving, and articulate and defend their ideas. To accomplish this, undergraduate LAs are hired to facilitate small-group interaction in our large-enrollment courses.”

What followed from my invitation to contribute to this newsletter was a happy coincidence that I never expected: the faculty at both institutions asked if it would be all right if their students — the LAs themselves — were to contribute to the articles. I was thrilled to provide an opportunity to let the students’ voices be heard. Thus this newsletter does not present the typical rundown of research results on the benefits of LA programs (and the research is plentiful; some of it has been carried out by the authors of these articles, both faculty and students). Instead, I present two articles in which undergraduate students describe their experiences as Learning Assistants, and how this experience has contributed to shaping their roles as physicists, as students, as teachers, and as researchers. One of these articles is much longer than is typical for this newsletter, but I felt the richness of the article was such that it deserves the space it is given. Perhaps these articles will inspire you to create, modify, or expand your own LA program.

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.