Project introduction and background information
Undergraduate students can be appointed as student assistant and as such they can fulfil many different tasks, related to education, research and organisation. In the year 2018/2019 at the University of Twente, an estimated 51.000 to 84.000 student assistant working hours were spent on learning-related tasks. The student assistants are prepared on the content of their work by the lecturer who hires them. Part of the student assistants also get a pedagogical preparation, which is provided by the University’s Centre of Expertise in Learning and Teaching (CELT), consisting of a half-day session at the start and a follow-up lunch meeting during the quartile. In general, in evaluations, students are satisfied about the content expertise of the student assistants, however, the opinions about the didactical skills vary from good to unsatisfactory.
Student representatives in departmental and university bodies have asked to spend some of the ‘WSV kwaliteitsgelden’ on more extensive didactical training for student assistants with tasks in which they are formally involved in other students’ learning processes (Learning Assistants, LAs).
The Learning Assistants Project at the University of Boulder, Colorado has been an inspiration. By incorporating elements of other LA trajectories, the ‘Colorado LA Model’ has been adapted to the local situation and demands.
Objective and expected outcomes
The main aim of the new training is to provide LAs with the expertise they need for the tasks they are currently asked to work on but also with general didactical expertise that allows them to determine themselves how to approach other learning assistant tasks that they might be asked for in the future. That means that LAs are trained once and don’t need new training when they decide to work as LA again in other courses.
The main training objectives are:
- LAs make the shift from the student to teacher perspective and role;
- LAs show a reflective, professional attitude aimed at improving their practice as LA, and
- LAs can determine pedagogical strategies for assisting, when provided the goals, teaching strategies and assessment of the unit they are asked to assist in.
Participation in the trajectory must be feasible for LAs, next to their regular study program and the LA tasks.
Following a rapid prototyping approach an LA-training trajectory is designed and implemented at small scale. Simultaneously, an inventory is being made of the current roles and tasks of LAs, and more in-depth needs analysis for the design of this training.
Results and learnings
The pilot trajectory consists of one three-hour kick off meeting and 8 lunch meetings (each lunch meeting consists of intervision plus a new topic) and homework. the lunch meetings are spread over two quartiles in which the students have to be working as LA. The total (extra) study load is 1 EC. In the attached article the programme of the pilot LA trajectory and the evaluation results of both the training needs assessment and the first quartile of the pilot LA-training are presented.
The pilot was finished successfully in October 2020. The chosen content and teaching methods are seen as effective and the training objectives are reached by the LAs. To highlight a few main success factors:
- Spreading the trajectory over two quartiles provides time to grow. In the second quartile LAs can practice to transfer what is learnt in the first quartile to their new tasks in the second quartile.
- The in-service aspect. The students are working as LA during the training and ‘homework’ assignments are given to try out in their LA work.
- Intervision and the action planning approach are important elements in the lunch meetings.
- The ‘constructive alignment exercise’ makes the LAs aware of the set-up of a whole course, how the component they assist in fits in and how the course could be optimized.
- The relatively low extra study load of 1 EC spread over two quartiles.
The trajectory, with some changes, is now taken over by the Center for Teaching and Learning of the UT and is offered as one of their standard courses.
More could be found in the paper (at the downloads on the right): “Towards certified learning assistants for improving educational quality” by Ineke ten Dam and Marieke van Geel.