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Cultivating the Next Generation: Outcomes from a Learning Assistant Program in Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Mentoring Practices and Project Teams

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Ying Cao Oregon State University

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Postdoctoral Scholar in STEM education.

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Christina Smith Brown University

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Christina Smith is the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Instructional Development at the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University. She received her PhD from Oregon State University in chemical engineering. Her research focused on how the beliefs of graduate students around teaching and learning interact with and influence the environments in which they are asked to teach. She builds on this work in her new position by teaching a course for STEM undergraduate teaching assistants on the theory and practice of problem solving and other programs related to teaching in STEM.

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Benjamin David Lutz Oregon State University Orcid 16x16

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Ben Lutz is a Postdoctoral Scholar in Engineering Education at Oregon State University. His research interests include innovative pedagogies in engineering design, conceptual change and development, school-to-work transitions for new engineers, and efforts for inclusion and diversity within engineering. His current work explores how students describe their own learning in engineering design and how that learning supports transfer of learning from school into professional practice as well as exploring students' conceptions of diversity and its importance within engineering fields.

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Milo Koretsky Oregon State University

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Milo Koretsky is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from UC San Diego and his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, all in Chemical Engineering. He currently has research activity in areas related engineering education and is interested in integrating technology into effective educational practices and in promoting the use of higher-level cognitive skills in engineering problem solving. His research interests particularly focus on what prevents students from being able to integrate and extend the knowledge developed in specific courses in the core curriculum to the more complex, authentic problems and projects they face as professionals. Dr. Koretsky is one of the founding members of the Center for Lifelong STEM Education Research at OSU.

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This evidence-based practice paper studies the expansion into the College of Engineering of the Learning Assistant (LA) Program implemented at a public state university. LAs are undergraduate students who successfully complete a course and then return to the course to help instructors deliver evidence-based or research-based practices. Development of the LA Program is part of a larger initiative at XXX University to implement the use of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) in science, engineering, and mathematics courses.

The LA Program at XXX began in 2014 in one department as an effort to provide support for the implementation of active learning in large enrollment Biology courses. Since its start, the program has spread to include courses in five out of seven departments in the College of Science and four out of six departments in the College of Engineering. The three core elements of the LA Program at XXX University have been adopted from the generalized program elements developed by the Learning Assistant Alliance. First, LAs receive professional development in pedagogy during their first term as an LA. Second, they work regularly with the course instructor as a member of the instructional team to better understand the content that they will deliver in class. Third, they facilitate active learning in classes of near peers, and reflect on their learning and practice in writing.

LA programs have been widely applied in science courses at many universities and there is research evidence that the programs effectively enhance the success of the students in LA-facilitated courses and of the LAs themselves. To date, the implementation and research about engineering LA programs is sparse. At XXX, we identified specific course logistics and educational goals in the College of Engineering and developed an adapted engineering LA Program, which has a different recruiting procedure and pedagogy professional development using a workshop model rather than requiring a pedagogy course. In this paper, we study (1) characteristics and rationale of the adapted Engineering LA Program and (2) assessments of the desired learning outcomes from this program.

Adopting the frameworks of legitimate peripheral participation and communities of practice, we employed mixed research methods. We collected survey data and qualitative data from a cohort of 50 engineering LAs through an academic term, including program development documentation, observation notes of 26 teaching sessions, weekly meetings, and training sessions, 15 in-person interviews with LAs and instructors, 52 responses of LA online weekly reflections, and 13 responses of LA online surveys.

Preliminary analysis shows that with LAs, the LA-supported classes were better staffed and students received more immediate and strategic feedback. LAs recognize that the experience helped them solidify content knowledge, understand others’ perspectives, improve public speaking, better communicate with people, develop teamwork skills, and learn to deal with complex social situations. LAs also recognize how these skills transfer into professional engineering practice. Implications for engineering educators are discussed.

Cao, Y., & Smith, C., & Lutz, B. D., & Koretsky, M. (2018, June), Cultivating the Next Generation: Outcomes from a Learning Assistant Program in Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30244

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015