What is a Learning Assistant?
Learning Assistants (LAs) are undergraduates in the College of Science who are interested in unique educational opportunities such as participation in undergraduate instruction, course innovation, peer-to-peer tutoring and mentoring (etc.) and the chance to work closely with Mason faculty. The LA program has three main goals:
- Facilitate the learning of undergraduates in classrooms, labs, help rooms, and other venues though the use of Learning Assistants who understand the material and attend the course lectures.
- Deepen the LAs understanding of important concepts of the course in which they are working by having them assist the learning of other undergraduates.
- Expose LAs to the process of teaching and learning through weekly workshops and hands-on teaching experience.
What does an LA do?
LAs work with students to facilitate their learning and often work with students individually or in small groups. LAs are trained to ask questions that promote student discourse and that uncover student thinking and student misconceptions. LAs work with undergraduate students to help them develop a deeper understanding of the important concepts and connections inherent in the course material they are studying. The LA program is designed for undergraduates who are pursuing a degree in the College of Science.
Quotes from LAs
"Acting as a Learning Assistant, especially preparing my own LA materials while also utilizing the professor-provided review content, developed my critical thinking and communication skills as I worked to deliver content to various types of learners within the time constraints of office hours and review sessions."
"Being a Learning Assistant opened my eyes to the possibility of education as a career path for me. My anxiety surrounding public speaking really seemed to take a step back when I was reviewing content with students."
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the College of Science have an LA program?
The LA program enhances the educational experience for those involved (LAs, non-LA undergrads, and faculty). Recent research on this type of program shows other benefits include improved undergraduate retention (via application in “bottleneck/gateway” courses, etc.) and reduced time to graduation. LAs work with students to facilitate their learning and often work with students individually or in small groups. LAs are trained to ask questions that promote student discourse and that uncover student thinking and student misconceptions.
To learn more about the LA program, contact a current LA or the STEM Accelerator faculty member working in your major. They can answer most of your questions not addressed here.
How many hours per week do LAs work during the semester?
LAs are required to work 10 hours/week. The breakdown of those 10 hours is unique to the course they are assigned. Your faculty mentor will outline your expected involvement — i.e. your duties in terms of hours/week — when you meet (before the semester begins).
All new (i.e. first time) LAs are required to attend a mandatory weekly seminar. This one-hour seminar will introduce you to pedagogy and various aspects of science education and your attendance will count towards your 10 hours/week. Beginning in Spring 2017, New LA’s will be required to select one of two mandatory seminar time slots. Days and times of these seminars will be posted on this page for you to consider when registering for fall courses. Please plan to hold one of the two slots open in your schedule.
Each LA will also be assigned an advisor from the STEM Accelerator and will meet with this person throughout the semester. Our goal is to make certain each LA has a strong support network and benefits educationally from this program. If this happens the students in your courses will benefit and so will you!
Please be specific and thorough in detailing what you expect and what are the required duties. This is a learning experience for the LAs. As such, their duties should involve some aspect(s) of “active learning/involvement” — e.g. helping facilitate discussion in breakout groups (lecture, labs, recitations), leading oral exams, etc. Administrative tasks such as grading and copying should NOT be a major part of their duties, if it is done at all.
You will need to meet with your LA(s) weekly to discuss: their duties for the upcoming week(s), issues they may encounter in the lecture/lab/recitations they are working, etc. At times, this meeting might last 10 minutes; other times, it might last one hour — its up to you. Regardless, this weekly meeting will count as part of their 10-hour/week effort.
Do LAs get paid for their efforts
Yes; LAs are paid $2000.00 total for the semester in incremental stipends. While not formally a wage, these stipends correspond to a rate of $13.33/hour for the 15 week semester.
How do I apply to the LA program (or, how do I request an LA)?
Applications for this program are accepted the semester before work begins. Click on the "apply" button above for information.
Can I be an LA for more than one semester?
Yes; there is no limit on the number of semesters you can serve as an LA.
Do I need to re-apply each semester?
Yes; all faculty and students must re-apply each semester.
Before I apply, should I identify a course/professor I want to work with as an LA (or, identify a student I want to work with in my course)?
Yes; priority will be given to students and faculty who already have a student/faculty member in mind. This should information should be included in your application. You should only list courses you have successfully are currently enrolled) with an earned grade of “B” or better.
What happens after I submit an application?
All application will be reviewed by the STEM Accelerator faculty and by the professors who have been awarded an LA. The faculty member will then contact perspective LAs and schedule a time to interview them for the position. You will then be notified regarding the final decisions (ALL applicants will be notified of final awards). All applicants will be notified the week before finals begin. Faculty mentors should plan to meet with their LAs before the semester ends.
The LA Program is managed by the faculty and staff of the STEM Accelerator, a special interdisciplinary collaborative in the College of Science.