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What are Undergraduate Learning Assistants?

Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs) are undergraduate students who have successfully completed a course and are prepared to provide support for student learning in interactive classroom environments. ULAs largely assist with facilitating small group discussions and other activities that use their skills and experience in identifying and addressing student difficulties with course content. They make a large class feel small. In a way, they help the instructor “be everywhere at once” when doing group discussions in a face-to-face class.

What do Learning Assistants do?

The ULA’s primary role is to help students learn through facilitation of student activities. This is different from the role of Teaching Assistants, which is to help the teacher teach. It is also different from Supplemental Instruction (SI), which is additional teaching outside the scheduled class time by other students. ULAs only interact with the students taking the class during the scheduled lecture.

ULAs guide students towards an understanding of the content through questioning, and identify and address common student struggles.  All new ULAs must enroll in a pedagogy course in addition to weekly meetings with the course instructor to discuss common student difficulties and upcoming activities.

Why Learning Assistants?

Several studies have found that students in courses with Learning Assistants outperform those in traditional courses. In general, both the students enrolled in the course and their Learning Assistants learn the subject better. ULAs report that facilitating learning can be challenging at times, but it is also very rewarding to watch students learn and develop. In addition, the leadership and facilitation experience gained from being an ULA benefits the student by building their interpersonal and communication skills, no matter what their future holds.

How does it work?

The model the Faculty Center proposes is free for faculty and students and follows this process:

  1. A faculty member identifies a promising student as the current semester ends and asks if they would like to ‘work’ as a ULA in next semester’s iteration of the same class.
  2. The student chooses if they want their experience to be captured as a free, zero credit, on-transcript class (which will be accredited by Experiential Learning) OR if they prefer participating without a transcript inclusion. Those who successfully complete their duties as a ULA—whether they choose the transcript option or not—receive a certificate from the Faculty Center at the end of the semester.
  3. At the start of the semester, the student receives training from the Faculty Center which includes an online module and several in-person coaching sessions. Both are designed to provide the student with the tools and support they need to lead discussions and participate in classroom management.
  4. Throughout the semester as a ULA, the student invests approximately 10 hours a week which includes face-to-face training by the Faculty Center, meeting with the instructor to plan or discuss activities, and attending the actual lecture and performing the ‘work’ with students in the class. Successful ULAs receive a completion certificate and, if applicable, an inclusion on their transcript. Those who fail to meet these requirements receive an Unsatisfactory ‘grade’ on their transcript. The student is not an employee with this arrangement and pays no tuition to participate in this program.

What’s the incentive for faculty? What’s the incentive for students?

Faculty benefit by gaining access to a trusted, trained leader of small group discussions, resulting in a more engaging, interactive experience for students in larger classes. Students benefit from the enriching experience itself, the certification of completion (and, if selected as the preferred option, a zero-credit course on their transcript), and the opportunity to include this position on their resumes, CVs, and in graduate and career applications. Those who are interested in teaching careers will also see a strong correlation with this work.

I’ve heard that some ULAs get paid for their work. How can we arrange to pay our ULAs?

There are numerous departments and schools at UCF that already use ULAs, and they have various models in place. Some pay the ULAs an hourly wage using their department budget. Others require students to take a for-credit class within their discipline. There is no centralized funding for ULAs. Departments that already have a ULA program in place are free to continue their program in their own fashion, or they may ask their ULAs to take the Faculty Center’s ULA training program if desired.

The Faculty Center model outlined above is meant to bring ULAs to departments that don’t currently have ULAs and do not have the funding to pay for them within the department.

How do I learn more or get started?

Email fctl@ucf.edu to indicate your interest in ULAs, how many you have in mind, and when you’d like to implement them.