SUSTAINED: Scaling Undergraduate STEM Transformation and Institutional Networks for Engaged Dissemination of the Learning Assistant Model
Learning Assistants (LAs) are undergraduates, hired by university and two-year college faculty to help transform courses. At Boston University (BU), LAs are utilized to promote active-learning environments and student-centered teaching, as well as inclusion and retention of students in STEM careers. On a larger scale, the Learning Assistant Alliance is a coalition of (currently) 88 universities that connects and supports each other in using LAs to achieve institutional and community transformation. Under SUSTAINED, the tools, resources, and funding structures to support the LA model will be developed to serve national educational transformation needs through the LA Alliance.
The Collaborative SUSTAINED Project is working toward the following goals: (1) Building and testing resources for dissemination and support at diverse institutions, (2) Investigating learning outcomes and retention at the national level, (3) Leveraging tools for building institutional buy in for the LA Program and research on how best to build support for the LA Program, and (4) Developing models for governance of the LA Program that addresses the diverse needs of all types of institutions. To accomplish these goals, our SUSTAINED project team at BU is engaged in developing and testing LA program materials, building resources for dissemination that allow others to adopt the LA model, and studying the implementation of the LA Program at the local, regional, and national levels through surveys, interviews, and ongoing feedback.
The LA model is not itself a research-based instructional strategy. Instead, it is a model of social and structural organization, built on relational leadership theories, that catalyzes the use of such strategies. Thus the LA model induces and supports the adoption of existing research-based instructional strategies. At BU, where we are both centralizing and growing the LA program, we are investigating how the academic community comes together to implement the use of LAs, leveraging different types of expertise in a vibrant community of undergraduate students and LAs, graduate TAs, and faculty. On a larger level, we are studying how to enhance our regional and national LA workshops to aid other institutions in developing community support for their own LA programs.
By engaging and disseminating research that looks at local implementation, we anticipate fostering LA program development at diverse institutions across the country. Outcomes include: (1) the capture, accumulation, and dissemination of multidisciplinary resources and tools to support educational change, (2) a large-scale study to investigate outcomes and retention at LA Alliance universities, (3) adapting the ﾓLA Centralﾔ data management system for use at LA Alliance institutions, and (4) a leadership and funding structure for sustaining and building the ongoing work of the Alliance.
This project supports the accumulation and dissemination of materials and a national large-scale study to support claims about learning outcomes and retention. Current estimates show approximately 3,000 LAs help to transform courses in 200 STEM departments nationwide, serving some 150,000 students. Funding for this project will effect growth, quality, data-support for claims, and sustainability.
As a collaborative research project among colleagues at several different institutions (CU-Boulder, Chicago State U., George Mason U., and Boston U.), we find that we have to put more effort and planning into communicating openly and productively, which we have achieved by a) regularly-scheduled online group and sub-group meetings, b) in-person, multi-day full project team collaboration meetings, and finally c) in-person meetings of subsets of the project team coinciding with conferences or symposiums such as this one.