University of Colorado, Boulder Project Report 2007
- A strong and ongoing Learning Assistant Program is the centerpiece of the Colorado PhysTEC effort. This program is the main mechanism for recruiting future STEM high school, middle school and elementary school teachers [see description in Section 8, Otero et al (2006) and Mervis (2007)]. The Colorado PhysTEC program has integrated its recruitment efforts for physics teachers with the LA program. This program brings STEM majors into paid, trained, and supported teaching positions (10 hrs/week, including a 2 credit seminar in the school of education).
- Over 50 undergrads apply each semester for roughly 18 spots as LAs in physics.
- The recruitment rate of students into teaching from the LA program is 15%. This year we recruited 6 students from physics and astrophysics into the teacher certification program.
- The culture of physics majors at CU is very supportive of LAs, with many physics honors undergraduates and Sigma Pi Sigma members having gone through the LA experience.
- Departmental faculty are now supporting the Learning Assistant program. To date 13 different physics department faculty have participated in the LA program.
- There is not always a smooth transition for Learning Assistants into traditional education classes, and we find (anecdotally) a negative perception of traditional education classes by some LAs.
- On the negative side: our recruitment efforts are an unpaid/unsupported model, relying on volunteer efforts by a small number of PhysTEC faculty.
- On the positive side: all regular physics faculty in the introductory classes are donating class time to promoting the LA program and drumming up recruits.
- On the positive side, CU has committed money for the coming academic year to continue supporting the LA program from the level of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Provost.
- The physics department now supports the lead physics TA to run programs, including LA training.
- There is significant interest and talent among the undergrads if they are provided opportunities to engage in teaching and pursue careers in teaching physics.
- We need models of sustainable practice. Establishing a program is insufficient. It appears that simultaneous bottom-up (faculty / student) and top down (administration / national grant) support are needed.
- The LA program is the main mechanism by which we recruit future physics teachers. It is a precursor to students entering the teacher certification program at CU. In the coming year we anticipate expanding the recruitment effort (pending funding from NMSI) by revising the teacher certification coursework for physics teaching.
- 84 undergraduate students have served as Learning Assistants in physics since 2003. Sixteen of those have served two or more semesters and 26 are female.
- The approximate total number of students who applied to be a physics LA were 211, over 4 semesters, of whom 39 were female.
To recruit new LAs each term requires class visits, emails, and interviews, a considerable time commitment with little direct "payoff". This is currently conducted by 1-2 lead faculty members (part of the PhysTEC faculty)--and faces the difficulties of being institutionalized as a departmentally supported activity.