Center for Learning Resources Offers Unique Opportunities for Students to Learn from Each Other
The Learning Assistant Program brings student tutors into the classroom to offer support to their peers and the professor. The program is an important resource that offers valuable learning opportunities for students, tutors, and professors.
November 22, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Jenn Tucci ’23 has always been passionate about helping others. She’s given back by volunteering at community cleanup events, fundraisers, and children’s reading programs at her local library, and she’s now giving back to the University community by offering her support as a tutor.
A forensic science major, Tucci serves as a Learning Assistant (LA) for the University’s Center for Learning Resources (CLR). She is assisting with an elementary statistics course – a course she has already taken and a topic she knows well. Her role has also enabled her to get to know her fellow Chargers while taking on a leadership role.
“Being an LA has given me the opportunity to help students and to build a relationship with the professor I work with,” explains Tucci. “I have also created friendships with the students I work with, so they feel comfortable asking me questions about statistics, other classes at the University, extracurriculars, and more. I am able to take on a mentoring role for some of these students and be a resource for them on campus.”
'A stronger foundation'
Tucci is one of several student tutors – Learning Assistants – who are part of the CLR’s new and rapidly expanding Learning Assistant Program. It is a “flipped classroom” model, of sorts, offering a unique opportunity for students to learn from their peers. LAs work with a professor who is teaching a class they have already taken and excelled in, including many science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses.
The program is a way to foster active learning in the classroom. LAs present brief lessons, answer students’ questions, and serve as a source of support for students in the class. LAs work in small groups or one-on-one. They also are available during office hours, both in person and virtually.
“In my role as a learning assistant, I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to help students in the classroom,” said Mackenzie Pavlik ’23, a forensic science major who has spent two semesters as an LA. “I find this helps to increase the overall comprehension of material, as there can be a stronger foundation on which to grow. Learning Assistants can also be a more approachable option for students who have questions or are struggling with the material.”
The Learning Assistant Program is one of many branches of the CLR, along with the Writing Center, which offers writing support; the Learning Lab, which includes course-based tutoring; the International Student Academic Support Liaison Program; and the Grad Lab, which offers graduate-level course tutoring.
Jeff Hunt, M.A., academic operations manager for the CLR, says the Learning Assistant Program has facilitated communication between students and professors. He also says many students feel more comfortable approaching a fellow student than they would speaking to their professor if they need help.
“The flipped classroom model fits with all of the general tutoring we do in the CLR, where tutors are trained not to give answers, but to help students become independent learners and to think for themselves,” said Hunt. “We've also found that LAs are giving great feedback to professors, in regard to things they wouldn't always hear until course evaluation time.”
'When the light bulb turns on'
Learning Assistants include students from myriad programs of study. Many are active members of the University community – resident assistants, athletes, campus tour guides – and all are passionate about helping their classmates succeed.
While LAs are typically undergraduate students, Jyoti Bhandari ’25 M.S. is also part of the program. Bhandari, who hails from Nepal, is one of two LAs who are international students. She wanted to make sure fellow international students had the support they needed, and she wanted to play a role in offering that support.
During her first semester pursuing her master’s degree in data science, Bhandari took “Introduction to Data Science” with Ardiana Sula, Ph.D., and she did very well. She now serves as an LA in that class, offering support to her fellow graduate students and to Dr. Sula. She collaborates with Dr. Sula on course materials, assists with labs, and helps students cultivate a growth mindset. Having taken the course herself, Bhandari says she’s uniquely able to help current students excel.
“Sometimes students learn better from students, only because they may feel more at ease asking them questions rather than asking professors in the classroom and feeling on the spot,” she said. “A Learning Assistant is just another student, skilled to help others understand a concept better. Students can get one-on-one assistance and support. This program is not just for the students who are struggling, but it can help all students to be better students. So, it’s a great resource, and every student should utilize it.”
'It’s especially rewarding'
The Learning Assistant Program has grown to include nearly 40 sections this semester – including some online classes – and it is expected to include even more next semester. In the spring, the program will expand to the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, and LAs will be helping with classes during the upcoming winter intercession for the first time.
The intercession is something Briana Hojo ’23 is looking forward to, as she’ll serve as an LA in a general chemistry class. A forensic science major, she’s mainly focused on organic chemistry classes during her past two semesters as an LA.
“My favorite part is being able to see the students grow and learn throughout the semester,” she said. “It’s especially rewarding when you get to work with a student who has been having trouble with some of the material, and you get to the point where it just clicks for them. When the light bulb turns on in their head and they begin to understand, it’s an incredible and exciting moment to witness.”
'This will help me in the future'
Serving as an LA has also been educational for Hojo. She says learning about her classmates’ different learning styles has helped her tailor her tutoring to each student’s unique needs, enabling her to become more flexible and creative. Hojo says her role has also helped her develop a “deeper appreciation for all educators.
“It’s shown me all the behind-the-scenes work and preparation that professors and instructors do for their classes,” she continued. “It’s more than just presenting a PowerPoint in class and grading exams. There is a lot of planning and hard work that goes into it, and I don’t think a lot of students realize that. It’s been amazing to see how the professors truly care about the success and well-being of their students.”
For Tucci, the forensic science major and statistics Learning Assistant, being part of the program has been educational for her as well. It has enabled her to strengthen her own understanding of statistics as well as her ability to explain the concepts. She expects her increased confidence in her leadership skills and deepened interest in research will serve her well when she conducts her Honors thesis project and in her career.
“In the forensic science field, it’s important that you not only understand the topics you specialize in, but that you are able to explain them to a jury,” she explains. “Being a Learning Assistant for a statistics class has given me practice in explaining topics to students with different math backgrounds at varying levels. It has given me the opportunity to find new ways to explain topics and create visual aids for students. This will help me in the future when I need to testify as an expert witness.”