Learning Assistants in Mechanical Engineering

Nov 4, 2021

At Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), Isabella Stupios is a Doctoral Student in Mechanical Engineering (ME) who is currently working on a study that looks at characterizing Tufts’ Mechanical Engineering Department’s Learning Assistant (LA) program under Lave and Wenger’s “community of practice” framework. 

LAs are undergraduate students who facilitate student thinking and encourage inclusive active learning in the classroom. They participate in weekly preparation sessions with their supervising faculty, where they provide input as active members of the instructional team for their course. LAs also participate in a pedagogical training program, a key element of the LA model.  

Over the past 2 academic years, Isabella has helped Kristen Wendell, Associate Professor at Tufts University, facilitate the weekly ME LA pedagogy seminar. They began to notice some interactions that resembled those of a community of practice. The ME department’s LA program is unique because they have their own veteran LAs participate in their weekly pedagogy seminar. The veteran-novice interactions started to emerge as central to the functioning of the group.  

Isabella was able to interview 13 LAs over the summer ‘21. These LAs had experience varying between 1 and 4 semesters of practice. The goal of the interviews was to explore how these LAs perceived their roles and the larger community. Isabella is in the early stages of analyzing these transcripts but finding that most LAs believe that they are part of a community that is helping to transform the undergraduate experience at Tufts. 

The program has changed now that there is a cross-department pedagogy course for the first time LAs hosted by the education department. Isabella is currently the sole facilitator of a weekly Mechanical Engineering LA meeting where they have LAs troubleshoot and bounce ideas off of each other but don’t focus as much on pedagogical theory. This meeting is a place for veteran-novice LA interactions to occur. 

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