Learning Assistant Model
Transformation of instructional practices across the STEM disciplines has entailed establishing the undergraduate Learning Assistant (LA) program at FIU, based on University of Colorado’s work. The LA Model is an experiential teaching program in which LAs experience the reward of teaching by facilitating their peers’ learning in undergraduate courses and serves as a recruitment tool for teaching careers. Faculty and institutional change are at the core of the LA program, as faculty must incorporate active learning into their courses to merit LA support.
Over the past 6½ years, FIU became the nation’s largest LA program, supporting 143 LAs, across 6 disciplines and over 33 faculty in Spring 2013. Participation reflects FIU’s diversity in STEM departments: 69% of the 385 undergraduates ever serving as LAs were Hispanic, 7% were Black, and 44% were women. The LA program has become central to FIU’s STEM education identity and is now primarily institution-funded, supplemented by targeted external funding.
Growth and Expansion of the Learning Assistant Program
Figure 1: Growth of the Physics Learning Assistant (LA) Program and expansion into additional science and mathematics disciplines. The number of LAs is plotted each semester since the inception in Spring 2008. There were 143 LAs in Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Mathematics, Physics and the College of Engineering & Computing in Spring 2013.
Math Lab / College Algebra
The Mastery Math Program has transformed FIU’s College Algebra courses, supporting over 2,500 students in 2012/13. Components include: required active learning during class time; creation of a Mastery Math lab (supported by LAs); and establishment of a learning community of instructors and LAs. The program grew rapidly from a US DoEd Title V pilot project into a Presidential initiative with construction of a computer lab in summer 2012. Outcomes include an increased pass rate from 33% in 2010/11 to 52% in 2012/13. Up to 9 instructors and 30 LAs are supported in 8-17 sections per semester. Please click below for a recent article highlighting this exciting event improvement!
Transformation of the Undergraduate Physics Program
Transformation of the physics program at FIU began in 2003 and serves as the foundation for many efforts. The undergraduate physics program grew by 480% over a ten-year period, the three-year average of intended and declared majors rose from 25 (2000-02) to 145 (2010-12), during which FIU’s undergraduate population increased by 44%. The physics turnaround is attributed to systemic reform across student leverage points, the core of which was the implementation of Modeling Instruction and ISLE in a lecture-free studio format. These were introduced into the introductory physics sequence in 2003 and now supports roughly 17% of students taking calculus-based physics. The reform expanded across the Introductory Physics I and II Labs that serve the remainder of students (over 2,500 per year) taking introductory physics. Open Source Tutorials and ISLE labs were introduced into the Physics I and II Labs, respectively. Critical to the success of these programs has been implementation of the undergraduate Learning Assistant program at FIU. The physics program transformation was propelled by the establishment of the Physics Education Research Group (PERG).
Figure 2: Number of intended and declared physics majors 1992-2012, disaggregated by historical representation in physics (grouped as Majority and Underrepresented). In Fall 2012, there were 158 majors including 122 students from historically underrepresented groups. Underrepresented include students from Hispanic, African-American, and Native American backgrounds.
Figure 3: Comparison of conceptual understanding disaggregated by ethnic representation (blue for Underrepresented-ethnicity Modeling students and red for majority-ethnicity Modeling students), as measured by the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). Data includes pre instruction data, post instruction data, and raw gain determined by subtracting post from pre data. Data from multiple class sections are shown.
Improved Success in Modeling Instruction Physics Courses
Figure 4: Success rate in introductory physics courses for Modeling and lecture classes, disaggregated by gender and ethnicity (Majority and Underrepresented). Success is calculated by determining the number of students earning a grade of C− or better, or those not receiving D+ or lower including Drops and Withdraws (DFWs).
Introductory Physics Lab Reform Impact
Figure 5: A comparison of Cohen’s d standardized effect sizes on raw gain on the Force Concept Inventory from various instructional strategies. The data includes effect sizes of interactive-engagement courses reported by Hake in red and effect sizes of traditional courses reported by Hake in blue; the categories were determined by Hake and only university data is included. We report FIU results for transformed labs (shaded red) and traditional labs (shaded blue). Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals on the effect size.
Establishment of Large Active Learning Classrooms
Provost Wartzok has pledged to establish large active learning classrooms, based on our success and after visiting the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ Science Teaching and Student Services Building. Eight active learning classrooms will be built within the next three years, four of which will be fully-media equipped and four will be flexible spaces with partial media. These, along with commitments to the LA program and STEM Transformation Institute, illustrate FIU’s endorsement and adoption of data-driven faculty-led course and program transformation.