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learning impact 2018 learning fellows

WHAT ARE LEARNING FELLOWS?

Dartmouth is known for the scholar-teacher model. As our mission statement attests, "Dartmouth faculty are passionate about teaching our students and are at the forefront of their scholarly or creative work." Our faculty care deeply about their students and are always looking for ways to improve their courses.

The Dartmouth Learning Fellows Program, DCAL’s newest initiative, provides a solution to one of the biggest challenges that faculty face in revamping their teaching: resources. Dartmouth faculty want to improve their teaching, but they lack effective ways of incorporating new techniques into their existing classes. The Learning Fellows Program builds faculty development directly into teaching itself and constitutes experiential learning for students and faculty alike.

The Learning Fellows Program partners undergraduate students with academic faculty to design and deliver active learning opportunities in Dartmouth courses. Through this program, faculty, student Learning Fellows, and Learning Designers work together over the ten weeks of the term to adopt active-learning practices and respond to issues that come up in the classroom as they arise.

Learning Fellows are undergraduate students trained in pedagogy. They support faculty by helping small groups of students interact positively with each other and engage more deeply in the course material. These talented leaders form a bridge between students and faculty, encouraging students to interact with faculty more directly, translating difficult concepts between experts and novices, and providing faculty with feedback from the student perspective.

The national model for learning assistants programs was founded in 2003 in the Department of Physics at University of Colorado, Boulder.

Number of Learning Fellows by Year. 2015-16: 15 learning fellows, 293 students, 5 courses. 2016-17: 94 learning fellows, 1458 students, 35 courses. 2017-18: 111 learning fellows, 1975 students, 39 courses.

WHAT DO LEARNING FELLOWS DO?

  • Support faculty in their teaching by providing human resources in-class and feedback outside of class
  • Provide academic support and peer mentorship for students during class time
  • Facilitate small group activities, including problem-solving sessions, discussions, simulations, and group projects

The addition of Learning Fellows has led to:

  • More active learning in class
  • Better functioning student groups
  • Earlier and more frequent feedback to students and assessment of student learning
  • Earlier identification of content areas where students struggle
  • More faculty time for course preparation and summative assessment
  • A renewed enthusiasm for teaching by our faculty
  • Deeper relationship between faculty, staff, and students

A TEAM APPROACH

At the heart of the Learning Fellows Program model are weekly teaching meetings with faculty, Learning Fellows, and Learning Designers. These meetings, called “teaching huddles,” weave new teaching practices directly into the process of teaching a class, in real time. This iterative process allows faculty to put new techniques into use immediately and get regular feedback on them, making adjustments as they go along and ensuring that the most effective changes will stick.

Professor Robyn Millan in the Department of Physics restructured the format of PHYS 13, an introductory course on the fundamentals of physics. She designed new problem sets and small group activities, then worked with Learning Fellows to implement these learning strategies in the classroom.

Professor Millan explains, “The Learning Fellows became an important part of planning activities each week. They often had a different perspective, so that helped me to better understand where the students were coming from.”

3500+ students in classes with Learning Fellows

WHY LEARNING FELLOWS?

Students

  • Increase in learning and academic performance
  • Receive more frequent feedback
  • Practice with course activities, problem-solving, and discussions in a low stakes environment
  • Benefit from working in a team in a supported environment that encourages reflection and team improvement

Learning Fellows

  • Learn course material better the second time around, when there is no grade
  • See “a-ha moments” in students
  • Learn about their own learning
  • Form relationships with professors
  • Have a chance to impact the design of the course and inform the culture of teaching
  • Bridge conversations between professors and students
  • Learn how to empower and support others

Faculty

  • Receive more frequent and accurate assessment of student knowledge than courses without Learning Fellows
  • Receive useful feedback and new ideas about course structure
  • Reflect on their teaching with others

Learning Designers

  • Better understand student perspectives and learning
  • Form deeper insight into the day-to-day operations of a course
  • Are able to view the implementations and outcomes after course consultations
  • See how their role affects change in teaching and learning

WHAT FACULTY SAY

“You get to know the students better. Back when we lectured, we didn’t really get to know very many of them if they didn’t come to office hours. Now there’s a lot of interaction. It’s a lot more fun.” –Patrick Dolph, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Molecular & Cellular Biology Graduate Program
“Students in the groups don’t feel intimidated when a learning fellow sits down with them. They are willing to admit that they don’t know something, and ask stupid questions, whereas with me they don’t want to sound stupid, so they don’t say much of anything.” –Thomas Jack, Chair and Professor of Biological Sciences, Molecular and Cellular Biology Graduate Program

WHAT STUDENTS SAY

“Every time my group has asked a Learning Fellow or Grad TA for assistance with a problem, I have found them to be helpful in just the right way. They help guide us towards coming to our own conclusions, rather than telling us the answers outright, which is very helpful for our overall comprehension.”
“My Learning Fellow is FANTASTIC!! I love her! She is so smart and knowledgeable but not in a way that is standoffish or intimidating. . . She is also not afraid to admit when something is difficult for her or she isn't sure of something which I really respect.”
“Many people suffer unnecessarily in physics, just as they do in math. I liked that the department recognized that and was taking steps to change it.”

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