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Positioning Undergraduate Learning Assistants in Instruction: A Case Study of the La Role in Active Learning Mathematics Classrooms at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln

Rachel Funk, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Research suggests learning assistant (LA) programs can be a change lever to support the institutionalization of active learning in postsecondary education. Some research suggests LAs offer unique benefits for STEM courses, independent from other change levers, but more research needs to be done to understand how LAs support active learning classrooms, specifically in mathematics. Research on mathematics instruction and the use of reform resources suggests that the successful implementation of reforms is impacted by perceptions individuals hold about that resource, such as the LA role. Yet, there is little research about the LA role in mathematics, particularly where the instructor is a graduate student (GSI). This dissertation addresses this gap by presenting a qualitative case study of the LA role in active learning precalculus classrooms at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Participants included 9 LAs, 18 GSIs, 411 students, and one LA Coordinator. This study aimed to understand the LA role by examining how participants perceived LA-instructor and LA-student interactions. Data included interviews, classroom observations, observations of instructor-LA meetings, and open-ended survey responses. The findings of this study are presented in three chapters: Chapter 4 describes how instructional rights and duties were distributed through five positions that defined LA-instructor interactions. Chapter 5 describes and compares how instructors and LAs perceived LA-student interactions, focusing on two subcases to highlight common themes from the data. Chapter 6 describes how students viewed LA-student interactions. These findings suggest that the LA role manifests through multiple positions, that those involved in instruction may have conflicting perceptions of the LA, and that although LAs are at times thought of as distinct from the instructor, they are often considered to occupy the same role, particularly by students. The conclusions from this research can help inform professional development for learning assistants, as well as extend our field’s understanding of factors that influence the manifestation of the LA role.

Subject Area

Education|Higher education|Mathematics education

Recommended Citation

Funk, Rachel, "Positioning Undergraduate Learning Assistants in Instruction: A Case Study of the La Role in Active Learning Mathematics Classrooms at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI30574852.