Hi everyone. I'm Hannah Klawa, a PhD student in the Mathematical
Sciences Department here at George Mason University. During the fall
2020 semester, I had the opportunity to work as a graduate learning
assistant for a graduate linear analysis class that was taught by Dr.
Sander, who is a professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department
here at George Mason University. Before Long and Cigole introduce
themselves, I just want to mention that also on this project is Joanna
Jauchen, who's an instructional faculty member in the mathematical
sciences department and is a PhD student in mathematics education.
Hello, I'm Long Nguyen, a PhD student in mathematics at George Mason
University. I was working as graduate learning assistant during fall
2020 in numerical analysis course was taught by Dr. Seshaiyer, who is
Professor in Math Department of George Mason University. Now Cigole
will introduce herself. Hi, I'm Cigole Thomas. I'm a PhD student in
the Department of Mathematics at GMU. In fall 2020, I was a graduate
learning assistant for the graduate algebra course taught by Dr.
Rebecca R. G, who is a professor in the Department of Mathematics at
GMU. Today we will be talking about graduate assistants supporting
active learning in graduate classrooms. Regarding this study, since
this is a new initiative, we got the IRB approval to conduct
interviews and surveys to see the impact of this program on students.
What is the graduate learning assistant or GLA program? The Department
of Mathematical Sciences at GMU started a graduate learning assistant
program in fall 2020. The structure of the program is that three
advanced graduate students were hired under a graduate teaching
assistant funding to be a learning assistant for three graduate core
courses namely algebra, linear analysis, and numerical analysis.
Usually, the students in the core courses tend to be mostly incoming
first-year graduate students. With the GLA program, we aim to help the
graduate students navigate smoothly into their graduate studies. Now
Hannah will talk more about some of the goals of the GLA program. Some
of the goals of the GLA program were to give students an extra mentor,
provide better active learning opportunities, provide additional time
to get help and prepare students to pass preliminary exams. By having
a GLA in the graduate class it gives students a peer mentor who's
available. Also, just like LAs have helped facilitate active learning
in the undergraduate classes, having a GLA was hopefully going to
provide better active learning opportunities for graduate students.
The GLA would have sessions, office hours, be available via e-mail, so
it provides additional time for people to get help. One of the big
goals of the program is to help students prepare to pass the
preliminary exam. This was an additional support that would be
available and hopefully help people prepare for the exams. Now Long
will tell you a little bit about the actual breakdown of what a GLA
was going to do. As a GLA, our job typically takes approximately 10
hours per week, which includes two hours attending lectures and help
with group's activities, about two hours for office hours to help
students with homework, projects, and answer questions. Also two hours
for prelim section which is important section since most students take
prelim exam for core courses. In this section, GLA discuss 2-3 old
problem to create confidence for students to take their exam. Besides,
we meet with instructor half-hour weekly to clarify plan for next
week. Finally, GLA spend about 2.5 hours to prepare material for next
week. Next, we will talk about some strengths of the program, and
Cigole will start with GLAs modeling problem-solving. Now that we have
seen the structure of the GLA program, let's look at some of its
strengths and how the students have benefited from this. From the
student's salary responses and the interviews we conducted, one of the
benefits the students had was how the GLA models problem-solving
tactics, which they mostly attributed to two different aspects. The
first one is how the GLA model and approach for problem-solving by
nurturing students in right direction and helping model how to
approach the problem. The second aspect is how the GLA encourage
active learning for problem-solving by encouraging discussion through
asking questions and also encouraging collaboration among students.
Now, Hannah will talk about a few other ways, how the GLA program has
helped the students. Another positive aspect of the program was that
people did find it useful to have that additional person to answer
questions and additional time for questions and problem-solving.
During the class sessions, it was found helpful to have an extra
person going around between groups and answering questions. Outside of
class, one student mentioned that it felt less imposing to ask
questions to the GLA than the instructor. Then they mentioned feeling
more comfortable going back to the GLA several times and discussing
the same question if they weren't understanding something. Then there
was the aspect of additional time for questions. It was helpful just
to have that extra scheduled time so if they weren't able to make it
to the professor's office hour or to the GLA office hour, just having
that additional time each week that was set aside for questions was
helpful, and it was also found helpful to have a scheduled time for
problem-solving. During the prelim sessions, they would come and work
out problems, and some found that that provided a accountability
system and helped them concentrate longer to work in that structured
setting. Now I'll let Long tell you about another positive aspect.
Another strength for this program is GLA artifacts of prelim sessions.
We're glad that many students found it helpful. Typically, GLA provide
materials and all prelim problems which relate to current course
lecture at least three days before prelim session so that students
have time to find out either method or trouble of solving these
problems. That helps students get involved actively in prelim
sessions. Also providing solutions in detail to show how to use course
material to show prelim problems and effective guidance for students
when taking prelim exams. Now Cigole will show student survey
responses. Here is a visual representation of some of the student
survey responses. If you look at the chart on the left, it talk about
statements like, "I felt connected with other graduate students in
this class throughout the semester, " "The active learning class
sessions helped me gain a better understanding of the course concepts,
" "The prelim sessions were beneficial towards my learning in the
course," and "Active learning sessions made me better prepared to work
problems independently." The chart on the right talk about statements
like, "I actively participated when I attended active learning
sessions," "I learned from others in my group during the active
learning session," "I felt comfortable discussing mathematical ideas
with classmates," and, "The instructor or GLA encouraged discussions."
If you look at the chats, we can see that the combination of strongly
agree and agree denoted by blue and orange is greater than disagree
and strongly disagree denoted by yellow and dark teal indicating that
the experience for the students was overall positive. Now, we'll talk
about some of the challenges we face. In the surveys and interviews,
one of the main concerns voiced by students is regarding the
efficiency of group work for the pre-lab sessions. Some of the
students commented on the difficulties when the group members failed
to contribute to the discussion or when there is no collaboration
while working in groups. However, some students also added that the
presence of GLA could encourage the students to engage and participate
more in the discussions. One student also mentioned how the online
Zoom sessions made it harder to collaborate. Now, Hannah will talk a
little bit more about some other challenges that we faced. Yes. One of
the negative things that came up was that students felt that the GLA
did not meet their expectations. For example, the GLA is not always
able to answer all the questions that an instructor is able to answer.
Sometimes this is concept related. In one instance, it was related to
instructor created content where if there is a typo the GLA might not
be sure if what the instructor's intended meaning is and so is unable
to answer the question. Also, GLAs might not provide sufficient
guidance. This is something that's a typical comment in an active
learning course. Some people would prefer to do less group work where
they're doing group work and then the GLA is just answering questions
and would prefer the GLA to provide a more guided setting where
they're working out the problem. Also, there was some concern that the
GLA might not cover sufficient number of problems in this session over
the course of the semester. Now, I will let Long tell you about
another challenge that we ran into. Some other challenge was
scheduling conflict and technical problems. Due to conflict of
schedule, not so many students were able to join prelim section. As a
resort, many students requested to meet with DOA in different term,
that gives us such a hard time since we have other work to do as well.
Also as we worked remotely, showing work were trouble. All students
had told to show their work, so this were hard to keep track on
students solving process. Now, let Hannah talk about what can be
improved for GLA program. Yeah, some possible improvements so it
includes standardizing GLA-instructor communication and amount of
information shared. One student had mentioned they felt like there was
poor communication going on between an instructor and GLA, and so
setting up some standards for how much that the instructor be telling
the GLA and guidelines for the instructor in the GLA on communication
and amount of information shared could be helpful. Increasing
discussion and collaboration between students. This there's only so
much you can do but sometimes one student had mentioned that even when
the GLA would visit a room and just ask a question or get the
discussion going, then that helped be an icebreaker to the discussion.
Also increasing advertising and encouraging students to attend the
GLA-lead sessions, and this in turn can help to increase the
discussion and collaboration since there's lack of attendance and it's
hard to get discussions going. Now, in this last part we'll tell you a
little bit about the benefit that being a GLA has to the graduate
students working as GLAs. One of the good things about the GLA program
was not only does it provide additional support for students taking
core courses, but it also provides graduate students who are working
as a GLA with better teaching experiences. It gives experience with
active learning at an advanced level, helps you solidify your own
understanding of the topic, and provides an opportunity to explain and
discuss advanced topics, or while having the instructor around to
answer questions and serve as a teaching mentor. I'll now let Cigole
tell you a little bit more about the benefits of being a GLA. When I
look back as a graduate learning assistant, what I got out of this
program is a toolset for grocery teaching. First of all, it was a
great learning experience on how to teach graduate level courses. Not
only was I able to observe how the instructor teaches the graduate
courses, but I also got hands-on experience to assist the teaching in
my role. Secondly, the active learning worksheets that I developed for
my previous sessions was a great experience to understand more about
active learning in a graduate level. In addition, the experience I
gained from one-to-one interactions with graduate students as a
learning assistant was also invaluable. One of the benefit of being
GLAs in experience. I have taught some undergrad [inaudible 00:14:04]
but teaching grad course in more advanced. Being GLA is definitely a
perfect opportunity to gain experience in teaching grad course from
professor. Moreover, GLA could learn from grad student as well since
there always been some new interesting thinking and skill of solving
problems. More importantly, GLA could have changed to understand
deeper course material which we'll get knowledge for research later.
Thank you for listening. We hope all the information are helpful.
Please feel free to provide feedback. More detail can be find on
[inaudible 00:14:42] proceeding page.