The following guidelines are intended to help instructors provide a well-supported learning experience for undergraduates who work as Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs). With appropriate training and guidance, ULAs can serve as a considerable instructional resource, since students who struggle with the curriculum often find their peers more approachable than faculty or graduate students. By helping their peers, ULAs themselves deepen their own understanding of the course content and enrich their college experience.
Because appointing undergraduates to an instructional role raises concerns and poses potential risks, these guidelines are necessarily more extensive and stringent than those for other instructional roles. Hiring departments and supervising faculty should understand their responsibilities in providing extensive guidance and supervision of the ULAs.
Expectations of ULA Stakeholders
The University funds ULAs through the Teaching Fellow Program. Working in partnership with the sponsoring department, the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) provides resources to train ULAs. The CTL offers foundational training that covers basic pedagogy and addresses topics such as confidentiality, academic integrity, and Title IX issues. This training is offered every semester and is required for all students appointed as ULAs for the first and second times. The CTL will provide recommendations to the department about effective mechanisms for ongoing guidance for the ULAs. These recommendations may include formats for weekly ULA meetings with the instructor, such as discussing problems sets and reviewing challenging concepts.
Working with course instructors, departments will select and hire their own ULAs through Student Employment. Under no circumstances may departments hire first-year students as ULAs.
Departments must secure permission to use ULAs before hiring by contacting the Teaching Fellow Program (firstname.lastname@example.org). Departments may use ULAs only if no graduate students teaching fellows are available.
The DUS will facilitate the partnership between the CTL and faculty. The DUS will thus be the primary departmental contact and should meet with the ULAs at the beginning of each term to discuss the responsibilities, expectations, and limitations of the assignment. Each DUS, in consultation with the DGS, should establish the qualifications for their own department’s ULAs (e.g., whether ULAs must have taken the course to which they will be assigned, whether ULAs must be juniors or seniors, etc.).
Departments will designate one or more faculty members to partner with the CTL to train ULAs. Departments will coordinate communication between the CTL and the ULAs to facilitate training and assessment.
All departments using ULAs will be reviewed after an initial three-year trial period. The review will be based on student responses to the OCE custom question discussed below, the teaching verification survey administered by the Teaching Fellow Program, as well as responses provided by the ULAS to the CTL questionnaire (see “Evaluation of ULA Use”).
The instructor of the course must:
- Closely supervise the ULA throughout the course and participate in ULA training.
- Inform ULAs whether they are required to attend class sessions.
- Hold weekly staff meetings with the ULAs to review topics on which their peers may request help, advise ULAs on assigned grading duties, and help ULAs prepare for sections.
- Provide grading rubrics to ensure consistent grading by ULAs
- Facilitate blind grading mechanisms (see examples in Appendix 2; consult the CTL for further assistance).
- Review ULA grading and must be responsible for calculation and assignment of final grades. Under no circumstances may ULAs grade essays or perform any type of qualitative assessment.
- Observe each ULA at least once per term, either by visiting during the ULA’s office hours, or by observing the ULA’s discussion section, and offer feedback and suggestions. This is a core responsibility of faculty toward students, both graduate and undergraduate, who assist in the teaching of their courses
Faculty also retain their typical teaching responsibilities, including:
- Preparing their own course materials, including syllabi, papers, essays, lectures, homework assignments, problem sets and examinations, and scoring keys
- Reserving and printing course materials
- Obtaining audiovisual equipment
- Maintaining course websites
- Managing the distribution of students in sections at the start of the term
- Recording grades and reporting them at the end of term
- Administering their own examinations
- Grading graduate students’ examinations and graduate students’ coursework that requires qualitative evaluation
Duties assigned to ULAS vary, and they may include the following:
- Holding office hours in specified campus locations, leading review sessions, and working one-¬on one with students in the course
- Grading quantitative assignments, laboratory reports, and examinations
When ULAs are tasked with grading, the course instructor must provide detailed guidelines. Grading must be “blind” —such that students’ names are hidden from the ULA during grading—and ULAs may grade only quantitative assignments. To avoid conflicts of interest, ULAs cannot knowingly grade the work of friends. ULAs may grade graduate student work when the course instructor member provides them with an answer key.
ULAs should expect to spend 1 2 hours per week, individually or as a group, with the instructor of record in the course in which they assist.
An undergraduate may only serve as a ULA for one course per term. ULA appointments are set at 7.5 to 10 hours per week. These hours include the weekly meeting with the instructor and include, where appropriate, attending the class.
ULAs may work during reading period, if they choose to do so, and they must indicate this preference at the time of hiring.
The CTL will provide ULA training, which is mandatory for all ULAs to attend. ULAs must comply with University policies governing confidentiality, academic integrity, and Title IX regulations. ULAs will follow the pedagogical practices for peer instruction presented in ULA training: for instance, how to provide assistance without giving the answer; how to teach inclusively; how to grade consistently and fairly; and so on. ULAs will inform course instructors of any possible conflicts of interest arising from personal relationships with students in the course.
ULAs with complaints or issues that require the attention of someone other than the faculty member may contact the Teaching Fellow Program (email@example.com) for assistance.
Evaluation of ULA Use
All stakeholders are expected to facilitate the ongoing evaluation of the ULAs’ performance. The Teaching Fellow Program will administer a midcourse survey to all ULAs to ask about their weekly work experience (e.g., number of hours worked; types of duties performed), and to provide ULAs a means to identify any concerns. At the end of the term, the University will assess both the performance of the ULAs and the impact of the teaching experience on the ULAs themselves.
At several points during the term, the CTL will also administer brief questionnaires to all ULAs. These questionnaires will ask ULAs whether the CTL training and weekly faculty meetings provided sufficient guidance for the role, and how these experiences might be improved.
Similarly, students in courses staffed by ULAs will evaluate ULA support by means of a required custom question added to the Online Course Evaluation. This additional question will help the CTL get feedback on the preparation and performance of the ULAs from their peers.