The fall 2020 semester has brought unprecedented challenges. One challenge the Honors Program faced was how to provide meaningful, face-to-face experiences in discussion-based seminars while still maintaining the safety of everyone involved.
For some faculty teaching in Honors this year, this also meant the added challenge of teaching an interactive, in-person course from the safety of their home.
Fortunately, Honors faculty have found ways to adapt. One of the biggest assets enabling remote instruction of in-person classes has been the expansion of opportunities for Honors learning assistants. These upper-class Honors students are facilitating in-person discussion and managing classroom dynamics while ensuring that instructors are able to lead class remotely and deliver lessons virtually.
Pascha Stevenson, who teaches a creative writing Honors seminar for first-year students, said having a student leader in the classroom to help facilitate is a game-changer.
“I couldn’t teach remotely if it weren’t for Rose (Kottwitz) serving as the Honors learning assistant for my 189H seminar,” Stevenson said. “Just knowing she’s there in the classroom handling things on that end makes me feel calmer and more prepared, more confident in a good classroom experience for our students.
For her part, Kottwitz said she’s grateful for the in-person interactions the role provides.
“All of my classes for this semester have been moved online,” said the junior English major, who is assisting Stevenson’s Writing the Contemporary Fairytale seminar. “Being a learning assistant has helped give my semester some structure and routine. It’s been incredibly valuable in keeping me motivated and engaged in all my classes.”
Learning assistants not only keep the discussion flowing in Honors seminars, answer questions from first-year students, add their own insights to the class and troubleshoot technological issues. They’re also gaining valuable leadership experience, presentation skills and practice in classroom management.
“The learning assistant experience provides the individual serving in that role a different view of the educational process,” said Joann Ross, who teaches a seminar called Gender, Sex and Race on Trial. “While they may never become educators themselves, it can provide real-world experience on course planning, pedagogy and instructor-student interaction.”
While serving as learning assistants, Honors students also have the opportunity to fulfill some of their Honors requirements through UHON 99H, a zero-credit course designed to help students reflect on and maximize experiential learning opportunities.
Beyond earning Honors credit, the learning assistants are developing critical transferable skills and meaningful connections.
“This role has already been rewarding because of the new type of relationship I have with my professor, the leadership opportunities I have been given, and the content I have learned,” said Alison Steger, a sophomore management major. “I am learning alongside the students, which has given me a unique perspective.”