Many large classes on UO’s campus have developed undergraduate “near peer” teaching assistants to help make their big class feel a bit smaller. In most cases, these teaching assistants have taken the course the year or two before, having the benefit of experience in both the logistics and content of the course.  Most faculty I have talked to have created their teaching assistant program from scratch, each of us separately re-creating the wheel. But there are formal, research-backed, programs that provide a framework for near peer assistants – for example – the Learning Assistant Alliance which started at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

On May 20th 2016 Oregon State University ran a Regional Learning Assistant Workshop, and a team from the Department Human Physiology attended. We currently have a large group of teaching assistants (over 115 students participated in different teaching assistant roles in multiple classes this year) and we are interested in developing a more official learning assistant program.

The Learning Assistant model includes a three pronged approach: Practice, Content and Pedagogy, meaning our near-peer learning assistants should be simultaneously learning about evidence-based pedagogy, learning more about specific course content, and practicing their knowledge of pedagogy in the classroom. Learning Assistants are not graders, and they are not Supplement Instructors, but they do play an active role in the large class and help to improve the student to teacher ratio!

We had a chance to talk to the OSU learning assistants, and watch them in action during a large class (~400 students) taught in OSU’s completely round classroom. They were each assigned a small section of the class where they answered students questions while students spent the 50-minute class period doing a POGIL worksheet. The classroom was alive with students interacting with one another and the teaching team. I tried, and failed, to find a student off-task (even those using their phones & computers).

If you are interested in learning more, create a login (free) on the Learning Assistant Alliance website to gain access to their resources. The 2016 International Learning Assistant Workshop will be at the University of Colorado Boulder, on Oct. 23-25, 2016.


Faculty teaching in our newest and largest class, 156 Straub, asked for help engaging students in the balcony. I put out a request to the SABER listserve (Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research) , and received MANY helpful responses from faculty across the country. You can find it on this Blog by clicking on “Help: Straub Balcony” at the top of the blog’s homepage.


At the University of Oregon, we have started a conversation about how to make the big class feel small. We are dedicated to ensuring that students in large classes (70, 150, or even 540 students) receive the same quality education as those in small classes.

We began the process by inviting faculty teaching in each of our three largest classrooms (150 COL, 180 PLC, 156 STB) in winter term 2016 to a meeting in the classroom to discuss bright spots and challenges, along with allies from Academic Affairs, Center for Media and Educational Technology (CMET), the Registrar’s Office, Science Literacy Program and the Teaching Effectiveness Program.

The notes from a follow-up meeting with Ken Doxsee (Academic Affairs), Helen Chu (CMET), Mike Jefferis (Registrar’s Office) and me, Sierra Dawson (TEP Teaching Excellence Fellow 2016), are available via the links at the top of the page for faculty to read. There are some helpful tips for faculty teaching in these three large classes – so check it out.