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Learning Assistants

Learning Assistants

OSU and the College of Science have emerged as pioneers in shaping a new era of improved science teaching, replacing the traditional lecture format with active learning strategies to maximize student engagement and learning in STEM courses. In many physics courses, LAs are there to facilitate discussions and collaborative learning in the classroom while gaining student-teaching experience.

How is the LA model different?

Chart showing the organization of traditional model of teaching versus the Learning Assistant model
In a traditional lecture the instructor disseminates information one way. With the LA model the instructors and LAs moderate small group work.

Figure courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder

What do LAs in physics classrooms do?

In order for a class to function well it must have community. LAs are often the first line of support to students, and help facilitate many aspects of the learning process, including but not limited to:

  • Attend class and help students with problem-solving during group-work sessions.
  • Hold study sessions and/or help out at the WormHole support desk.
  • Curate the class Slack channel by fielding questions from students and posting helpful information.
  • Make Open Educational Resources like LightBoard videos.

LAs are trained in content and best teaching practices during weekly pedagogy meetings with the instructors. People typically spend between 4 - 8 hours a week being an LA.

  • As undergraduate students who have often taken the course recently themselves, LAs often have more intimate knowledge of the class than the TAs and are seen as more approachable than instructors.
  • They offer emotional and procedural support as well as support for solving physics questions.
  • LAs improve Student Evaluations of Teaching as shown in the figure below.
Student evaluation of teaching over time
Notice the SET score fluctuate, increasing slightly before LAs supported the class. Afterward the variance smooths out and the trend is more positive.

How does this help the LAs?

  • LAs gain valuable teaching experience by engaging in the process.
  • They develop communication and leadership skills.
  • The experience is almost universally transformative as they gain deeper meaning behind how we learn and how we support people learning.
  • Many LAs are able to quit jobs that are less focused on building career skills.
  • Helping people has an intrinsically strong emotional reward.
  • LAs also learn physics at a deeper level. See A physics department’s role in preparing physics teachers: The Colorado Learning Assistant model
Graph showing an electricity and magnetism conceptual inventory
The chart above shows a cohorts of students' pre and post test scores for a standardized E&M assessment. Note how the LAs not only start with a high score but also show incredible gains.Figure courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder   

Figure courtesy of PH20x instructor KC Walsh

How to apply?

How do I apply to be an LA or wormhole assistant for PH 20X or 21X?

Applicants are recruited from the current cohort of students for the following year/term. For PH20x recruiting occurs during spring term. For PH21x the recruiting is ongoing as there is a sequence starting every term. Recruiting occurs during lecture along with a formal invite to apply sent via a Canvas course announcement. We do hire outside of students currently enrolled.

To formally apply to be an LA for PH 20X or PH 21X, visit the OSU Learning Assistants Program web page here. (If you're going to be a lab TA instead of or in addition to being an LA, see below.)

For more information about applying contact one of your physics instructors or the Introductory Physics LA Program Director, KC Walsh (

What if I've been recruited to be only a grader for PH 20X or 21X (but not an LA or lab TA) or a TA for PH 104?

You only need to apply to the Physics Teaching/Learning Assistant posting here.

What if I've been recruited to be a lab TA for 20X, or 21X, or both of the above (grader and LA or wormhole assistant)?

You still need to apply through the Learning Assistants Program web page here. You also need to apply to the Physics Teaching/Learning Assistant posting here.

Want to be an LA for an Upper Division physics course like one of the Paradigms?

LAs for our upper division courses such as Paradigms and computational physics apply directly to the physics department. An application is circulated to physics majors each term for LA positions for the following term. In addition, every academic year (starting July 1), you must also apply to the Physics Teaching/Learning Assistant posting here. To learn more, contact Associate Department Head David Craig ( or Paradigms Director Liz Gire (