Positioning undergraduate teaching and learning assistants as instructional partners


  • Hannah Elizabeth Jardine University of Maryland




student-faculty partnerships, learning assistant, positioning theory, undergraduate biology education


Undergraduate teaching and learning assistants (UTLAs) can help to implement student-centered learning and collaborate with faculty as instructional partners. Researchers have documented the benefits of student-faculty instructional partnerships, but additional research is necessary to better understand how UTLA-faculty partnerships are established and sustained. In this study, I explored how UTLAs are positioned in interactions with faculty for two undergraduate courses at a large, public research institution over the Fall 2018 semester. This in-depth examination revealed UTLAs may be positioned as students, informants, consultants, co-instructors, or co-creators. Positioning of UTLAs changed moment-by-moment, and the different positions were not always mutually exclusive. Thus, UTLA-faculty partnerships are complex and dynamic; even when ranking or characterizing partnerships broadly, considering variety and fluidity in positioning may help uncover the nuances behind different partnerships. This research provides insight into the interactions of collaborative UTLA-faculty instructional partnerships and the factors that may affect those interactions.



Download data is not yet available.


Anderson, K. T. (2009). Applying positioning theory to the analysis of classroom interactions: Mediating micro-identities, macro-kinds, and ideologies of knowing. Linguistics and Education, 20(4), 291-310.
Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bovill, C. (2014). Students and staff co-creating curricula: An example of good practice in higher education? In E. Dunne & D. Owen (Eds.), The student engagement handbook: Practice in higher education (pp. 461-475). Bingly, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Bovill, C., Cook-Sather, A., & Felten, P. (2011). Students as co-creators of teaching approaches, course design and curricula: Implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(2), 133-145. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.568690
Close, E. W., Conn, J., & Close, H. G. (2016). Becoming physics people: Development of integrated physics identity through the Learning Assistant experience. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12(1), 010109-1–18.
Cook-Sather, A. (2008). What you get is looking in a mirror, only better: Inviting students to reflect (on) college teaching. Reflective Practice, 9(4), 473-483.
Cook-Sather, A. (2009). From traditional accountability to shared responsibility: The benefits and challenges of student consultants gathering midcourse feedback in college classrooms. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 231-241. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930801956042
Cook-Sather, A. (2010). Students as learners and teachers: Taking responsibility, transforming education, and redefining accountability. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(4), 555-575. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-873X.2010.00501.x
Cook-Sather, A. (2011a). Layered learning: Student consultants deepening classroom and life lessons. Educational Action Research, 19(1), 41-57. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2011.547680
Cook-Sather, A. (2011b). Lessons in higher education: Five pedagogical practices that promote active learning for faculty and students. Journal of Faculty Development, 25(3), 33-39.
Cook-Sather, A. (2014). Multiplying perspectives and improving practice: What can happen when undergraduate students collaborate with college faculty to explore teaching and learning. Instructional Science, 42(1), 31-46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-013-9292-3
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Davenport, F., Amezcua, F., Sabella, M. S., & Van Duzor, A. G. (2017). Exploring the underlying factors in learning assistant - faculty partnerships. Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, 104-107.
Felten, P., Bagg, J., Bumbry, M., Hill, J., Hornsby, K., Pratt, M., & Weller, S. (2013). A call for expanding inclusive student engagement in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(2), 63-74. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.1.2.63
Gafney, L., & Varma-Nelson, P. (2008). Peer-led team learning: Evaluation, dissemination, and institutionalization of a college level initiative. Netherlands: Springer.
Harré, R., & Moghaddam, F. (Eds.). (2003). The self and others. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Harré, R., Moghaddam, F., Cairnie, T. P., Rothbart, D., & Sabat, S. R. (2009). Recent advances in positioning theory. Theory & Psychology, 19(1), 5-31. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0959354308101417
Healey, M., & Healey, R. L. (2018). ‘It depends’: Exploring the context-dependent nature of students as partners’ practices and policies. International Journal for Students as Partners, 2(1), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v2i1.3472
Healey, M., Flint, A., & Harrington, K. (2014). Engagement through partnership: Students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. York: Higher Education Academy.
Jardine, H. E., & Friedman, L. A. (2017). Using undergraduate facilitators for active learning in organic chemistry: A preparation course and outcomes of the experience. Journal of Chemical Education, 94(6), 703-709. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00636
Knight, J. K., Wise, S. B., Rentsch, J., & Furtak, E. M. (2015). Cues matter: Learning assistants influence introductory biology student interactions during clicker-question discussions. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14(4), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.15-04-0093
Kopp, S. E. (2000). Undergraduate peer assistants in a large lecture course. Physics Education, 35(6), 423-427. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-9120/35/6/308
Kuh, G., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., & Whitt, E. J. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Little, S. (2011). Staff-student partnerships in higher education. London: Continuum.
Mercer-Mapstone, L., Dvorakova, S. L., Matthews, K. E., Abbot, S., Cheng, B., Felten, P., Knorr, K., Marquis, E., Shammas, R. & Swaim, K. (2017). A systematic literature review of students as partners in higher education. International Journal for Students as Partners, 1(1), 1-23. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v1i1.3119
Merriam, S. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (2014). Qualitative data analysis (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Miller, J. E., Groccia, J. E., & Miller, M. S. (2001). Student-assisted teaching: A guide to faculty-student teamwork. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Otero, V., Pollock, S., & Finkelstein, N. (2010). A physics department’s role in preparing physics teachers: The Colorado learning assistant model. American Journal of Physics, 78(11), 1218-1224. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.3471291
Pavlacic, J., Culp, M., Harvey, S., Cathey, C., & Buchanan, E. (2018). Using undergraduate learning assistants to aid in course redesign. Modern Psychological Studies, 23(2), Article 2.
Preszler, R. W. (2009). Replacing lecture with peer-led workshops improves student learning. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 8(3), 182-192. https://doi.org/10.1187%2Fcbe.09-01-0002
Sabella, M. S., Van Duzor, A. G., & Davenport, F. (2016). Leveraging the expertise of the urban STEM student in developing an effective LA Program: LA and instructor partnerships. 2016 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, 288-291.
Sorenson, D. L. (2001). College teachers and student consultants: Collaborating about teaching and learning. In J. E. Miller, J. E. Groccia, & M. S. Miller (Eds.), Student-assisted teaching: A guide to faculty-student teamwork (pp. 179-183). Bolton, MA: Anker.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Tinto, V. (1993). Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
van Langenhove, L., & Harré, R. (1999). Introducing positioning theory. In R. Harré & L. van Langenhove (Eds.), Positioning theory: The moral context of intentional actions (pp. 14-31). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Werder, C., & Otis, M. M. (2010). Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.




How to Cite

Jardine, H. E. (2020). Positioning undergraduate teaching and learning assistants as instructional partners. International Journal for Students As Partners, 4(1), 48–65. https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v4i1.4032



Research Articles