Peer Learning Facilitators (PLF's)
Peer-assisted collaborative learning activities in large gateway sections. The assistance of facilitators allows instructors to incorporate a wider variety of effective instructional strategies.
Among the most important pedagogical changes that aid learning is faculty movement away from extensive lecturing to greater utilization of active, collaborative, assignments and discussion during class time. Many instructors are interested to replace lectures with time for students to collaboratively problem-solve, develop projects, or respond to short assignments with classmates, but are concerned by the prospects of low success in large classes.
One key to successful implementation of collaborative learning in large classes is the availability of “experts” who learners can consult when needing clarification and who provide assistance with collaboration, an alternative prompt, or a confidence check on progressing work.
The PLF program builds from UNM’s pilot experience supported by the Walmart Minority Student Initiative and examples set by other institutions. During the initial PLF pilot at UNM, overall grade performance improved in most class sections where instructors transitioned to PLF-assisted collaborative-learning instruction. In addition, 85% of students enrolled in these course sections responded in polls that they prefer to learn in classes where collaborative learning replaces some or all of instructor lecture and 90% stated that it was important to have PLFs as classroom resources.
In 2020, the College Enrichment Program sought to revive the program and is now supported by the University of New Mexico's Student Fee Review Board. In collaboration with the provost and a professors across campus, CEP supports a program of Peer Learning Facilitators (PLFs), a classroom learning-assistance effort by undergraduates working with instructors to facilitate active, collaborative learning during class time.
Who are the PLFs?
The PLFs are undergraduate students who carry with them a variety of academic and personal backgrounds. They come from rural New Mexico, from the neighborhoods of Albuquerque, across the country, and other parts of the world. They range from freshmen to seniors and, though most of them major in STEM areas, there are PLFs from the arts, humanities, life sciences, and pre-med, pre-pharmacy, nursing.
PLFs work 10-12 hours per week with tasks varying in consultation with instructors, including in-class work with student, and preparatory time under guidance from instructors. PLFs may review student in-class work and summarize problem points and misconceptions upon which instructors can then focus. PLFs receive intensive pre-semester training and complete 1-2 hours of training each week during the semester.
Why have PLFs in your STEM classroom?
THIS paper appeared in the Journal of College Science Teaching. It describes aspects of the Learning Assistant program at CU-Denver, a program very analogous to our PLF program.
Having a PLF team in your STEM classroom is a great way to support collaborative learning techniques within your curriculum. PLFs help to build a community in the classroom, supporting your students as peers who have met the same obstacles they now face. As qualified learners who have excelled in gateway STEM classes themselves, PLFs are also keen supporters of your classroom goals.
PLFs not only enrich the learning experience for students but also provide important résumé-enhancing, professional development opportunities for PLFs themselves. Recruiting PLF hires from under-represented groups adds the benefit of PLFs serving as role models to the students they assist.
Finally, the mentoring relationship between instructors and their PLF teams often goes far beyond just a single semester. You can request to work with the same PLFs with whom you have a good rapport and who you feel know your classroom well. Most PLFs plan to attend graduate school and so appreciate the opportunity to work in an environment with individuals who model academic professionalization and success.