Shifts in Learning Assistants’ Self-Determination Due to COVID-19 Disruptions in Calculus II Course Delivery

Rebecca Hite, Gina Childers, Jessica Gottlieb, Richard Carlos Velasco, Levi Johnson, George Williams, Kenneth Griffith, Jeremiah Dwyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: The Learning Assistant (LA) model with its subsequent support and training has evidenced significant gains for undergraduate STEM learning and persistence, especially in high-stakes courses like Calculus. Yet, when a swift and unexpected transition occurs from face-to-face to online, remote learning of the LA environment, it is unknown how LAs are able to maintain their motivation (competence, autonomy, and relatedness), adapt to these new challenges, and sustain their student-centered efforts. This study used Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to model theoretical aspects of LAs’ motivations (persistence and performance) both before and after changes were made in delivery of a Calculus II course at Texas Tech University due to COVID-19 interruptions. Results: Analysis of weekly written reflections, a focus group session, and a post-course questionnaire of 13 Calculus II LAs throughout Spring semester of 2020 showed that LAs’ reports of competence proportionally decreased when they transitioned online, which was followed by a moderate proportional increase in reports of autonomy (actions they took to adapt to distance instruction) and a dramatic proportional increase in reports of relatedness (to build structures for maintaining communication and building community with undergraduate students). Conclusions: Relatedness emerged as the most salient factor from SDT to maintain LA self-determination due to the COVID-19 facilitated interruption to course delivery in a high-stakes undergraduate STEM course. Given that online learning continues during the pandemic and is likely to continue after, this research provides an understanding to how LAs responded to this event and the mounting importance of relatedness when LAs are working with undergraduate STEM learners. Programmatic recommendations are given for enhancing LA preparation including selecting LAs for autonomy and relatedness factors (in addition to competence), modeling mentoring for remote learners, and coaching in best practices for online instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number55
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 16 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Calculus
  • Learning assistant
  • Online learning
  • Self-determination theory
  • Undergraduate STEM


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