Muhlenberg beams into the digital age

Defining the role of DLAs on campus

If you haven’t taken a class here at Muhlenberg where you were offered the assistance of a Digital Learning Assistant to help you, you may have never heard of these “DLAs”. DLAs are part of a new program on campus where students who participated in a pre-orientation program called, “Digital Learning in the Digital Age” were offered the opportunity to form this new group of learning assistants. This is the first year the assistants have been available to students on campus. There are only two assistants in the program who were not trained through the orientation program last summer.

The pre-orientation program ran for the first time before the Fall 2016 semester. Planning for the program began in the beginning of the summer. According to Jarrett Azar, a current DLA and son of one of the creators of the program (Jenna Azar), there was no formal application for the program. There were 15 seats available and 10 were filled by new Muhlenberg students.

According to Meredith Salisbury, another current DLA, “We are a group of students who are trained in a bunch of different digital learning tools so we can help students who are using those tools in their classes.”

The students are taught how to use programs such as WordPress, Shotcut, online domains, mapping technology, Audacity and VoiceThread. They then are able to pass on their knowledge to other Muhlenberg students. Salisbury said that as a Media and Communications major, she loves learning about new technology and stated, “I also really like helping people and teaching people.”

Salisbury explained how the program is beneficial to professors because they no longer need to be trained in every aspect of the programs they want to use in their classes. The courses that take advantage of the DLAs the most so far have been Business classes where students are required to create online portfolios. According Azar, their job is to assist with the technology rather than the content of the assignments. As a DLA, they would teach students how to format their websites, not edit their portfolios.

In addition to helping students with digital assignments, another goal of the program is to establish an online presence for all students. As a DLA, Salisbury has already created a domain for herself online (MeredithSalisbury.bergbuilds.domains) showcasing her work and experience. She explained that the goal is for eventually all students to have one. The DLAs are trained to help people build these sites.

Salisbury compared the group to Writing Assistants who help students both in class and through tutoring to improve their academic writing. DLAs similarly are available to all students both one-on-one outside of class and in visits to class for particular projects. Azar also compared the DLAs to another campus programs saying they are, “like the student help desk without the hardware.” They are available to help with problems with assignments, but they are not the ones to go to if you need your laptop fixed.

According to Salisbury and Azar, they are not planning on expanding to new programs as of now. They are trained in what the professors they are working with are using in their classes and, if needed, are able to learn new programs as more classes get in on the new program.

One student, Victoria Castillo, is in a research group where the professor, Dr. Godard, is utilizing DLAs to help them. Originally the research group had been using simple websites, but now with the help of DLAs, they have been able to set up a blog, which Castillo thinks is a more effective program for her research. She stated, “they (the DLAs) gave me a lot of resources in order to make it the best blog it can be.” She continued to say that the assistants seem very knowledgable and that the department, “seems to pick the right representatives to teach us.” Her professor first set up a lab meeting in Walson Hall where they learned the basics and started their blogs. Then the DLAs came to their lab meeting in Moyer a second time to help them.

The Digital Learning Assistants can be found across the hall from the Student Help Desk in the basement of Ettinger.

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