Becoming Physics People: Development of Integrated Physics Identity through the Learning Assistant Experience
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[This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Preparing and Supporting University Physics Educators.] In this study, we analyze the experience of students in the Physics Learning Assistant (LA) program at Texas State University in terms of the existing theoretical frameworks of community of practice and physics identity, and explore the implications suggested by these theories for LA program adoption and adaptation. Regression models from physics identity studies show that the physics identity construct strongly predicts intended choice of a career in physics. The goal of our current project is to understand the details of the impacts of participation in the LA experience on participants’ practice and self-concept, in order to identify critical elements of LA program structure that positively influence physics identity and physics career intentions for students. Our analysis suggests that participation in the LA program impacts LAs in ways that support both stronger “physics student” identity and stronger “physics instructor” identity, and that these identities are reconciled into a coherent integrated physics identity. Increased comfort in interactions with peers, near peers, and faculty seems to be an important component of this identity development and reconciliation, suggesting that a focus on supporting community membership is useful for effective program design.