Quick Tips: Facilitating Group Work

With good reason, one of the most common strategies that instructors turn to in the classroom is assigning students to work collaboratively in groups.  Group work, when thoughtfully designed and facilitated, can be a very effective way to engage students in their learning. Though not without challenges, group work offers numerous benefits: 

  • Increased engagement: Group work promotes active engagement and collaboration among students, which can help build a sense of community in the classroom. The learning process becomes more interactive which can deepen the level of understanding of course material and positively impact classroom dynamics.  
  • Diverse perspectives: Group work encourages the exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives. This can lead to a richer learning environment as students are exposed to different viewpoints and alternative solutions to problems.  
  • Skill development: Working in groups, students acquire a range of skills, including communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. While certainly relevant in academia, these skills can also help students prepare for a professional work environment, where teamwork and collaboration are essential. 

Simply dividing your students into groups with little or no direction is unlikely to lead to the best outcome. Incorporating group work into courses requires careful planning and clear guidelines to ensure its effectiveness. The following is a list of strategies to consider when facilitating group work: 

Group formation:  

  • Consider aligning students with complementary or diverse skill sets. A broad range of skills often leads to creative ways of approaching and solving problems. Administering a survey to students before the project begins can help determine academic disciplines, backgrounds, and relevant skill levels.  
  • When possible, avoid isolating underrepresented minorities in groups. For example, place 0, 2, or 3 women in a team when forming groups of 3 (i.e., do not create a team of 1 woman and 2 men). This helps prevent the underrepresented from being over-ruled or ignored (Rosser, 1998).   
  • Explore technology options. If using a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas, it will often include a tool to assist with creating and managing groups. Outside of the LMS, there is a free, open-source tool called gruepr that can assist instructors with group creation. CATME is another tool that assists with group creation and peer review. We reviewed CATME several years ago when it was free, but there is now a fee for use. 

Team Interaction: 

  • Establish ground rules for groups: insist on civil dialogue, respect others’ opinions, listen actively, etc. Involving students in creating the rules helps them hold each other accountable throughout the process. Carnegie Mellon has a resource with suggestions for setting ground rules that may be helpful for instructors. 
  • Assign each student a different role in the group and rotate the roles frequently. This helps to ensure that work is distributed equally throughout the project, avoiding situations where a few students are doing all the work while others are just along for the ride (Finelli et all., 2011). Examples of roles include recorder, spokesperson, summarizer, organizer, observer, timekeeper, or liaison to other groups.  Be sure each role has specific tasks that are clearly laid out for students.  
  • Include one or more short, introductory warm-up activities for group members to engage and get to know one another. This will help to build rapport and encourage participation within the group. 
  • Consider the physical space if allowing students to work in groups during class. Is the room conducive/comfortable for small groups to convene? Will students need accommodations? If teaching online, are groups meeting synchronously or asynchronously? Plan accordingly to anticipate space and technology needs.  

Assessment: 

  • Determine how you will assess the project. Depending on the goals, consider assessing both group and individual contributions. Develop and share rubrics with students so they know exactly what is expected. This sample group work rubric from Cornell can be used as a guide and modified for use. 
  • Meet regularly with each group to monitor progress. Set milestones to help students stay on track and meet their goals.
  • Include opportunities for self and peer assessment. Self-assessment encourages critical thinking and fosters greater self-awareness in student learning.  Peer assessment provides valuable insight for instructors about group dynamics and performance. It can also serve to motivate students to take responsibility for their individual tasks. Be sure to clarify for students if self and peer assessment will count towards their grade.  This assessment form from Carnegie Mellon is designed for students to assess themselves as well as group members.  
  • Allow time for reflection. Asking students to reflect on the process can help them extract meaningful lessons from the project’s successes and challenges.  It can also promote a deeper understanding of the project’s goals and the collaborative process as a whole. Examples of reflective exercises include written responses to specific prompts (i.e. what went well, what could be improved, etc.), small group or whole class discussions, and keeping a journal of the learning experience. More information about group reflection can be found in this resource from the University of New South Wales.   

With proper planning, group projects can be a positive and productive learning experience that will help prepare students for real-world challenges. Do you have additional tips to share about group facilitation? Please share them in the comments. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation

Image source: Pixabay

References:

Finelli, C., Bergom, I., & Mesa, V. (2011). Student teams in the engineering classroom and beyond: setting up students for success. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching: University of Michigan. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED573963.pdf  

Rosser, S. V. (1998). Group work in science, engineering, and mathematics: Consequences of ignoring gender and race. College Teaching, 46(3), 82-88. 

University of New South Wales. (n.d.) Supporting students to reflect on their group work. https://www.teaching.unsw.edu.au/helping-students-reflect-group-work

Washington University of St. Louis, Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.) Facilitating in-class group work. https://ctl.wustl.edu/resources/facilitating-in-class-group-work/ 

Lunch and Learn: Canvas Show and Tell

 On Wednesday, November 1st, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a Canvas Show and Tell: Share and Learn about Engaging and Effective Uses of Canvas. Alison Papadakis, Teaching Professor and Director of Clinical Psychological Studies in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, hosted the discussion. She was joined by Emily Braley, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Mathematics, and Jamie Young, Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. Beth Hals, Brian Cole, and Caroline Egan from the CTEI helped facilitate the event.

Alison Papadakis opened the discussion describing how her interest in Canvas began with her kids, who were using it during COVID. (JHU was still using Blackboard at that time.) Watching her kids struggle with poorly designed Canvas classroom interfaces influenced the way she organized her own Canvas classroom once JHU adopted it as our new learning management system (LMS).  One big decision she made was to stay away from using the Module function, which is often the most common  way to organize content in Canvas. Instead, Papadakis explained how she used the Canvas Page function to create a page with a table outlining her course schedule with hyperlinks to the rest of her content. The homepage of her Canvas site looks like a calendar with hyperlinks for each class day. She regularly checks in with her students, asking if they have trouble finding anything in the course and they always assure her that they do not. Papadakis also makes the Files area in Canvas available to her students, as an additional way for them to access course content, but they tell her they don’t use it. She says the course schedule page is not the “prettiest” display of content, but the functionality works very well for her course and students can easily find what they need for each class period.

Papadakis also does a lot of student advising and needed a place to post links and share information with students. She decided to use a community site, which is similar to a website, but built inside of Canvas. All majors and minors have access to the site as well as other faculty; it is also possible to add other users to the site if necessary. Brian Cole clarified that the key difference between a standard Canvas course and community site is that a standard site is for credited courses and is automatically generated by  JHU’s Student Information System (SIS). Community sites, which all faculty have the ability to request, are for non-credit activities and are intended to share information and resources across multiple populations.

Emily Braley described how the mathematics department is using a community site to host their math placement exam. The university’s switch to Canvas provided an opportunity to revise the exam, which was previously hosted in Blackboard. In Canvas, students are provided with more information about why they are taking the exam as they are guided through a series of steps to help them decide which exam to take. With the help of CTEI staff, Braley described how they embedded a Microsoft form inside of Canvas that asks students what math courses they took in high school, including AP courses. The branching feature of the form then directs students to the appropriate placement exam based on their answers. There are also practice tests that students can take before the actual exam.

The exam itself is set up using a Canvas feature called Mastery Paths. This feature allows an instructor to set up to three ranges of scores for the exam; once they take the exam, student scores are translated into a recommendation for enrollment. Braley also created a customized grading scheme for the exam, which contains information about interpreting the results as well as the actual score for the students.

Braley is very excited about the potential for data analytics with the revised exam process. Using the form provides the department with data which can help identify trends and determine if students are being placed correctly.  All incoming math students are encouraged to take a math placement exam; so far this fall, close to 1100 students have taken the placement exam.

Jamie Young was looking for a way to avoid having to answer the same questions repeatedly from the 640 students in his Introduction to Chemistry lab course. Using HTML code, he was able to create a dropdown FAQ page in Canvas containing embedded links. He estimates he has received 50-60% less questions this semester so far since posting the FAQ page.  He also used HTML to add buttons and links to his syllabus that link out to everything in the course, similar to Alison Papadakis’s course schedule. He believes this saves time for students as they are able to find many things very quickly. Additionally, Young embedded a live Google Document into the course that contains his course schedule. This makes it really easy to update the schedule when necessary as any changes made will immediately be pushed to Canvas – no need to upload an edited document each time a change is made.

In another course, with a combined lecture and lab, Young struggled with displaying a large amount of content. He initially put everything into modules but wasn’t happy with how disorganized they became after adding so much material. He has since turned each module into its own page and links everything from the page. This has been working out much better – again, students are able to find things quickly and easily. Young insists you don’t need much coding knowledge to take advantage of these features in Canvas; you do need to know – or have access to – a  few HTML commands.

The discussion included the following questions from the audience:

Q (for Alison Papadakis): Do you need coding experience to create this [the course schedule]?
AP: I just created it in Word and cut and pasted it in – no coding necessary.

Q (for Alison Papadakis): How do you link the “tone” of your course to the course schedule?
AP: This is an in-person course, so there is a lot of in-class discussion around the course and how it works at the beginning. The course schedule is just the pragmatic piece so we can keep things organized.

Q (for Alison Papadakis): It looks like you assign readings before the semester begins – do you plan everything ahead of the semester, before it starts?
AP: I have taught this course over ten times, so I know basically what’s coming. I put placeholders in for things I don’t know yet. You’ll notice it says ‘Tentative Schedule’ so I can allow for shifting things around if needed. I do need to remember to update the Canvas calendar when making changes to my course schedule.

Q (for Alison Papadakis): Can anyone access the community site?
AP: No, they have to be added to the roster.

Q: (For Beth Hals, CTEI’s Sr. Instructional Technologist) Can you explain Mastery Paths? Is it the same as locking/unlocking a Module?
BH: Mastery Paths are affiliated with some sort of assessment in Canvas. As the instructor, you can set three different sets of score ranges that you use to then send students on their next ‘path’ based on their results. Unlocking modules is a little different – you first set prerequisites on a module that must be completed before the module will unlock.

Q (for Jamie Young): To a neophyte, it’s a little overwhelming to see what you’ve done – there seem to be many ways of doing the same thing. Could you compare and contrast the ways of organizing your syllabus?
JY: You can use the Rich Content Editor (RCE) in Canvas to build your syllabus. If you want to add something like buttons, you would then toggle the RCE to view the HTML editor. Using HTML  is more complicated for sure, but with some basic knowledge you can do it. I would be happy to share what I’ve done and then you can just fill in your information and cut and paste it into your course. To embed the Google Form, I followed online directions that I googled.

Brian Cole, CTEI’s Associate Director for Instructional Technology: You don’t need any HTML  knowledge to embed anything into Canvas. You can use the Rich Content Editor (RCE) to do this. There is an “embed” option in the menu of the editor. You also don’t have to do every page. You can pick and choose what parts of your course to make pretty.

Q: Did Jamie build his syllabus in AEFIS?
BC: No, Jamie built his syllabus using the Canvas Syllabus page. You can still use your own syllabus in conjunction with the AEFIS syllabus – they can coexist. (Note: New name for AEFIS is Heliocampus.)

Q (for Jamie Young): Could you provide a little more information on creating tabs?
JY: They are just HTML code. I used HTML 5. You have to go into the HTML editor in Canvas and use “div” tags to build tabs. Start with the blank tabs in html, then go back to the RCE and fill in the text as needed. You can use copy and paste to make it easier.

Q: Can I move JavaScript headers into Canvas?
BC: No, Canvas will strip them out. An alternative is to embed the page into the Canvas page.
BH: There is something called the Redirect tool that may help. This tool adds an item to your navigational menu. You pick the text for what will display in your menu and it will link to a particular page.

Q: Any ideas about making grading easier?
EB: We use auto grading on all quizzes. We also use banks of questions, so that each quiz pulls from different banks. New Quizzes has matching question types that are more work for students, more robust, but still auto graded. Another thing about New Quizzes is the ability to render Latex [a typesetting software for math symbols]. This has been very useful for us – it’s so much cleaner for students. It renders as accessible MathML, which can be read by a screen reader. This is much better than posting a PDF that is read as an image.
We also use Gradescope, which is an external tool that helps us streamline grading. Students upload their work to Gradescope (inside of Canvas) and you can set it up to help auto grade problems.
JY: We also use Gradescope extensively in Chemistry. We scan written work into Gradescope and it is automatically graded. The system has gotten better at reading handwriting. It has made handwritten assignments so much easier to grade. One caveat about Canvas quizzes: they don’t allow for numbers past 4 decimal places, which we need.

A word about accessibility in Canvas:
EB: You can have Canvas tell you if your material is accessible or not. Use the accessibility checker in the RCE to help you with this.
BH: I also wanted to mention that it’s very easy to duplicate pages in Canvas – build it once, duplicate the page, then fill in what you need to change. It’s like building a template for yourself and reusing it.

For more information about topics discussed at the event, please see this Canvas resource developed by Beth Hals.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image source: Canvas logo

Facilitating Difficult Conversations in Class: Considerations when Teaching Online

In a recent blog post, the CTEI shared strategies that can be used to facilitate difficult conversations in the classroom. The center also hosted a community conversation on the same topic, featuring perspectives from three different faculty members from across the institution. In response, we heard from some instructors who are interested in specific strategies they can use in an online environment. While many of the ideas previously shared can be applied to the online classroom, such as setting ground rules, the following considerations are worth keeping in mind when facilitating difficult conversations online.

  • Establish a positive classroom climate. This is especially important in an online environment where subtle gestures, voice inflections, and facial expressions may be missing. Creating a safe, inclusive environment from the start will encourage student participation and respect among peers. Some ideas include:
    • Engage students in icebreaker or other collaborative activities to ensure multiple opportunities for students to get to know one another.
    • Include a syllabus statement with language expressing a commitment to respecting diverse opinions and being inclusive. Model this commitment by using students’ preferred names, pronouns, inclusive language, and diverse examples. See a recently shared example from Professor John Mercurio in The Chronicle.
    • Communicate regularly with students. Send weekly reminders, post regular announcements, and commit to responding promptly to discussion board posts from students to help them feel connected to the class and to each other.
  • As part of setting ground rules, remind students of “netiquette;” be very clear about rules for online discussions, group interactions, when/if it’s okay to use the chat feature, etc. Consider involving students in creating these rules.
  • Lack of privacy – remember that students on Zoom are not necessarily in a private space and may not feel comfortable speaking or engaging freely with others. Communicate alternate ways for students to engage, such as using chat, polls, or an asynchronous discussion board.
  • In hybrid classes, make sure to include Zoom participants in the discussion. This may require additional or amended ground rules such as requiring everyone to raise their hand (Zoom and in-person participants) before making a comment.
  • Acknowledge and accept that there may be (uncomfortable) pauses due to a bad online connection or people gathering their thoughts.
  • Consider using breakout rooms for students to discuss issues in small groups which may be more comfortable/less intimidating for some.
  • Consider using the chat feature to allow students time to reflect on their response before sharing. The faculty can then selectively address comments shared by students including contextualizing or reframing points made. If you have a co-instructor or teaching assistants, they can help with replying directly to comments posted in the chat.
  • Establish a set of gestures/emojis to be used when asking a question, adding a follow-up idea, agreeing or disagreeing, etc. to keep interruptions to a minimum. (This requires everyone to be in grid view.)
  • As much as possible, keep an eye on Zoom participants for indications of distress. Encourage students to take advantage of university wellness resources.
  • For larger discussions, consider using a Zoom webinar in which you can moderate questions and comments submitted before sharing them. In typical Zoom classrooms, you can ask students to send their comments directly to you in the chat instead of posting to the entire group.

Do you have additional ideas to share? Please post them in the comments.

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Unsplash

References:

Rudenko, N. (August, 12, 2020). Facilitating discussions via Zoom (in a college-level classroom). Medium. https://medium.com/@natasharudenko_37929/facilitating-discussions-via-zoom-in-a-college-level-classroom-619d3ac4343b

Supiano, B. (November 9, 2023). Teaching: How to hold difficult discussions online. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2023-11-09?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_8238698_nl_Teaching_date_20231109&cid=te&source=ams&sourceid=&sra=true

Community Conversation: Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

The Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a community conversation on Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom on Thursday, November 9th, as a follow-up to our recent blog post on the same topic.  The faculty panel included: Sherita Golden, Chief Diversity Officer at the School of Medicine & Hugh P. McCormick Family Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Andrew Perrin, SNF Agora Professor and Department Chair of Sociology, and Mike Reese, Associate Dean of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation & Associate Teaching Professor of Sociology. Caroline Egan from the CTEI facilitated the event.

Mike Reese opened the conversation by acknowledging that current events are an opportunity to apply course concepts but the instructor’s goal is to maintain civility on sensitive topics. He described some of the strategies he uses in his classroom, such as setting ground rules for class discussions. Reese explains the intentions of the rules to his students, which is to create a space that makes everyone feel comfortable participating. Some of his ground rules include:

  • Support arguments with evidence
  • Use ‘I’ statements – do not speak for others in the class
  • Do not generalize about groups
  • Allow students to speak without interruption (with caveat that the instructor can cut them off if they go on too long)
  • Listen actively – be open to what others are saying
  • Name-calling, sarcasm, inflammatory accusations are not permitted

Reese noted in his classes that historically the issue is less conversations becoming heated and more that students are hesitant to talk about politically-charged topics. He mentioned strategies to spark engagement, such as having students first work in small groups to discuss a topic. He also uses structured debate activities where students are assigned a specific perspective. In the debate activity, the pressure is taken off of the student since the role/perspective is assigned by the instructor.

In cases of traumatic events, Reese stated that instructors are not required to discuss the topic if they are not comfortable doing so, but should at least acknowledge the event. Research suggests students want events to be acknowledged, not ignored. Reese shared that a student this past week shared they don’t need to discuss the issue in every course, as the constant reminder may be counterproductive, but would prefer to discuss the event in courses that speak directly to the issue. The main message is be intentional about how you plan to discuss traumatic events and what boundaries you will place on the conversation before arriving to class.

Andrew Perrin continued the conversation by describing two principles he subscribes to:

  1. While all people deserve safety, no ideas deserve safety. The way we honor ideas is by submitting them to rigorous argument and evidence and testing them out.
  2. Emotions running high is not a reason to avoid discussions – it’s a reason to have better discussions. Explain and demonstrate to students how to listen thoughtfully to ideas and make judgments based on evidence.

While he supports Reese’s ground rules, Perrin takes a slightly different approach: he will often set the context for students, explain a scenario, and have them listen to their peers discuss the issue, recognizing their own ideas may turn out to be wrong. His pedagogical goal is to make sure that all reasonable ideas are raised so that they may be examined and challenged. At times Perrin will make arguments that he doesn’t believe in because he feels it’s important for them to be part of the conversation.

He believes most students politically are not committed either to the left or the right; they might be in between, they might not have thought about it much, or they might have mixed opinions. The instructor’s job is to make sure the debate includes more ideas than just those from the 5-10% on the right and left. Perrin acknowledged that it might be hard to engage on difficult topics and students might be uncomfortable, but that is an acceptable outcome in a university classroom. He stated, “Too often we think the goal is to come to consensus. I think the goal is to understand why people feel the way that they do.”

Sherita Golden teaches medical students in a clinical environment as well as staff from all parts of the medical establishment.  One of the issues that she addresses in her classroom is why we continue to see inequities in health, for example, the inequity of non-whites consistently having a higher prevalence of diabetes than whites.  Golden explains to her students how historical discrimination and racism dating back to the time of enslavement have led to the current situation; eugenics theory suggesting the biological inferiority of non-white populations, trust violations by the medical establishment due to unconsented experimentation on enslaved and marginalized communities, as well as healthcare clinician bias against minoritized patients. These are all factors adversely affecting healthcare quality and access today. Another example is the historic practice of redlining, which made it more difficult for African-Americans to obtain mortgages and build wealth through their homes. Golden uses these historical contexts to explain the roots of current social movements to her students and health system staff.

Golden acknowledged that conversations can become politically charged and offered the following suggestions to help diffuse the situation:

  • Acknowledge the humanity of the person speaking – listen with compassion and intent to respond rather than react.
  • Commit to providing information to the person if you aren’t sure how to address the issue in the moment.
  • Adopt a learner’s mindset:
    • What is the historical context of the issue?
    • What do you know about the lived experiences of those expressing the concern?
    • How might you benefit from knowing more in your teaching/leadership role?
  • Recognize that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The discussion continued with panelists taking questions from participants.

Q : I appreciate your [Perrin’s] idea of exploring other ideas of a particular subject, but at the same time, as we examine these charged issues and try to be objective, sometimes the discussion becomes politically neutral. I’m struggling with how I can resolve this issue of technical neutrality.

AP: I don’t think there are 2 sides, but actually 4, 5, or even more sides to every story. There are lots of different dimensions. One reason I don’t ask students to debate positions according to what I’ve set is because I think it is important for them to feel like what they’re saying matters and that they care about the issue. I’m not trying to say, “all ideas are fine” but instead, “all ideas deserve to be listened to.”  I do think historical context is important, as well as real world evidence, so it’s important not to let them stick with things that aren’t true.

MR: The classroom space allows students to voice lots of different ideas, and sometimes students come out not knowing where to go from there. Here is where reflection may help – ask them to articulate how they have moved on a particular issue, if at all.

SG: The goal is not to come to a resolution, but help them improve their argument and use of evidence. I encourage students to read constantly – learning is a lifelong process. Reading will help me (and them) back up why I feel a certain way, with evidence.

Q: How do you create space to honor opinions that you feel are wrong or will harm others?

AP: The key is how we say things. There is a reason to challenge the idea because it’s there – it is also submissible to evidence. The person should be able to explain why they think what they think. It really is important for people to be pushed to explain why they think this or that, where is the evidence, what makes this true. I like to ask, “Is there anything you could learn that, if true, would end up changing your position on this?” It is important to distinguish between what is true and what people think. So even potentially harmful ideas need to be discussed, if only to bring evidence to show why they are harmful. That said, it is also important to protect students who may be hurt. I will sometimes remind students that there are probably other students in the room who may be negatively affected by what they’re saying.

Guest: This makes me think about a case in class: we watched a film about a kidnapped woman in China who was sold to a villager as a wife. In the film there was a sympathetic attitude to the men in the villages that I disagreed with. This kind of sentiment was hard to watch.

MR: This is why reflection as the instructor is important, too.  If the discussion did not address your goals for the class, then perhaps reflect on how you might structure it differently next time.

SG: One of my favorite phrases to use in these situations: “Help me understand why you made that comment… What is at the root of what you’re saying?” I work in a clinical setting as well as an educational setting. We must show dignity and respect to all patients. We fall back to the core values of JH medicine: we need to be respectful of different points of view and perspectives.

Q: How do you de-escalate a conversation when it becomes highly charged?

AP: I like charged topics, I don’t feel scared of them. I like to ask students: “Why do you think that, what makes you say that, what do you think your opponents think?” It’s not useful for me to throw around “flashpoint” words; it works better for me to stick to the questions I just mentioned. In the classroom, you do have to move forward at some point. I ask the questions and try to keep the conversation moving.

MR: It’s also ok to take a break.

SG: I suggest listening sessions. This is a very important way to learn – let the person talk, we can all learn from that.

 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Unsplash

Lunch and Learn: Generative AI – Teaching Uses, Learning Curves, and Classroom Guidelines

On Tuesday, October 3rd, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted its first Lunch and Learn of the academic year, a panel discussion titled, “Generative AI: Teaching Uses, Learning Curves, and Classroom Guidelines.” The three panelists included Jun Fang, Assistant Director of the Instructional Design and Technology Team in the Carey Business School, Carly Schnitzler, KSAS instructor in the University Writing Program, and Sean Tackett, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine.  The discussion was moderated by Caroline Egan, project manager in the CTEI. Mike Reese, director of the CTEI, also helped to facilitate the event. 

The panelists began by introducing themselves and then describing their experiences with generative AI. Jun Fang loves new technology and has been experimenting with AI since its inception. He noticed the faculty that he works with generally fall into two categories when it comes to using AI: some are quite concerned about students using it to cheat and are not ready to use it, while others see a great deal of potential and are very excited to use it in the classroom.  In speaking with colleagues from across the institution, Fang quickly realized these are common sentiments expressed by faculty in all JHU divisions. This motivated him to lead an effort to create a set of AI guidelines specifically geared toward faculty. The document contains a number of strategies for using AI including: designing engaging course activities, providing feedback for students on their assignments, and redesigning course assessments. The section on redesigning course assessments uses two approaches: the “avoidance approach,” which involves deliberately designing assessments without AI, and the “activation approach,” which intentionally integrates AI tools into the curriculum. The document includes specific examples of many of the strategies mentioned as well as links to widely used generative AI tools. 

Fang described a recent scenario in which a faculty member was concerned that students were using ChatGPT to generate answers to online discussion board questions.  To mitigate this situation, Fang suggested the faculty member revise the questions so that they were tied to a specific reading or perhaps to a topic generated in one of his online synchronous class sessions.  Another suggestion was to have students submit two answers for each question – one original answer and one generated by ChatGPT – and then have the students compare the two answers.  The faculty member was not comfortable with either of these suggestions and ended up making the discussion more of a synchronous activity, rather than asynchronous.  Fang acknowledged that everyone has a different comfort level with using AI and that one approach is not necessarily better than another.     

Carly Schnitzler currently teaches two introductory writing courses to undergraduates and is very open to using generative AI in her classroom.  At the start of the semester, she asked students to fill out an intake survey which included questions about previous writing experiences and any technologies used, including generative AI. She found that students were reluctant to admit that they had used these technologies, such as ChatGPT, for anything other than ‘novelty’ purposes because they associated these tools with cheating. After seeing the results of the survey, Schnitzler thought it would be beneficial for students to explore the potential use of generative AI in class. She asked students to do an assignment where they had to create standards of conduct in a first year writing class, which included discussing their expectations of the course, the instructor, their peers, and how AI would fit in among these expectations. The class came up with three standards: 

  1. AI tools should support (and not distract from) the goals of the class, such as critical thinking, analytical skills, developing a personal voice, etc.  
  2. AI tools can be used for certain parts of the writing process, such as brainstorming, revising, or editing, but students must disclose that AI tools were used. 
  3. If there appears to be an over-use or over-reliance on AI tools, a discussion will take place to address the situation rather than disciplinary action. (Schnitzler wants students to feel safe exploring the tools without fear of repercussion.) 

This assignment comes from an open collection of cross-disciplinary assignments that use text generation technologies, mostly in a writing context. TextGenEd: Teaching with Text Generation Technologies, co-edited by Schnitzler, consists of freely accessible assignments submitted by scholars from across the nation. Assignments are divided into categories, such as AI literacy, rhetorical engagements, professional writing, creative explorations, and ethical considerations. Most are designed so that the technologies used are explored by students and instructors together, requiring very little ‘expert’ technological skills.  Schnitzler noted that there is a call for new submissions twice each year and encouraged instructors to consider submitting their own assignments that use text generation AI.

Sean Tackett was initially fearful of ChatGPT when it was released last year. Reading article after article stating how generative AI was going to “take over” pushed him to learn as much as he could about this new technology. He began experimenting with it and initially did not find it easy to use or even necessarily useful in his work with medical school faculty. However, he and some colleagues recognized potential in these tools and ended up applying for and receiving a JHU DELTA grant to find ways they could apply generative AI to faculty development in the medical school. Tackett described how they are experimenting with generative AI in a curriculum development course that he teaches to the med school faculty. For example, one of the tasks is for faculty to learn to write learning objectives, so they’ve been developing prompts that can be used to specifically critique learning objectives. Another example is developing prompts to critique writing. Most of Tackett’s students are medical professionals who do not have a lot of time to learn new technologies, so his team is continually trying to refine prompts in these systems to make them as useful and efficient as possible. Despite being so busy, Tackett noted the faculty are generally enthusiastic about having the opportunity to use these tools.     

The discussion continued with a question and answer session with audience members: 

Q: How do we transfer and integrate this knowledge with teaching assistants who help manage the larger sized classes? What about grading?
ST: I would advocate for the potential of AI to replace a TA in terms of grading, but not in terms of a TA having a meaningful dialogue with a student. 
JF: Generative AI tools can be used to provide valuable feedback on assessments. There are a lot of tools out there to help make grading easier for your TAs, but AI can be used for the feedback piece. 

Q: How might professors provide guidelines to students to use generative AI to help them study better for difficult and complex topics?
MR: One possibility is to generate quiz questions – and then have students follow up by checking the work of these quizzes that have been generated.
CS: Using a ChatGPT or other text generation tool as a reading comprehension aid is something that has been useful for non-native English speakers. For example, adding a paragraph from an academic article into ChatGPT and asking what this means in plain language can be helpful.

CE: This gets to what I call ‘prompt literacy,’ which is designing better prompts to give you better answers. There is a very good series about this on Youtube from the University of Pennsylvania.
Sean, what have you experienced with prompting right now, in terms of challenges and opportunities?
ST: We’re trying to put together advice on how to better prompt the system to get more refined and accurate answers. After a few iterations of prompting the system, we refine the prompt and put it into a template for our faculty, leaving a few ‘blanks’ for them to fill in with their specific variables. The faculty are experts in their subject areas, so they can tell if the output is accurate or not. We’re in the process of collecting their output, to put together best practices about what works, what does not work.  

CE: What would you all like to see in terms of guidelines and best practices for AI on a web page geared towards using AI in the classroom?
Guest: And along those lines, how to we move forward with assigning research projects, knowing that these tools are available for students?
ST: I think it could be useful for students to learn research skills. They could use the tools to research something, then critique the results and explain how they verified those results. It can also be useful for generating ideas and brainstorming. Another thought is that there are a number of domain specific generative AI databases, such as Open Evidence which is useful in the medical field.  
CS: To Sean’s point, I think a comparative approach is useful with these tools. The tools are very good at pattern matching genre conventions, so doing comparative work within a genre could be useful.
JF: I think ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can be useful for different parts of the research process, such as brainstorming, structure, and editing. But not for something like providing or validating evidence.  

Q: As a grad student, I’m wondering how the presence of AI might force us to refine the types of questions and evaluations that we give our students. Are there ways to engineer our own questions so that the shift of the question is changed to avoid the problem [of having to refine and update the question] in the first place?
CS: There is an assignment in our collection that talks about bringing an assignment from past to present. Again, thinking in terms of a comparative approach, ask ChatGPT the question, and then ask your students the same question and see how they compare, if there are any patterns.  I think it can be helpful to think of ChatGPT as adding another voice to the room.
JF: We have a section in the guidelines on how to redesign assessment to cope with generative AI related issues. We suggest two approaches: the avoidance approach and the activation approach. The avoidance approach is for faculty who are not yet comfortable using this technology and want to avoid having students use it.  One example of this approach is for faculty to rework their assignments to focus on a higher level of learning, such as creativity or analysis, which will hopefully reduce or eliminate the opportunity for students to use AI tools. The activation approach encourages faculty to proactively integrate AI tools into the assessment process. One example of this approach I mentioned earlier is when I suggested to a faculty member to rework their discussion board questions to allow students to submit two versions of the answers, one created by them and the other by ChatGPT, and then analyze the results. 

Q: What is the ultimate goal of education? We may have different goals for different schools. Also, AI may bridge people from different social backgrounds. In China, where I grew up, the ability to read or write strongly depends on the social status of the family you come from. So there is some discomfort using it in the classroom.
CS: I feel some discomfort also, and that’s what led to the development of the guidelines in my classroom. I posed a similar question to my students: if we have these tools that can allegedly write for us, what is the point of taking a writing class?  They responded by saying things like, “writing helps to develop critical thinking and analytical skills,” to which I added, “being here is an investment in yourself as a student, a scholar, and a thinker.” I think asking students to articulate the value of the education that they want to get is really helpful in determining guidelines for AI.
ST: Going to school and getting an education is an investment of your time. You pay now so you can be paid later. But it’s not as transactional as that. AI is already in the work environment and will become more prevalent. If we’re not preparing students to succeed in the work environment, we are doing them a disservice. We teach students to apply generative AI in their classes so they are prepared to use it in the workforce.
JF: In the business school, everything is market driven. I think education can fit into that framework as well. We’re trying to provide graduates with the confidence they need to finish the work and meet the market’s need. We know that generative AI tools have really changed the world and they’re starting to emerge in every part of our life. We need to train students to realize that ChatGPT might be part of their education, part of life in the future, and part of the work in the future as well. There are things AI can help us do, but there are still fundamentals that students need to learn. One example is calculators: we still need to learn from the beginning that 1 + 1 = 2. 
CE: This question also reminded me of asking your students, what is the ultimate purpose of a research paper? Where do they think ChatGPT should fit into the research process?  

Q: I work at the library and we’re getting lots of questions about how to detect if students are using AI. And also, how do you determine if students are relying too heavily on AI?
JF: We also get this question from our faculty. The most used detection tool right now is Turnitin, which is embedded in Canvas. But the level of accuracy is not reliable. We encourage faculty to always validate before accepting the results.  For faculty who are actively using AI in the classroom, we also encourage them to provide clear guidance and expectations to students on how they are allowed to use it.  This may make it a little easier to determine if they are using it correctly or not.
MR: There are some other tools out there, such a GPTZero, ZeroGPT, but to Jun’s point, the difficult thing is that it’s different than plagiarism detection which says this is copied, and here’s the source. These tools say there’s a probability that part of this was taken, but you can’t point to a direct source. It’s up to instructors whether or not to use these tools, but consider using them to facilitate a conversation with students. In my own classes if I suspect academic misconduct, I usually start by asking them to explain, talk to me about what is happening before I make accusations. With these tools, there tends to be no hard evidence, just probabilities that something may have happened.  This is definitely an area we’re all still learning about.
Guest: I was just thinking that having a conversation with students about why they are turning to the tool in the first place might prevent misconduct.  Instead of sending them to an academic misconduct committee, we could have these conversations, like Carly mentioned. Making students aware of the limitations of the tool could also be helpful.
CS: Yes, I say that in our guidelines that I’m prioritizing conferences with students over immediate disciplinary action. I try to pre-empt anxiety students might feel around using these tools. Designing your assignments in a way that reduces anxiety is also helpful. For example, I tend to design assignments that build on one another throughout the semester in smaller bits, rather than one giant chunk all at once.  

Q: Is there any discussion around combining AI with teaching, such as generating personalized explanations of a topic? Students will have different levels of expertise and comfort with different topics.
ST: We’re trying to do this, to create a teaching aid for the future. We’re planning to use it to create assessment items.  

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Pixabay, Unsplash

 

Facilitating Difficult Conversations during Class

As a faculty in sociology, I often teach content about which people have strong opinions. For instance, public debates about the changing use of pronouns and Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Law” are a good opportunity to apply theories on the social construction of gender and sexuality but can be flash points for students. Discussions about structural racism can be challenging when your classroom includes students hailing from diverse countries with different histories of acceptance or oppression. I also encourage students to bring current events into our discussion to exemplify concepts in class, but again, students may hold different opinions on those events. In this post, I share strategies I use or learned from others about how to facilitate conversations about sensitive or politically charged topics. 

Ground Rules 

Ground rules can be the foundation for facilitating respectful conversations that also help students feel more comfortable participating.  Ideally this is done at the start of the semester but can be done during the semester if current events require it.  

I set the tone in my class by stating on the first day that “We can attack ideas in this class, but not people.” I explain there is a difference in critiquing an argument versus dismissing someone’s point or groups of people more broadly. It can also help to give examples in your discipline of both productive and unproductive critiques. 

Below are ground rules I use, but it can help to search online for additional ideas. Involving students in co-creating these rules is an excellent practice as it generates buy-in and motivates their acceptance of and adherence to guiding principles. Displaying these recommendations prominently in your Canvas site or distributing them to students is a good idea as well, especially if students need reminders of these rules. The recommendations below apply to both instructors and students, though there are additional guidelines for instructors as needed.  

  • Support your arguments with evidence. – Use known facts, published research, relevant readings, and previous arguments to support your argument.  
  • Use “I” statements. – It’s OK to articulate your perspectives, feelings, or relevant personal experiences, but don’t try to speak for other people in the class.  
  • Do not generalize about groups. – This relates to the previous point. We can make arguments with known actions or statements by groups, but we should not make overgeneralizations about them.  
  • Allow students to speak without interruption. – This requires people to listen more to others. My only caveat is that as the instructor I have the right to nudge students if they talk too long or I feel their points are drifting. 
  • Listen actively. – We need to do more than not interrupt. We need to pay attention to what is being said so we can respond appropriately. Taking written notes on what others are saying is a good way to practice active listening.  
  • Keep an open mind. – Our goal is to learn from each other. I share that my own opinions and beliefs on numerous topics have evolved over time thanks to engaging with others in open discussions including with students in my class. Give specific examples of this when possible.  
  • Name-calling, sarcasm and inflammatory accusations are not permitted. – We need to maintain respective dialogue when we are debating ideas from different perspectives. 
  • Take a break – If the discussion becomes too heated or intense, suggest a five- to 10-minute break to allow people’s minds to reset and disengage from threat mode. Getting water, a snack, or taking a short walk can all provide just enough respite to bring the temperature down in the room.   

Establishing ground rules and then practicing them in class, even very explicitly, can help students understand how to engage not just in class but in various situations. The academic environment may be new for them, however, and they may need guidance. Gently acknowledge comments without judgement that don’t follow the ground rules. Point out your goal is to help students learn how to debate ideas in a way that facilitates open conversation. 
Strategies for Facilitating Conversations 

As the instructor you can leverage different strategies to facilitate open conversations. 

  • Be intentional about what topics you bring into the conversation. Consider your learning objectives when you choose topics to discuss or apply to course concepts. 
  • Start discussions in small groups to give students a safer space for initiating their discussions. Designate one person to summarize the group’s discussion instead of asking each student to speak.  
  • Consider assigning conversational moves in advance. For example, “Make a comment that brings two other comments together,” or “Disagree with someone respectfully, using evidence to support your claim,” or “Summarize the conversation and suggest a question that still needs consideration.” 
  • For smaller classes, use the round robin format in which each student speaks in succession and builds on the previous comments made.  
  • Include time for quiet reflection – possibly through a short writing activity – to help students prepare their responses. 
  • Choose readings and materials that present different perspectives. This can help students understand that complex ideas can be applied in different ways and that researchers or practitioners are not always in complete agreement.  
  • If you notice conflict between students, use assigned seats for the whole class to provide some separation. 

Dealing with Traumatic Events 

Even if your course does not cover sensitive or politically charged topics, there may be times when the community is affected by traumatic events. Consider changing your lesson plan as appropriate to address the situation.   

It’s important to remember we learn by working through challenges whether in math, design, or textual analysis. For this reason, we should not shy away from discussing sensitive or difficult topics. The role of the instructor is to create an environment where people understand how to make arguments and feel comfortable engaging to help us understand and extend ideas or situations we study.   

Add your thoughts in the comments below. 

Mike Reese
Mike Reese is Associate Dean of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation and associate teaching professor in Sociology.

Additional Resources 

Image Source: Mike Reese, Pixabay

Adapting to AI in the Classroom for Time-Strapped Instructors

In the past few months, we have spoken to many instructors – faculty, graduate students, even undergraduate teaching assistants –  who are doing very interesting things with artificial intelligence tools in their classes this coming fall. Some are writing grants to support research into classroom uses of AI, some are designing interactive online modules to help teach about the ethics of AI, and some are integrating AI tools into their instructional activities.

This blog post is for another instructor population: those that have not had the time or capacity to redevelop their courses, their assessments, or their activities to accommodate an AI world. “Redesigning assessments with AI in mind” might be the 20th item on a long list of to-dos for the coming semester. Adapting to new technologies that could change the classroom experience – and AI is certainly one of them – seems like an overwhelming task. Classes start in one week, and wrestling with the teaching and learning opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence may not be an achievable goal.

However, there are some concrete steps and curated resources to take into account in terms of AI when planning and teaching your courses.

Recommendations for Starting with AI

Here are six recommendations (and one extra credit assignment). Following all of these suggestions will put you on good footing with the learning curve associated with AI in the classroom, but even doing one or two is a good way to start.

  1. Experiment with ChatGPT and other AI tools. Just get in there and start using them and see what they produce. In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, one writer said, “I started by reminding myself, anytime I was about to Google something, to ask ChatGPT.”[1] ChatGPT-ing (or using Google Bard) instead of Google-ing is a good on-ramp to AI usage. You may even find them useful to you as an instructor. Here are four basic generative AI models to start with along with prompt suggestions:
    1. ChatGPT – The first (and by some reports, still the most accurate) text-based generative AI. Prompt suggestion: Ask a basic question about teaching, e.g., “How can I grade exams more efficiently?” or “How can I provide written feedback more efficiently?”
    2. Google BardLess text-heavy than ChatGPT; potentially geared towards more logic-based questions, e.g., “How do I create a website in WordPress?”
    3. Microsoft BingAble to generate images as well as text and simultaneously harness the power of a search engine. Potential question: “Name the characteristics of neo-classical architecture and provide an example.”
    4. Fotor.com Image-generator AI. Potential question: “Provide an illustration for my chemistry class syllabus.”
  2. Run your assignments through an AI tool. This will help benchmark possible AI-generated responses to your assignments. More sophisticated AI users will engage in prompt engineering that could make uncited or incorrect usage of AI harder to detect, but getting at least one example of an AI response is helpful. It will not only provide a sightline into possible academic integrity issues but also point to whether your assignment may need to be revised or redeveloped, which could include integrating AI itself. Derek Bruff, a writer and higher education consultant, provides good guidance on assessment design in light of AI:
    1. Why does this assignment make sense for this course?
    2. What are specific learning objectives for this assignment?
    3. How might students use AI tools while working on this assignment?
    4. How might AI undercut the goals of this assignment? How could you mitigate this?
    5. How might AI enhance the assignment? Where would students need help figuring that out?
    6. Focus on the process. How could you make the assignment more meaningful for students or support them more in the work? [2]
  3. Add an AI policy to your syllabus. This may require doing some or all of the recommendations above, but even if you do not have the capacity to take a deep dive into AI tools before courses start, it is a good idea to take a stab at a policy, even if it is brief. As mentioned above, you will be adapting this policy fairly quickly. The sooner you develop a benchmark policy and determine what works and what does not, the better. Lance Eaton, a doctoral student in higher education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, has crowdsourced a Google Document with many helpful examples of AI policies for syllabi. This is an excellent place to start.
  4. Determine your academic integrity policy for AI. This may be part of your general AI policy or it could be separate. Regardless, this will probably be V.1 of your academic integrity policy, but again, starting now will put you in a good position to iterate as needed. To start, review Academic Integrity Policies for Johns Hopkins Schools. Lance Eaton’s Google Document (above) has many examples of AI policies that include academic integrity statements.
  5. Teach your students how to cite AI tools. This information could be incorporated into a syllabus policy and/or academic integrity policy, but correct citation – at least according to August 2023 recommendations of these style guides – is step number one. Making your students aware that they need to cite uses of AI tools and giving them the tools for doing that will (hopefully) incentivize compliance with your academic integrity policies.
    1. APA Citation Guidance – ChatGPT
    2. MLA Citation Guidance – Generative AI
    3. Chicago Style Citation Guidance – ChatGPT
    4. Johns Hopkins Library Guide on Citation
  6. Talk to your local center for teaching and learning. All Hopkins Schools have teaching and learning centers, some have been publishing guidance on how to teach and learn with artificial intelligence tools, and many have been considering the possible consequences of AI in the classroom. Here’s a list of teaching and learning centers at Hopkins, and here are two rich resources developed by two CTLs at Hopkins:
    1. Teaching & Learning in the ChatGPT Era. This website was created by the Center for Learning Design & Technology at the Whiting School of Engineering. It provides a great overview on generative AI as well as providing guidance on academic integrity questions, student use of AI, and assessment design with AI. Kelly Orr, Nathan Graham, Olysha Magruder, Mel Rizzuto, and Edward Queen of the CLDT all contributed to the website as did adjunct faculty David Porter.
    2. Johns Hopkins University Generative AI Tool Implementation Guidance and Best Practices. Jun Fang, Assistant Director in Teaching & Learning@Carey in the Carey School of Business led the development of this resource with contributions from representatives at other schools and teaching and learning centers at Hopkins. This guide provides substantial guidance on using generative AI to design engaging course activities, provide assignment feedback, and gives a list of AI tools for higher education.

Extra credit assignment for those with a little more capacity:

  1. Learn a little about prompt engineering. Prompt engineering is developing and refining questions and statements for AI models such that they generate results with the desired specificity, tone, length, citations, etc. This will give you a sightline into AI capacities beyond a simple one-time command (e.g., “Compare and contrast models of femininity in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew”) which may yield an overly broad answer that lacks specificity and nuance. Prompt engineering will also help you learn to direct and guide AI models and not just react to them. For a useful beginner’s guide to prompt engineering, check out the brief video on prompting AI from Wharton School instructors.

Why You Should Do This

Here is why you should take the (small) leap: Artificial intelligence will change the way we teach and learn. The internet did this, email did this, and so will AI. Taking small steps to acculturate to this new reality is the best way to build the flexibility needed to successfully teach and learn with AI – and, very importantly, teach your students how to teach and learn with AI. Here are more reasons to begin to shift your behavior:

  • You can start small. Take this semester as an opportunity to begin to build your AI teaching and learning skills. You do not have to overhaul your syllabi or classroom activities to accommodate AI; you just have to begin to think through the implications of teaching in a world where AI tools are easily available and could pass your homework assignments. Ask yourself how you would coach students encountering your subject matter for the first time, and then apply those principles to your own learning about AI.
  • You will have to learn to adapt quickly. Artificial intelligence tools are evolving rapidly; your course design and instructional approach will do so, too. Each semester will require additional revisions to your syllabi to accommodate our increasing use of AI tools and AI’s increasing capacities. Starting to build those muscles now with lower-effort activities will pay off in the long run.
  • You actually know how to do this. Researching? Developing hypotheses? Evaluating resources? Check, check, and check. Iterating, revising, and adapting as you go along? Teaching students how to evaluate resources? Guiding students to think about the definitions of “artificial,” “intelligence,” and “human”? Check all that, too. The skills required to become AI-literate from a teaching and learning perspective are skills you already have. It is just a matter of applying them to this particular challenge/opportunity/problem (however you frame it).

Finally, give yourself and your students some grace. This is a huge part of beginning to learn how to teach and learn in an AI world; most likely, neither you nor your students will be proficient AI practitioners this semester. You may miss an academic integrity issue or overlook good opportunities to use AI in a classroom activity. Your students may not cite AI correctly or may not cite it at all. They may be far more fluent with AI than you are, or they may be too trusting of AI. Whatever happens, try to remember that you all are new at this and, as new learners, you all may take missteps and make mistakes with the technology.

Caroline Egan
Caroline Egan is a Project Manager in the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, supporting instructional training and development for Hopkins faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff.

[1] Darby, Flower. (27 June 2023). 4 steps to help you plan for ChatGPT in your classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www-chronicle-com.proxy1.library.jhu.edu/article/4-steps-to-help-you-plan-for-chatgpt-in-your-classroom

[2] Bruff, D. (19 July 2023). Assignment makeovers in the AI age: Essay edition. Agile learning: Derek Bruff’s blog on teaching and learning. https://derekbruff.org/?p=4105

Selected Resources

From Hopkins:

Additional resources:

Image Source: Unsplash

Quick Tips: Guest Speakers in the Classroom

Inviting a guest speaker to your classroom can be a powerful and memorable experience for your students. Unique perspectives and expertise shared by an outside professional can be very motivating for students as they consider their own academic goals and career paths.  Hearing from someone in the community can help to reinforce course material in a real-world context and deliver a renewed sense of relevance to the class (Leboff). Guest speakers also have the potential to challenge stereotypes that may exist in a particular field.  Bringing in diverse role models that students can relate to helps to make your course more inclusive and builds community both inside and outside the classroom.   

The following is a list of considerations for instructors when inviting a guest speaker to a classroom:     

Prepare students ahead of the speaker’s visit: 

  • Let students know why you are inviting this particular guest.  
  • Ask students to research the speaker’s background: review personal websites, read articles, review book chapters written by this person, etc. 
  • Ask students to prepare 2-3 discussion questions for the guest. Students could submit these questions to you for review.  

Give the speaker plenty of context: 

  • Discuss with the speaker how the presentation fits into the course. What are the objectives of the course or this specific unit? What happens after this presentation? 
  • Make sure the speaker knows who to expect in the audience. Is this an introductory course or more advanced? How many students will be in attendance? 

Consider the format: 

  • Discuss with the speaker their presentation style. Some may come prepared with a formal presentation, including slides, while others prefer to use a less formal ‘fireside chat’ or ‘Q and A’ format (Leboff). Another possibility is for one or more students to interview the speaker. 
  • Ask the speaker if they have any specific technology needs for the presentation.

     

Follow up with students after the visit: 

  • Facilitate a class discussion (in person or online) where students are able share their thoughts about the presentation. Provide guiding questions to help prompt students.  
  • Turn the follow-up activity into an assignment: 
    • Prepare a written reflection on the speaker’s presentation, how it relates to course topics, ideas they agreed or disagreed with, etc.
    • Debrief about the presentation in small groups and then report out to the whole class. 
    • If there are multiple speakers during the semester, ask students to select the speaker who had the greatest impact on them and write an essay explaining why; or have students compare and contrast two different speakers. 
    • If the speaker is widely published, have students critique an article written by this person.  
    • Write a thank-you note or email to the speaker.  

We’ve heard from some instructors that it can be challenging to find guest speakers with little or no funding. One suggestion is to start with your own network of peers such as colleagues at your institution or nearby institutions. Reach out to your contacts from LinkedIn or other professional networks. Former students who are now “in the field” could be another possibility. Another group not to be overlooked is local business owners or other community members who often appreciate the opportunity to speak to students. If you are struggling to find a speaker, two sites that may be worth looking into are SpeakerHub and Pathful (Shane).  

Do you have any additional tips to share about hosting guest speakers? Please feel free to share them in the comments. 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation
 

Image Source: Pixabay

References:

Lebhoff, D. (2019, November 22). Making the Most of Guest Speakers in the Classroom. Top Hat. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://tophat.com/blog/making-the-most-of-guest-speakers-in-the-classroom/ 

Shane, S. (2022, March 22). Leveraging Guest Speakers to Increase Student Learning. Edutopia. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/leveraging-guest-speakers-increase-student-learning/ 

Lunch and Learn: Community-Based Learning

On Wednesday, April 19th, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a Lunch and Learn on Community-Based Learning. Luisa De Guzman, Assistant Director of the Center for Social Concern, moderated a panel of faculty from the Engaged Scholar Faculty and Community Partner Fellows Program. Sponsored by the Center for Social Concern, this program supports partnerships between JHU faculty and leaders from Baltimore City non-profits in co-teaching Community-Based Learning courses. The panel included: Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky, Associate Teaching Professor in the University Writing Program, Alissa Burkholder Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, Jasmine Blanks Jones, Executive Director of the Center for Social Concern, Matthew Pavesich, Teaching Professor and Director of the University Writing Program, and Victoria Harms, Visiting Assistant Professor in History.

De Guzman opened the presentation by describing community-based learning (CBL) and the opportunities available at the Center for Social Concern. CBL is a pedagogical model that integrates student learning with community engagement. It provides students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in real-world settings and reflect on their service experiences within a classroom setting. By partnering with community organizations, students, faculty, and community stakeholders benefit from the collaborative experience of pursuing mutual goals (Kuh, 2008).

The Engaged Scholarship program at the Center for Social Concern offers various ways to encourage faculty to integrate CBL into their teaching; opportunities range from mini grants of $500 to support CBL activities to an award of up to $5000 with the Engaged Scholar Faculty Fellows program to develop CBL courses with partners in the community. The Spring 2023 Engaged Scholar Faculty Fellows on the panel taught the following courses:

  • Anne Elizabeth Brodsky: Reintroduction to Writing: Music, Young People, and Democracy
  • Alissa Burkholder Murphy: Social Impact Design
  • Jasmine Blanks Jones: Black Storytelling: Public Health Education in the Black World
  • Matthew Pavesich: Reintroduction to Writing: The City that Writes
  • Victoria Harms: Rebels, Revolutions, and the Right-Wing Backlash

De Guzman continued with a question-answer session with panelists, including questions and discussion with audience members.

Q: Describe integrating CBL into your course, and what motivated you?

VH: I heard a talk by Dr. Shawntay Stocks on CBL in 2018. I was relatively new and did not feel very comfortable on the Homewood campus at that time. But my students began asking me more and more questions about Baltimore. CBL offered an opportunity to bring Baltimore into my course from different viewpoints.
MP: I started thinking about how to connect goals in our classroom with the community. Grade school kids, including high schoolers, take courses in storytelling. The partners for us have been students in their late teens and early twenties from all across Baltimore City.  CBL allows me to bring peers to my students from the community.
JBJ: Prior to my current position, I ran a nonprofit in West Africa for twelve years and recognize that the stories, knowledge, and ancestral wisdom of people of color across the globe is intentionally left out of Western academic practices. If we’re going to really think about the cultivation of knowledge, we have to engage with our communities, with people who are doing the work, who are finding solutions. That is my commitment. This is where it starts if we’re going to be better humans, researchers, and scholars.
AEB: I really like the way CBL expands students’ sense of what an education is and also what is considered expertise. Educators are not just those with a particular degree, but include others who are outside of the classroom: administrators, performers, musicians, etc. CBL also helps students expand their sense of what it means to be in college and not be defined by their major or a particular class. It helps them understand what they could learn in the moment, instead of five years from now. It also gives students an interdisciplinary experience and encourages them to question the idea of disciplinary boundaries.
ABM: I teach a year-long multidisciplinary design course where students work with an external project partner for two semesters.  Students like working on social impact projects, being part of something bigger than themselves. I was hesitant at first to bring these types of projects to students without the proper resources; I had some experience working overseas and recognized the challenges of projects like these. The Faculty Fellows program has great structure. It takes massive amounts of time, almost like having a part-time job, but it’s been a great platform to work with Baltimore City Rec and Parks.

Q: How did you manage the logistical side of starting up the partnerships and managing the relationships with the organization you worked with?

MP: It was a rough introduction with Wide Angle Youth Media at first. I came in with a pedagogical model that I had used previously, where students produce work for the organization. The organization’s response was slightly cold – they weren’t sure about our involvement. I stepped back and adjusted assignments and reconfigured the syllabus. We kept communicating which built up trust and things gradually improved. This is all part of the inherent messiness and flexibility that we as teachers have to be ready for.
AEB: I was brand new to OrchKids. My kids play music, so I was familiar with the program, but I was new to them. Once they (OrchKids) got the ‘okay’ to go through with it, we set up weekly Zoom meetings. The logistics were taken care of by Luisa De Guzman.
VH: Finding partners is a challenge and may be a deterrent. You have to acknowledge the legitimate reservations that people have about working with Hopkins. Positionality and cultural humility are lessons that I took away for myself. As a white woman from Hopkins I would show up in certain spaces in Baltimore and not always be welcome. After months of going to events and talking to people, I was able to make a connection at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Like Matt said, you keep building on the relationships.
Q: Do these organizations approach the Center for Social Concern (CSC)? Or is it an organic process?

JBJ: It’s generally an organic process. Luisa is very diligent about not matching people with organizations, or vice versa, but with establishing connections and helping people find their way together. We have a lot of community partners that span our different programs. And we’re looking at ways to continue to encourage more. We’re doing this through community happy hours with our partners and bringing people together just to get to know each other, to see what sparks and what ideas can come into fruition.
ABM: I had a booklet of past projects that I looked through and sought out partners that might have something to do with engineering. I reached out and asked if anyone had contacts, made a few calls, and figured out a project from there.
MP: One thing I found a little surprising – my students got a sense of higher stakes in the class. With the addition of the community partners, it’s like the tent got bigger. The stakes got a little higher, while still being relatively safe enough for novice writers. They realized, “We’re doing something cool. It matters to people more than just us.”

Q: How do you assess student learning in the CBL course?

AEB: The work that was going to get evaluated was the work of writing. I asked the folks at OrchKids if there was something our students could do for them in terms of writing or researching, but there was not.
MP: The answer to the question, which is a great question, depends on the pedagogical context of the content. CBL is essentially introducing students to a context for writing and a community for doing that.
VH: In my class, an upper-level writing intensive History class, there are reading assignments about Baltimore’s history in the 1960s. There are also two research papers, one of which is on Baltimore.  At the end of the semester, I asked students, “What do we do about the participation grade?”  I asked them to decide how they wanted to be assessed on participation and I walked out of the room. When I walked back in, they had a whole argument laid out about why they each deserved 100%. But it was a meaningful argument, so I was fine with it.
JBJ: It’s a real struggle in my course because I have students from many disciplines (public health, anthropology, theatre, etc.). There are public health outcomes that are central points to the course, but also historical content they are exposed to during the engagement with the community. It becomes an evaluation of the discussions that take place in the community, about the readings, and reflecting with each other.

Q: Is anyone documenting this pedagogy?

MP: UWP is constructing a digital resource for teaching and writing: “The Teaching and Writing Toolkit.”  It will contain some subsections about CBL, including community engaged syllabi, writing assignments, and rubrics that folks would need to evaluate this work.
JBJ: We’d like to move towards doing research about our practice and write about it. That’s a direction that we are excitedly heading in.
VH: We are a data-driven institution. I added extra questions on the course evaluations and published an article. You do it through publications.

Q:  One of the challenges of incorporating CBL is the budget and how it goes into the community. And what happens once the funding ends?

JBJ: As a Faculty Fellow you receive $5000 to work with – this can cover a range of things like materials to student transportation. In my case, the money went to transporting my students and the rest of the balance went to my community partner, the Blacks in Wax Museum. In terms of what happens after we’re done, Anand Pandian in Anthropology found a way for his community co-instructor to become a lecturer at Hopkins. It’s on us as faculty to really advocate for these opportunities. We also need to have more ways to build in how we apply for [CBL] grants together. I am hopeful there will be more happening in the way of tenure and promotion that allows faculty to count engaged scholarship and public facing scholarship.
Q: If students are already involved with an organization, is there a way for them to be recognized (with credit or other) for their efforts so that it also becomes a student-driven initiative?

JBJ: I’ve had students do independent studies with me for credit. These students often remain engaged in the work beyond the initial encounter and sometimes end up working as interns at the CSC.
MP: One of the recommendations from CUE2 is about bringing students’ curriculum, co-curricular, and extra-curricular experiences closer together. We need to stand up credit bearing experiences for students that are not just issued from academic offices, but from experiential learning experiences. This is happening across the country. We could position ourselves as leaders in this area.

Q: I feel like the K-12 environment has been doing this work for a long time. How much do you feel like you’re learning from the K-12 space?

MP: It might be telling about the insularity of Higher Ed that I’m thinking to myself, I’m not really familiar with the conversations happening in Primary and Secondary Ed around those ways.
JBJ: The School of Education is taking innovative steps with how they assess their grad students. They are accepting portfolios rather than just a straightforward dissertation. I think there’s movement there, more so with the profession than with the disciplines, which isn’t surprising. In the professions, in nursing and medicine, narrative medicine has been a thing for a very long time. Now there are reports from national academies about how we use a variety of forms of knowledge creation beyond solely the written text. It comes down to how you evaluate it, not just the long-written paper.

Q: Please tell us a word that summarizes your community-based learning experiences thus far.

VH: Cultural humility.
MP: Potential. We got started, something happened. But the future version of it is the most exciting version, I think.
JBJ: Reparative, and beyond just the relational physical repair.
AEB: Plaid. Some of it was a mess, some of it was personal, and it was all very political. So when you put that together, you get “plaid.”
ABH: Hopeful. There are positive responses from the students, and I think that good things are going to come from what they’re producing.


References:

Kuh, George D. (2008). “High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter.” AAC&U, Washington, D.C. 34 pp.

 

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation

Image Sources: Lunch and Learn Logo, Pixabay

Panel Discussion: “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence”

On April 4th, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation hosted “Teaching and Learning in the Age of Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence,” a panel discussion on the implications of artificial intelligence in Hopkins classrooms. This discussion, open to attendees from all schools and divisions in Hopkins, yielded insights into the opportunities and limitations of Chatbots, particularly ChatGPT; identified ways to frame its pedagogical uses for students and faculty; and gave guidance for integrating it into classrooms.

The five-person panel consisted of Victoria Harms, DAAD Visiting Assistant Professor, History; Austin Heath, PhD Candidate, Philosophy; Mike Todasco, MFA student, Writing Seminars and former PayPal executive; and Opal Sitzman and Timothy Huang, first-year students taking the Reintroduction to Writing seminar with Alex Lewis, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the University Writing Program who is using ChatGPT in his courses.

The discussion produced several incisive observations about chatbots and their role in higher education classrooms.

Here is a summary of the main points:

  • Teaching and learning: There was broad consensus that instructors should engage in active inquiry into artificial intelligence (AI) with their students and leverage the tool to help students think critically about evaluating texts, the accuracy of texts, and what a Chatbot’s opportunities and limitations are as a source, creator, and partner in their work.
  • A metacognitive tool: Both instructors and students said one of the best ways to use ChatGPT is as a tool to help students think about their learning and knowledge, from helping to improve writing to assessing the substance of texts.
  • Academic Integrity: Panelists thought that the written work produced by ChatGPT fell below standards for a finished product; it could be inaccurate, incorrect, and overly broad.
  • Academic Integrity and Assessments: One student urged faculty to identify the core issues driving the need for assessment and use those ideas to motivate students to produce original work. This assessment design contrasts with more mechanical and easily-plagiarizable assignments.
  • The students were teaching the faculty: Opal and Tim provided a huge amount of guidance to faculty, including recommended readings, results from their individual research projects, and thoughts on assessment design.

And words of wisdom from some of the panelists:

  • Austin Heath urged attendees to conceptualize ChatGPT as “a tool inquiry vs. a received text or received piece” of truth.
  • Opal Sitzman warned against a “tend[ancy] to overestimate ChatGPT’s current prowess.”
  • Mike Todasco compared ChatGPT’s current capabilities to “mansplaining,” with all of attendant drawbacks of the term.

Tim and Opal kicked off the conversation, describing the ways that students are using AI technology. Opal assured people that AI is not a “nefarious actor” in student lives: “In general, students like playing around with it like writing a Seinfeld episode, but it’s used more for inspiration than cheating.” Tim said, “You can use it to create the first draft of a paper,” and he’s using it as a self-tutoring tool “to adjust how I write.” Mike, in his MFA classes, used it “to be the voice of a computer in a story I was writing. The key is to always acknowledge it.”

Austin and Victoria discussed how they are guiding students to use and think about artificial intelligence. Austin thought of Chatbots “as a student’s student,” a way for students to learn how to evaluate and critique writing. He gives students output from a chatbot explaining a concept and invites them to grade it and offer suggestions for improvement. In Victoria’s class on Europe since 1945, she asked the Chatbot, “Why did the Soviet Union collapse?” Her students critique the answer for “accuracy and substance,” which taught “students that they know something, too.” She urged the audience “to teach students to be critical digesters of information.”

The panelists also weighed in on how their subject matter expertise influenced the way they used and thought about artificial intelligence. Mike, who has been writing about it for a while, said, “I felt like a Cassandra in that no one was listening and now everyone is talking about it.” He then talked about how “People who don’t have access to JHU resources can use it to learn […] the more people use it – not just for teaching, but for life – will help us learn.” Victoria teaches her students “to fact check results, like I do with Wikipedia. We need to integrate these tools into our assessments so they will use them appropriately.”

Opal, who’s interested in neuroscience, wrote a paper considering whether AI is conscious. Her verdict: “[I]t’s still much more simple than our brain,” but, importantly, “it helps us understand the concept of consciousness even if it isn’t conscious itself.” Austin, as a philosopher, applauded Opal’s interest in consciousness before explaining his own interest in “generat[ing] alternative thoughts about writing and giving credit,” saying, “I’m interested in exploring what it means to give attribution. Did a student write this work? Or did AI write this? Or did students work with AI to write this?”

When queried about Chatbots and academic integrity, the panelists mostly talked about its limitations as an easily accessible cheating tool. Opal said, “ChatGPT has a bad reputation for helping students cheat, but people overestimate its abilities. You still have to do a lot of work that requires critical thinking when using it because it doesn’t produce sophisticated results. It might help with a basic prompt.” Mike and Victoria echoed Opal’s opinion. Mike said, “If you were teaching middle schoolers, you might be concerned with cheating,” though he went on to add, “That said, the future version will get better.” Victoria added, “The pandemic taught us that not all students are excited about technology or are tech savvy.”

Tim offered a very good, thoughtful response about using ChatGPT to plagiarize code in a computing course when Kwame Kutton, a Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering, raised a question about doing this. Currently in a computer science course himself, Tim said, “In BME there are unique opportunities to write code that saves lives. Therefore, students need to tackle the core issue to solve before they even write code. We want faculty to teach us how to think about the logic of the problem, not just writing code.” His comment encouraged instructors to think deeply about first framing and identifying the problem for students, which will help motivate them to produce original and independent work.

Mike stated another perspective: “I don’t know any programmer who doesn’t use Copilot,” a code repository on GitHub that uses AI to suggest coding solutions. “My analogy is calculators,” he said. “You need to know how to do math without a calculator, but once you are doing the calculations after setting up the problem, you should use a calculator to help solve the problem.”

A question from the audience about languages, accents, and ChatGPT turned the discussion to issues of accessibility and political bias. Tim saw one of his friends using the Chatbot to translate English to Japanese and then used it himself to translate a Spanish article he was familiar with. His opinion: “It does a better job than Google Translate” though “there are lots of metaphors that get lost in translation by these tools.”

Mike then gave two excellent examples about how ChatGPT is providing access and support to people with divergent and impaired abilities. He said, “ChatGPT 4 is available, but they haven’t released the picture-to-text feature that exists yet. They shared video of someone with visual impairment using ChatGPT 4 to learn what was in the fridge using their phone. It will be able to do amazing things in the future to help us.” He went on to talk about a friend of his who knew someone in San Francisco with a lawncare business who struggled to communicate via email. The owner of the business now uses ChatGPT “to help polish his emails,” thus improving his client relationships.

Opal talked about how ChatGPT struggles with dialects, which turned the conversation to political bias. She’s using ChatGPT to write a short story “in the style of Kate Chopin,” a 19th Century American writer known for writing about Louisiana Creole culture. Opal said, “[Chopin] used a lot of Louisiana dialect” and ChatGPT “struggles” with this because it “is filtered so it doesn’t mimic the racist language used during that time.” She said that people have found ChatGPT to be “an establishment liberal” in its political biases. Victoria brought up “issues of bias in Silicon Valley” and wondered how ChatGPT would address Critical Race Theory (CRT). Mike decided to ask ChatGPT whether we should ban CRT and copied and pasted ChatGPT’s response in the Zoom chat:

As an AI language model, I don’t have personal opinions. However, I can provide you with an analysis. Whether Critical Race Theory (CRT) should be banned in schools is a subjective question, often debated among educators, policymakers, and parents. Supporters argue that CRT promotes understanding of systemic racism and its impacts, while opponents believe it can be divisive and foster racial animosity. Ultimately, the decision to include or exclude CRT in schools depends on the goals and values of the educational community involved.[1]

The conversation ended with speculation about how quickly ChatGPT would progress. Mike said, “The current GPT4 has been remarkable. I’ve written fiction in each version and I’d say it’s getting two grade levels better in each version.” Opal also weighed in: “It will be quick, but I’m not wary yet. We need to keep considering these questions, but I think it’s less something to be scared of and more something to utilize. I don’t see anything being more powerful than humans in the near future.”

Recommended reading and activities:

[1] OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (Apr 4 version) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com/

Caroline Egan
Caroline Egan is a Project Manager in the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, supporting instructional training and development for Hopkins faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff.

Image source: Pixabay, Unsplash