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

Lunch and Learn: First-Year Seminars

On February 15, 2023, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) and the First-Year Seminar program hosted a Lunch and Learn with a panel of faculty members to share their experiences teaching First-Year Seminars (FYS) in the Fall of 2022 as well discuss emerging best practices. The panel included Christopher Celenza, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of History and Classics; Marisa O’Connor, Associate Teaching Professor, University Writing Program; Lilliana Mason, SNF Agora Institute, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Karen ní Mheallaigh, Professor of Humanities, Classics Chair. Aliza Watters, Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Curriculum and Director of First-Year Seminars, moderated the discussion.

Dr. Watters began with a short introduction to the FYS program, as well as some high-level reflections on lessons learned from Fall 2022. Part of a series of curricular recommendations from the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2), FYS welcomes students to the university in a small cohort experience (12 students per seminar), each one unique, but with shared goals focused on intellectual rigor and curiosity, peer community, and faculty-student interaction and mentorship. FYS were first piloted two years ago in the Fall of 2020; since then there have been over sixty FYS piloted. The Fall 2022 semester was the first semester where FYS were required for all incoming students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Seminars are three credits, students are graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U), and faculty form communities of practice each fall to discuss and learn from experiences across the approximately 75 courses. Watters shared student survey results from Fall 2022 which averaged or exceeded 90% for intellectual experience, connection with faculty, and overall enjoyment.

The presentation continued with each faculty panelist briefly describing their seminar, including approach, highlights, and something learned along the way.

Dean Celenza began with his course, Books, Authenticity, and Truth, which examines the search for truth among selected texts from Roman antiquity through the mid-17th century. Unique to the seminar and most memorable for students were the weekly hands-on encounters they had with texts in the library’s rare books collection, an experiential learning component that complemented the analytical discussions. Early in the semester, Dean Celenza reckoned with the difficulty of some of the sources he was assigning. Rather than a formal introduction to his field, with a focus on developing discipline-specific, complex knowledge, he considered the ethic of the group’s learning in the moment – and the personal and communal stakes of that learning. For him, it was more important to meet students “where they are” in terms of background knowledge rather than try and cover every detail. He also commented that he so enjoyed getting to know his students more personally in the context of FYS, that the S/U grading scheme is essential to this, and how, institutionally, FYS enables faculty to have a far richer understanding of the overall landscape experienced by our first-year students.

Professor Mason continued with her seminar, The Psychology of Mass Politics in the United States. Her course focused on the various misperceptions we have about how people make decisions based on politics, how our thoughts can be influenced and biased through deliberate misinformation, and in getting students to note these practices in the real world. Mason purposely varied the way she presented material to students, regularly using film, video, and podcasts in addition to journal articles, and alternating weeks of heavier and lighter reading. One particularly enjoyable assignment for students was to design and develop a false story about Johns Hopkins University as a way of self-consciously inoculating them against misinformation. Surprised at the divergent levels of basic political knowledge students had coming into her class, including the different branches of government, Professor Mason plans to include more introductory material going forward and even more attention to annotated reading practices. Like Dean Celenza, Mason enjoyed getting to know her students and began all her classes with a more personal check-in before turning to the week’s material.

Dr. O’Connor continued with her course, Is a Corporation a Person?, which presents students with a legal framework for examining personhood and its related rights to free speech in the U.S. The seminar asks students to examine this concept from various viewpoints, including other cultures, political movements, and literature. Dr. O’Connor draws on a great diversity of sources for her students to analyze: film, photographs, political cartoons, websites, and scholarly articles, among others. At one point during the course, O’Connor asked students to read articles by two scholars who had vastly different opinions about a particular subject; students were incredulous that these “experts in the field” were disagreeing with each other so starkly. Dr. O’Connor noted how transformative this experience can be for students: to see intellectual disagreement so explicitly rendered and to be invited, themselves, into the scholarly conversation. And that is how Dr. O’Connor’s course culminates: with each student proposing a research question and project that engages debates of personhood.

Professor ní Mheallaigh described her course, Lunar Histories, as imagining the moon as a magic door or portal for students: how it was perceived by ancient people, how it factored into religious practices, and how it eventually emerged into scientific literature and later became a lodestar for truth in the modern world. Professor ní Mheallaigh found that students enjoyed the interactive parts of the seminar best. To help them process ancient material that could be dense, or overly-technical, she regularly asked students to draw or otherwise visualize what they thought the author was trying to convey in early texts. Another activity that was especially memorable for students was going to the JHU Archeological Museum to examine various ancient artifacts, including a wand used to cast spells. These active learning practice helped take the pressure off of having to comprehend every historical detail while engaging students in the abiding imaginative components of lunar histories. Professor ní Mheallaigh also maintained that they helped engage the students emotionally as well as intellectually.

Lunch and learn panelists speaking.Dr. Watters summarized some of the emerging themes in the presentations and for FYS more broadly, including the need for source diversity and dynamism, modulating overly technical or discipline-specific content, incorporating experiential learning, and creating the space for more personal, low-key interactions between and among students and faculty. She then began the question-and-answer portion of the workshop which yielded active discussion with audience members. Here are some of the queries the panelists addressed:

Q: What is one concrete thing you did that worked really well?

CC: I asked students how they were doing and what was going on at the beginning of each class; it was a good way to “take the temperature” of the students and the room overall.
MO: I had students look at all sources we used in class, build a case, and present results. Finding evidence in the moment and figuring out how to talk about it worked well.
LM: Each week I had students do a written reflection asking what they learned, what questions they still have, etc.
KN: Examining ancient objects and exploring multimedia were very successful.

Q: I’ve heard from students that some FYSs are a lot of work. How did you all think about the work that you assigned to students?

KN: The feedback from my students was that the assigned work was actually light.
LM: I varied the workload each week. Sometimes there was a lot of reading, but then I lightened things up the next week with a podcast or some other activity. They seemed comfortable.
MO: I assigned different sources – documentaries, readings, etc. I tried to have them do something very short before class – fun and relatively easy – but enough that they were prepared to talk about something.
CC: I tried to keep assignments short. Short was key – I wanted to give all students a chance to participate.

Q: When you give writing assignments, do you comment on the writing? Are we trying to make these students better writers in FYS?

KN: Yes, I provided comments. I thought this was a core part of what we were doing and I wanted to help them.
CC: The fact that all students will take a writing-intensive course in the spring semester after their FYS (part of Krieger’s First Year Foundation of FYS plus First-Year Writing), takes the pressure off. I don’t think we need to spend too much time commenting on their writing.
LM: I graded all of my assignments complete/incomplete. I kept my comments at a higher level.
MO: I had the students focus on writing in smaller bits, which kept it doable for them, and therefore, not much commenting from me.

Another faculty member in the audience shared that when teaching his FYS, he included writing assignments where students had to write to different audiences, such as a letter to their parents or through the lens of an art critic. He said this kept them accountable to the sources, but that the versatility helped keep things “new and exciting” for students.

Q: Were students in your FYS from the same intended major or discipline, or were they varied in their academic interests?

A: All panelists said their students intended to major in different fields; the students seemed to realize FYS was their chance to try something different, outside of their intended major or its related requirements. Several students commented to their instructors that the FYS sparked a genuine interest in a new field of study for them.A group of faculty listening to Lunch and Learn panelists.

Q: Who can we contact if we have concerns about something going on with first-year students?

A: Dr. Watters responded that being receptive to student experiences in the context of FYS is crucially important and encouraged instructors to contact the students’ advisors if needed. She also noted the role FYS can play in understanding and responding to broader trends percolating among students.

Q, from another FYS faculty member: In one of my courses, I allow students to co-design the syllabus for the class. Although it can be scary, it also takes some of the pressure off of me, as the students tend to be more prepared for things. Did you design the whole course, or did you allow students to develop any of it?  

A: While none of the panelists allowed students direct involvement in developing their syllabi, some commented that they did give students varying degrees of freedom in their assignments (such as what sources to use), some authority over class discussions, and independence in final projects.

Q: What is something you hope your students got out of your class?

KN: I think the social dimension that is built into this environment is enormously beneficial. For example, I took my students to a local diner, Paper Moon on 29th Street. It was so simple, but I felt like I really got to know them.
CC: Students want to get to know their professors – they are looking for mentor relationships and FYS helps develop those.
MO: The S/U aspect and small size of the seminars supports the social aspect. Students felt comfortable talking to me about their first semester. I was a non-threatening person in their life, despite being one of their instructors. I really enjoyed getting to know them in this way.
LM: I agree, about getting to know the students. I’m already writing recommendation letters for some of them! My hope, though, is that they maintain a curiosity for and joy of learning.

Dr. Watters concluded the session by reading an anonymous quote from the FYS student survey:

My FYS was my favorite class. Most of my other classes were large lecture style classes with 200 people so engaging with 11 of my peers in a small seminar environment helped me build meaningful connections. The instructor was also fantastic and he really got to know me. This was not just a ‘fun’ class. It was a class that was instrumental to making my first semester enjoyable. I made at least 4 friends in my FYS. I went to Peabody and the Visionary Arts Museum with my FYS group and explored Baltimore. Equally as important, it challenged me a lot and I gained skills that are critical.

Aliza Watters
Assistant Dean for the Undergraduate Curriculum and Director of First-Year Seminars
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

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

Image Sources: Lunch and Learn Logo, Beth Hals

ChatGPT: A Brief Introduction and Considerations for Academic Integrity

I’ve been reading about the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on teaching and learning for some time. A close family friend gave me a book entitled In the Mind of the Machine by Ken Warwick in 1998. The Education Horizon Report Advisory Committee, of which I was a member, first listed artificial intelligence as an emerging technology likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education in 2017. November 2022 brought the long-anticipated arrival of ChatGPT beta with accompanying media attention.

What is OpenAI and ChatGPT?

OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research lab. Open AI developed a chatbot called ChatGPT (GPT = Generative Pre-trained Transformer) and an image generation application DALL-E 2. ChatGPT is a natural language processing model that is trained on hundreds of billions of documents and websites. Users can interact by asking it questions or submitting statements to which it can generate responses.  For example, here is ChatGPT answering a question about itself:

Prompt: What is ChatGPT?
“ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI. It is trained on a diverse range of internet text and is able to generate human-like text in response to various prompts. The model can be fine-tuned for various natural language processing tasks such as language translation, question answering, and conversation.”

While ChatGPT received most of the media attention in winter 2022-23, there are other chatbots that exist like Jasper and Chincilla.

What are the main concerns?

The main concern for instructors is students asking OpenAI applications to complete assignments for them. This includes writing essays or research papers along with coding assignments for which ChatGPT is trained. Students can also ask ChatGPT to answer test questions.

Things to Consider

While the capabilities of artificial intelligence applications will continue to evolve, there are currently some limitations. For example, current models do not include articles behind paywalls (e.g., subscription journals). This makes it harder for students to generate essays based on peer-reviewed research.  While the models are trained on a large number of documents, the applications’ responses to specific, focused inquiries tend to be vague.  My colleagues and I asked ChatGPT to write a strategic plan for the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation. It suggested relevant ideas, but it was generic and too broad to be useful. That said, we could have used it as a starting point for brainstorming a draft.

Some applications, like Turnitin, are claiming they can detect if students used ChatGPT, but like any technology, these applications are not perfect and students can work around them (e.g., editing the essay produced to make it closer to their own writing style).

 Academic Integrity

Use of OpenAI applications can fall under academic integrity policies like plagiarism, but the gray zone between clearly plagiarized work and an academic support tool is large. For example, most instructors would consider it plagiarism for students to ask ChatGPT to write a paper based on a writing prompt from class. But is it OK for students to ask ChatGPT for a summary of research on a topic, which they then use to generate a bibliography as the basis for a research paper they write?  Instructors should learn more about how ChatGPT and other AI technologies work so they can inform students what is considered appropriate use of AI technologies and what is not. Here are additional strategies to consider to help you and your students navigate this new territory:

  • Scaffold the activity by asking students to turn in an outline and iterative drafts that address comments and feedback from the instructor or teaching assistants. This requires students to show progression in a way that is difficult for tools like ChatGPT to produce.
  • Ask students to write papers using a shared Microsoft document through One Drive so you can see the version history.
  • Use writing prompts that are more specific or require students to cite specific texts.
  • Use AI tools to teach students. For example, generate essays in ChatGPT and have students critique them.
  • Discuss with students what is considered acceptable use of AI technologies (e.g., generating a summary of a field) and what is not (e.g., responding to a specific assignment prompt).

A colleague also commented that as we engage with ChatGPT and other AI technologies, we are feeding it data it can use to improve its models. They own the submissions as part of the terms of agreement when accounts are created. Explain to students that they may be giving over their intellectual property if they are using these tools.  If they submit your tests for ChatGPT to answer, they may be violating your intellectual property rights.

Where to Learn More

 Here are some resources to learn more about AI technologies:

We are all orienting ourselves to this new technology and best practices are evolving. The CTEI will continue to share more information and host discussions over the semester.

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

Image Source: OpenAI Logo, Pixabay

A Faculty Follow-up Discussion: Re-engaging Students for the Fall Semester

On Tuesday, November 8th, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a discussion on re-engaging students for the fall semester. At faculty request, this discussion was a continuation of one initially held in August, when participants explored the challenges they faced with the return to in-person teaching in Spring semester 2022. During that session, faculty offered potential ways to address disengagement in a student population who reported high levels of “stress, fatigue, and anxiety” in a post-pandemic world.male student staring at his computer This phenomenon has been noted in many media outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, which recently hosted a webinar on addressing student disengagement and summarized it in a follow-up article. Mike Reese, Associate Dean and Director of the CTEI, moderated the conversation.  

The session kicked-off with instructors offering their general sense about how student engagement in their Fall courses compared to their Spring courses. The overall assessment was that problems remained, though there were some bright spots:  

  • One instructor noted that attendance in his course’s Friday session, led by teaching assistants, was down almost 50% in the recent week.  
  • Another noted that Fall was “a little bit” better than Spring, when she was still teaching online via Zoom, but she continued to observe a lot of “struggle” among her students, exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of how to address it.  
  • One participant, who regularly polled his students on their overall well-being on a scale from one to five with five being the highest score, said he was seeing a lot of ones and twos among his students. However, he started this practice during the pandemic so he didn’t have any pre-pandemic data to baseline the response.  
  • A fourth participant had observed that her students’ behavior was better, but they also had large gaps in their subject-matter knowledge due to the instructional disruptions incurred by the pandemic. 

Time management issues quickly became the dominant topic when one faculty member pointed out that this was a particular problem for his students. Other participants also offered examples of students struggling with time management; one faculty member said that she had received a lot of requests for extensions from students who admitted these were due to poor time management, and another said that she observed an all-senior class – usually a population with a good sense of time management –also contending with this issue.group of students socializing The reason for this, attendees speculated, may have to do with the full return to on-site courses and residential campus life. Students may be excited to dive back into campus life, trying to take advantage of opportunities, like lab-based research, not available during the pandemic, and becoming over-committed as a result. Another reason offered was that the time management skills needed to negotiate pandemic life and instruction needed to be re-adjusted for more typical university life.   

The post-pandemic gap in content-specific knowledge, particularly in the STEM disciplines, has prompted some academic programs to start looking at ways to make changes to their large introductory or gateway courses. One participant said her program was looking to make data-based adjustments informed by placement tests, in-person attendance at office hours, and data from Canvas classrooms and learning-support software, such as ALEKS. 

As a group, the participants generated several useful ideas to enhance engagement in both large lecture-style courses and smaller seminar courses:  

  • Increasing structure for small-group discussions in large classrooms: One instructor had added question prompts and a pre-identified spokesperson to her small-group break-out discussions to increase student focus, participation, and output during these sessions.  
  • Flipping one class meeting a week to start homework: Another instructor had flipped one class meeting a week to provide students with a pre-determined timeslot in which to start their homework each week and receive real-time instructional feedback. This helped students with time management and on-time completion of the homework.  
  • Requiring a one-to-one meeting outside class: An attendee required that seminar students meet with him one-on-one at least once outside of class, which helped build relationships and comfort with class participation.  
  • Requiring student socialization outside class: A participant volunteered onegroup of students smiling approach that she heard about via the Chronicle Webinar: to require that students meet and socialize outside of class twice a month to work on “conversation fundamentals” – how to have a balanced conversation, how to use open-ended questions – to build “social sophistication and stamina” in in-person environments post-pandemic. 
  • Mid-semester surveys: Two instructors distributed mid-semester surveys to students that specifically targeted issues of classroom engagement, and one queried participants about their time-on-task for assignments and activities. Though survey participation was low in one course, both instructors were reviewing and integrating appropriate feedback.  
  • Panels of former students: One attendee noted that he had invited a panel of former students to talk about their experiences in the class and what contributed to their success. The credibility of the speakers and the authenticity of the guidance resonated with the current students.  
  • Strategic use of Learning Assistants or Course Assistants: Some instructors in large or introductory courses used Learning Assistants or Course Assistants – undergraduate students successful in the subject area who are trained to provide in-class instructional support – to scale up instructional reach and feedback. These assistants had been particularly crucial in courses that needed more hands-on instructional support, structure, and feedback.    

Many instructors found themselves structuring tasks and activities for students that, pre-pandemic, may not have required direct guidance and direction. Given this need, the importance of student meta-cognition – knowing how to learn something – was raised, which resulted in the following suggestions:       

  • Using learning science data to persuade students: One participant noted that her students were very responsive to research-based arguments. When she offered students evidence-based examples of effective ways to learn (she cited  The Learning Scientists blog as a good source of information), they responded affirmatively to these suggestions. Leveraging learning science research when suggesting better ways to study – retain, recall, and synthesize content – might be one way to help bolster meta-cognition.  
  • Building in self-reflection on effective learning approaches: An attendee recommended integrating opportunities for students to self-reflect on the usefulness of teaching interventions, such as the one-course-meeting-a-week flipped classroom for starting homework. Such reflection on why a certain approach worked (in this case, in-class time dedicated to starting homework with in-person instructional feedback) may help students build (or re-build) their meta-cognitive muscles.  

The conversation turned to tools that could support both targeted in-class instruction and meta-cognition skill development. Brian Cole, Associate Director of the CTEI, said that he had been investigating different technologies that would enable real-time assessment of content comprehension and upvoting of particularly confusing content areas. Melo Yap, the new Sr. Educational Research Consultant at the CTEI, volunteered Kahoot as a tool that could offer such flexibility. 

 A faculty member suggested developing a toolkit with proven meta-cognitive strategies that could be inserted into the Canvas sections of each course. Instructors and students could access this toolkit on-demand and integrate into it their course design for both “just-in-time” support (e.g., before a high-stakes test) and more long-term development. The CTEI offered to collect any already-available guidance to help students learn more effectively in an effort to start collating this information in one place.  

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.

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

Image Source: Unsplash

Faculty Discussion: Re-engaging Students for the Fall Semester

The return to in-person teaching last year brought with it a high degree of uncertainty for students and faculty. Professors reported that stress, fatigue, and anxiety contributed to higher levels of student disengagement, disconnection, and languishing than in pre-pandemic courses. college students in lecture hallFaculty at other schools reported similar trends with several articles and essays published in the NY Times and Chronicle of Higher Education over the past several months. At faculty’s request, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) hosted a discussion for instructors to share their experiences and brainstorm solutions for Fall 2022 and beyond. Over thirty instructors participated. Brian Cole, Associate Director of the CTEI, moderated the discussion.

Faculty attendees reported that students seemed to struggle transitioning from online classes to in-person classes last spring. One person shared that colleagues at other institutions were reporting the same concerns. The behaviors described included students:

  • expressing concerns about being prepared for high-stakes exams
  • regularly being distracted by devices during class
  • skipping class more frequently than before the pandemic
  • requesting more mental health accommodations
  • acting more aggressively toward  instructors (One instructor said this behavior is more likely seen by instructors of certain races and gender.)

Participants felt these behaviors could be traced to several sources. The pandemic was traumatic for many students suffering from social isolation and the stress of living under the threat of COVID. Faculty also felt some students were not as prepared for their classes because pre-requisite college classes or high school courses were online and employed pass-fail grading schemas. Other instructors reported students feeling stressed about other global events (e.g., political polarization, Ukraine war).  While the pandemic may be fading or becoming normalized, faculty shared that other stressors are constants that continue to weigh on students.

This led to a discussion about when it was appropriate for faculty to engage students about their stress and anxiety over global crises. Instructors teaching in the social sciences can more easily integrate discussions of current events into their curriculum. Is it appropriate for faculty in science and engineering to dedicate class time to social stressors that affect students? Most participants said yes. Several shared they provide opportunities for students to talk about current events that may impact them and ask students openly, “How are you doing? What’s going on with your peers?” to give them space to talk. stressed out male student looking at his laptop Several faculty participants asked for advice on how to set boundaries on the amount of time to dedicate to these discussions during class and what types of topics to discuss. Those that dedicate class time to talking about global issues or student mental health concerns felt it was appropriate to occasionally dedicate 15 minutes of class time to connect with students and build relationships with them. As for topics, instructors should choose topics they are comfortable discussing.

Another source of stress mentioned was the number of hours students are working. One professor shared he has seen an increase in students trying to work full time while attending school. It’s not a large number, but definitely an increase that was likely precipitated by the flexible schedules during COVID when classes were more likely to be asynchronous. Another instructor shared that she observed an increase in students working part-time jobs during COVID. She felt it was important to be more explicit with students about expectations for deadlines and the time it takes to complete assignments to help students balance working outside of class. However, many participants felt it was not appropriate for students to work full-time. Another instructor reported an increase in students continuing summer internships into the academic year. Students see this as a pathway to a job after graduation and are motivated to continue working. This may be a good opportunity, but again, faculty are concerned students are overcommitted.

Some faculty record their lectures for students to review later, while others questioned if this would result in students skipping class. Several faculty responded with strategies to encourage students to attend. These included using activities that motivate students to show up and awarding points for participating in those activities.  One instructor said he records the videos, but shares them with students only upon request. If a student is regularly requesting them and not showing up for class, he engages them to learn more about why they are skipping to address any issues. He shares all of the videos with students the week before the exam. Another instructor said she has recorded her lectures for 15 years, and uses activities to encourage student attendance and engagement with each other. She stresses, “I’m not the only person in the room. You also learn from the other students when you are here.”

Another instructor asked if recording the class discourages students from asking questions. Two instructors responded it did not affect behavior in their classes, but that could be because they teach large courses so students are generally less likely to ask questions during class meetings.

While the pandemic was stressful for everyone, faculty reported it provided opportunities to experiment with new teaching strategies. Many are now trying to evaluate which changes to keep or drop. One instructor said their decision is based on the time required to implement the strategy and its impact on student learning.students doing an activity with post-it notes on a whiteboard Another instructor said she offered more low-stakes assessments while teaching online. She felt this helped reduce the stress of high-stakes assessments, but she is now considering if she is requiring too much of students. The value of offering more low-stakes assessments is that students get more regular feedback throughout the semester.

Another instructor is hearing from students that instructors are assigning more applied learning assignments that leverage technology (e.g., arcGIS) which require significantly more time to complete. While it’s good to have interdisciplinary projects and collaborate with other groups, such as data services at the university, we need to remember that this also requires students to work with different groups and learn additional skills, all of which take time.

Overall, faculty felt the goal is not to penalize disengagement, but to encourage students to engage. Faculty participants shared additional strategies to address student disengagement which are summarized below:

  • Eliminate online tools for the course that are not critical.
  • Offer asynchronous work days. This is not an off day, but a chance to work on class assignments.  One instructor shared that students really liked having a day to work on their projects.
  • Clearly communicate expectations for class (e.g., assignment deadlines, pre-class work expectations) on a regular basis and in multiple modalities (e.g., verbally in class, on Canvas, via class email).
  • Build in flexibility to assignment deadlines. One instructor allows students to skip up to two assignments, and their grade is replaced by the average of the existing assignments.
  • Another instructor shared a similar approach: she does not permit any extensions on homework even if a student is sick, however, she replaces missing grades with the average of the other assignments if the student presents a viable excuse for missing the deadline. The instructor uses this approach because it allows her to share the homework solutions immediately after the deadline while students are still intellectually engaged with the assignment.
  • Another instructor builds in quizzes related to the homework to encourage students to look at it early. For example, the day after homework is posted, students are presented with a quiz asking them to describe what the homework is asking them to do. They don’t need to solve it, but it motivates them to look at it early instead of waiting until the last day when they will have less time to get help.
  • Consider using the discussion board in Canvas or encourage students to attend office hours if you don’t want to dedicate class time to check in with them.
  • Share wellness resources from JHU including the Student Well-being blog about talking with students about current events: https://wellbeing.jhu.edu/blog/. They also provide a page for dealing with more acute issues when students are in distress: https://wellbeing.jhu.edu/resources/faculty-staff/
  • Consider limiting the use of devices (phones, laptops, etc.) to minimize distractions during class.
  • Share mental health resources with your students including Mental Telehealth (free counseling via video chat), Calm app (great for sleep, focus, mindfulness), A Place to Talk (peer listening), Stress and Depression Questionnaire (10minute confidential assessment with feedback w/in 48 hours from a Hopkins clinician).
  • Share how you manage your stress to demonstrate that students are not the only ones dealing with these issues. One participant said, “We might feel it, but if we don’t say it, they don’t know it. If you talk about it, then you open up a space for students to talk about their own stressors.”
  • Consult inclusive teaching practices and Hopkins Universal Design for Learning resources which can help instructors build flexibility into their teaching. One instructor said that being flexible includes building in processing time to help students prepare for their assignments. This includes emotional processing time on difficult topics.

female student smiling in classroom with other studentsClare Lochary from the Office of Student Health and Wellbeing shared that the Counseling Center sees two clear spikes in incoming clients each semester. The first is six weeks into the semester when students begin to realize they aren’t doing as well as they want in their courses. The second  is during the last two weeks of the semester as they prepare for final papers and exams. Faculty should be aware of these cycles and pay special attention to student behavior  so they can refer students to help resources or address concerns about academic performance.

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

Image Source: Unsplash

Teaching Cinema with Omeka

Since the death of the DVD player, several challenges have emerged for media-based courses: How can we give students access to a wide range of audiovisual, image, and text sources located on multiple different online platforms? What is the most efficient way for the instructor to access these materials in class spontaneously, and for students to be able to work with the materials on their own? Can we do this in a way that allows for critical engagement and sparks new associations? Can we make that engagement interactive? To address these challenges, graduate fellow Hale Sirin and I discovered Omeka, an open-source exhibition software tool developed at George Mason University. We found the Omeka platform optimal for creating media-rich digital collections and exhibitions.Omeka website Home page for Comparative Cinema

In Fall 2019, funded by a Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI) Technology Fellowship Grant, we created and customized an instance of Omeka with the specific goal of designing a web-based environment to teach comparative cinema courses. We implemented the Omeka site in Spring 2020 for the course “Cinema of the 1930s: Communist and Capitalist Fantasies,” further supported by a CTEI Teaching Innovation Grant. This course compares films of the era in a variety of genres (musical, epic, Western, drama) from different countries, examining the intersections between politics and aesthetics as well as the lasting implications of the films themselves in light of theoretical works on film as a medium, ethics and gender. We adapted the online publishing software package into an interactive media platform on which the students could watch the assigned films, post comments with timestamps, and help expand the platform by sharing their own video essays. We built this platform with sustainability in mind, choosing open-source software with no recurring costs so that it could be used over the years and serve as a model for future interdisciplinary and comparative film and media courses.

When building this website, our first task was to organize the digital archive of film clips and film stills for the course. These materials were then uploaded to Panopto, the online streaming service used by JHU, and embedded in the Omeka site.screenshot of embedded film hosted in Kanopy We also embedded the films that were publicly available on YouTube, Kanopy, and other archives, such as the online film archive of the production studio Mosfil’m, designing the Omeka site to serve as a single platform to stream this content. Each film, clip, text, or image was tagged with multiple identifiers to allow students to navigate the many resources for the course via search and sort functions, tags and hyperlinks, creating an interactive and rich learning environment. We added further functionality to the website by customizing interactive plugins, such as the “Comments” function, which allowed us to create a thread for each film in which students could respond to the specific prompts for the week and to timestamp the specific parts of the film to which their comments referred.

In order to abide by copyright laws, only films in the public domain were streamed in their entirety. For other films, we provided selected short clips on Omeka, which we were able to easily access during class. Students were able to access the films available on Kanopy through our website by entering their JHU credentials.

Teaching comparative cinema with the interactive website powered by Omeka provided the students with a novel way of accessing comparative research in film studies. The website served as a single platform, interconnecting the digital material (video, image and text) and creating an interactive and rich learning environment to enhance student learning both in and outside of class time. Rather than the materials being fixed to the syllabus week to week, students could search film clips by director, year, country, or theme. Students were thus able to compare and contrast many images and films from across cultural divides on a unified online platform.

Students were not only able to access the course materials on the Omeka site, but also to expand and re-structure the content. screenshot of Scarlett Empress film clip in Omeka site Over the course of the semester, students contributed to the annotation of film clips by uploading their comments to the films and timestamping important sequences. Since they were also required to draw their presentations from material in the exhibition, their engagement on the site was quantifiable on an on-going basis. As their final projects, they had the option of creating a video essay, which involved editing together clips from the films, and recording an interpretive essay over them, like a commentary track. Their video essays were shared with their peers on the Omeka site.

After switching to online learning in Spring 2020 due to Covid19, the Omeka site not only performed its original task, but was flexible enough to give us the opportunity to build an asynchronous, alternative educational environment, now not only hosting the course materials and discussion forums, but also the weekly recorded lectures, recordings of our Zoom discussion sessions, and students’ final video essays.

We thank the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (previously known as the Center for Educational Resources) and the Sheridan Libraries for their support and continual guidance during this project.

Additional Resources:

https://omeka.org/

https://blogs.library.jhu.edu/2016/08/omeka-for-instruction/

Authors’ Backgrounds:

Anne Eakin Moss was an Assistant Professor in JHU’s Department of Comparative Thought and Literature, a board member of the program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of the Center for Advanced Media Studies. She was the 2017 recipient of the KSAS Excellence in Graduate Teaching/Mentorship Award and a Mellon Arts Innovation Grant, and a 2019 KSAS Discovery Award winner. Since the fall of 2021, she has been at the University of Chicago where she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures.

Hale Sirin is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature. A recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship and the Women, Gender, and Sexuality teaching fellowship, she has taught courses in comparative literature, philosophy, and intellectual history. Her research interests include early 20th-century philosophy and literature, theories of representation and media in modernity, and digital humanities.

Image source: Hale Sirin

Lunch and Learn: Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness

This post summarizes recent Lunch and Learn discussions among Homewood faculty about methods for evaluating teaching effectiveness. This discussion supported the work of the Provost’s ad hoc Committee on Teaching Evaluations. Provost Kumar established this committee in response to the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education report, which included a recommendation to establish a new system for the assessment of teaching and student mentoring by faculty.  This was the first of multiple conversations the committee will hold with faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Fifty faculty joined one of two discussions (February 16th and 22nd) moderated by Vice Deans of Undergraduate Education, Michael Falk and Erin Rowe, along with Mike Reese of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation (CTEI).

The Vice Deans reviewed principles and objectives drafted by the committee to collect faculty feedback and suggestions for improvement. Attendees then discussed methods of improving how we evaluate teaching based on these principles and objectives that go beyond the current system of teaching evaluations.  The following summarizes some of the attendees’ comments.

  • Teaching Evaluations serve multiple purposes: students use them to choose courses, faculty use them to improve their teaching, Homewood Academic Council uses them in promotion and tenure decisions, and schools use them for program assessment and accreditation. One mechanism – course evaluations (or student evaluations of teaching) – should not serve all these purposes.
  • Using multiple methods of evaluating teaching (peer evaluation, review of course materials, etc.) and not just traditional course evaluations, will minimize student bias against underrepresented minorities.
  • An attendee shared that when she worked at a more teaching-focused college, it included a committee of peer evaluators – faculty trained to provide feedback. The instructor would meet with the peer evaluator before class to discuss lesson plans and then debrief after the observation. Junior faculty were reviewed more frequently than senior faculty. They tried to find a peer match based on discipline. This review was used as a formative assessment and also summative assessment when someone came up for promotion.
  • Another professor shared that at West Point, instructors attended formal training on how to teach. Senior faculty came in three times during the semester to observe new instructors in class with a defined rubric that was shared beforehand. As for course evaluations, only the instructor saw them; the department chair did not. Student comments did not play any role in promotion.
  • With more faculty recording their classes, peer evaluators could review those recordings and provide feedback on those videos. This is apparently done at the Harvard Business School.
  • Someone raised the question, what is considered “quality teaching?” and suggested there must be some standard.  We need to consider how much we weight the entertainment value of sitting in class or comfort level of students as opposed to being inspired to pursue a career or digging in deeper [learning more about topic].  Who decides that focus for course evals and how to do it? Another person asked the individual who raised the question for his thoughts on this question. He responded, “In engineering, every class must have an objective and we need to demonstrate we are collecting data to show we are meeting it. Another is to have an expert – maybe in sociology or psychology – to write a question that measures if the class in interesting or stimulating to be in.”
  • One instructor raised the question of who are the experts to conduct evaluations. Attendees mentioned instructional design staff at the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, but also felt that discipline-based education experts were needed. Teaching faculty familiar with discipline-specific teaching strategies (e.g., math, engineering, humanities seminars) should also be considered.
  • For evaluation of teaching effectiveness, the most important thing is measuring what the students have learned and, ideally, retained over long periods. We need concept inventories and tests of student knowledge beyond the end of a class, possibly in future semesters.  Peer evaluations could be part of the process of helping instructors improve, but they don’t really measure learning.
  • An instructor shared, “At my previous institution, we assessed teachers through narratives describing changes they made [in their course] based on new studies that have been published in their areas, in addition to participation in teaching workshops/conferences, and adoption of new practices. I would also suggest we evaluate teaching rigor in some of the same ways we evaluate scientific rigor. Look at whether faculty make their resources open and accessible, use OER, etc.”
  • One professor suggested faculty share with students the purpose of course evaluations and how they will be used. It may discourage complaining. “I tell them I read their comments and my boss reads them. I’ve seen biased comments decline since I shared that with students.”
  • Another instructor said the dean’s offices could provide a script for instructors to read about how course evaluations are used and the importance of students civilly communicating feedback.
  • Course evaluations should be filtered for racist and misogynistic comments so faculty are not subject to them.
  • Course evaluations could include a checklist of comments so student feedback is more specific. Students would select the statements that are relevant to their instructor in addition to entering open comments.
  • It would make the surveys longer, but someone suggested every comment students make should be required to include at least one specific example as evidence.
  • One instructor asked, “How do we tease apart teaching effectiveness so they focus on learning and not grading?”
  • Is it possible to ask students to reflect on gateway or core classes sometime in the future to identify how the course provided foundational skills for future courses or co-curricular activities (e.g., internships)? Someone added, “This week I had a senior tell me, ‘I didn’t realize that those concepts really would come up over and over in my other classes, but they did!’” Another attendee shared, “They also report back 3+ years after graduating to say that they use something they learned in class that during the time they thought would be useless.”
  • Perhaps it would also be helpful to leverage our alumni network as one way to capture the enduring effects of learning from various classes.
  • Another instructor mentioned that it can also help to ask students for feedback during the semester so you can adjust instructional methods.
  • Whatever system is developed should not place undue administrative burden on faculty who are already taking on more administrative burdens.
  • An instructor remarked that once a change is implemented, faculty will need training on the new system of evaluation. It will also help encourage professors to be open to this process. Support for instructors assessing the results of evaluations will be critical.

One faculty member shared two books to inform the committee’s future work:

If you have questions or comments about the teaching evaluation process, feel free to email Mike Reese.

Mike Reese, Associate Dean and Director, CTEI
Mike Reese is Associate Dean of University Libraries and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation. He has a PhD from the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University.

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo, Unsplash

 

Transitioning to Canvas: an Update on the University’s LMS Migration Process

On Tuesday, December 7, 2021, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted a virtual Lunch and Learn that reviewed the university’s upcoming migration to Canvas, the new learning management system (LMS) that will replace Blackboard. Brian Cole, Associate Director for the CER and leader of the LMS migration committee, provided an update and summary of the process which was followed by faculty Q and A.

Cole began with a brief explanation of why the university is migrating to Canvas: the university’s contract with Blackboard will end at the end of this fiscal year so we must choose a new system. In addition, our current version of Blackboard is outdated and increasingly unreliable, especially when using the more complex tools such as tests. Last spring, a university-wide LMS evaluation process was held and the majority of stakeholders (faculty, staff, and students) selected Canvas as the future LMS.

Key dates for faculty to keep in mind:

  • Spring 2022 – The university will run a small Canvas pilot, with approximately 50 courses from across all JHU divisions.
  • Summer 2022 – ASEN summer courses will be ‘opt-in:’ ASEN instructors can choose between staying in Blackboard or using Canvas for Summer 2022 courses. (If you are teaching a summer course that is not in ASEN, please check with your division’s teaching and learning center.)
  • Fall 2022 – No courses offered in Blackboard, everything in Canvas.
  • December 1, 2022 – Blackboard access turned off.

Faculty will have a choice between building a new course from scratch in Canvas, or migrating existing course content over from Blackboard. Cole highly encouraged faculty to build from scratch if the course is mostly content-based and does not use many complicated tools; this will give faculty an opportunity to learn their way around Canvas.  If a course uses more complicated features, such as tests, faculty might want to consider a migration, either on their own, or with CER assistance.

The CER will provide multiple opportunities for training and help throughout the migration process. Training for Homewood faculty will begin in late spring of 2022. There will also be live and on-demand trainings led by Canvas professionals available to JHU faculty.

Cole concluded with a brief demo of Canvas which led to a Q and A session:

Q: How much time will it take to migrate a course?
A: This will depend on how complex your course is, how many tools you use now.

Q: Can faculty use the free Canvas site?
A: Yes, if faculty want to experiment and get to know Canvas, they can create a free account available at https://canvas.instructure.com/register,  but anything posted there becomes the intellectual property of Canvas. We will not support migrating any content created using the free account to your JHU Canvas account. Also, not all features available in the free environment will be available in the JHU environment.

Q: What about third party tools (VoiceThread, Panopto, Turnitin, etc.)?
A: Most third party tools will be available in Canvas. The appearance of a tool may differ from the way it appears in Blackboard, but the functionality should be similar.

Q: What about section merges? Will we still be able to do that?
A: Yes. Sections will work differently in Canvas – child courses will be more integrated with parent courses. The process of creating merged sections will change, but it should work more efficiently.

Q: Can you copy directly into the content editor?
A: Yes, you can copy directly into the content editor and it should work better than when you copy into Blackboard’s content editor.

Q: Does Canvas have a good discussion board that can replace Piazza?
A: There are two versions of discussion boards in Canvas. The old one is very similar to Blackboard. The newer one is updated and is closer to the way Piazza works – there are features such as a TA or instructor being able to approve an answer, it has a ‘mentions area,’ like Piazza, but it does not have everything.

Q: How will courses that are not migrated from Blackboard be archived?
A: Blackboard archive file are .zip files – they are only readable by the Blackboard system. We will advise exporting certain pieces – gradebook/grades, for example. But we have to be careful with grades for FERPA reasons. IT@JH will archive as much as they can, but it will be kept in an offline state, for accreditation purposes only. The archiving process is not entirely worked out yet.

Q: How do you give feedback to students in Canvas?
A: Assignments are graded using something called Speedgrader – this is similar to the way Blackboard assignments are graded. There are also more analytical tools available to give you an idea of how your students are doing in the course. These tools may help to streamline who you may need to contact. It is very easy to message students from different areas of a course.

Q: Will there be integration with Teams, Sharepoint, and OneDrive?
A: It is anticipated that Teams and OneDrive integration will be ready for the Fall 2022 semester.

Q: Will faculty have early access to their courses?
A: Faculty may begin working on a migrated or developmental version of their course as early as April. Official Summer 2022 and Fall 2022 courses will be available in Canvas in roughly the same timeframes as they were in Blackboard.

Q: What about archiving in Canvas?
A: It is very easy to move or reference material stored in a previous Canvas course. Course copy works much better in Canvas than in Blackboard – it is much more granular. There is also the ability to create specific modules that can be developed and shared among departments.

For additional information about the transition to Canvas, faculty can access: http://canvas.jhu.edu. There is also a mailing list faculty can join to stay informed: https://jh.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5bWaTLyFV5WJTg2

Amy Brusini, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Lunch and Learn Logo, Canvas Logo