Chat GPT: Possible Responses Crowdsourced from ISA

At ISA a couple of weeks back, I facilitated a Teaching Cafe discussion on AI and Chat GPT’s impact in our classes. Thanks to the Innovative Pedagogy Conference Committee generously allocating us space, several colleagues from a variety of different institutions stopped by to share their thoughts and ask questions about the ethics, practical responses, and positive aspects of this technology. I’m going to share a few of these responses in case they aid others in thinking through how AI will affect their teaching, with the caveat that AI is advancing at a rapid rate and many of the strategies we discussed will be outdated very quickly.

I’ve categorized our conversation into three themes: how to mitigate the impact of AI in our classes; ethics and academic honesty; and leveraging AI to teach.

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Iowa Wesleyan University: Dead

As usual, opinions expressed herein are my own.

Iowa Wesleyan University will close in May. I first wrote about Iowa Wesleyan — then a College — on this blog in early 2014, when I noted that, despite its firing of nearly half of its faculty members, the long-term decline in the number of Iowa’s high school graduates and changes in the higher ed market made the school’s survival unlikely. As I predicted in 2019 and 2021, its articulation agreement with a community college in another state failed to generate sufficient tuition revenue, and its full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate enrollment never rebounded to pre-2008 recession levels.

A few years ago, I stated during a conference panel that any private college or university with an undergraduate FTE below 500 was in danger of closing and that faculty members at such institutions should find jobs elsewhere. I’m revising my recommendation — to an undergraduate FTE of less than 1,000.

I’ll end with this:

IRS tax forms and IPEDS enrollment data indicate that Bethany College in West Virginia is in terrible shape.

A small college in Ohio, name not known to me, was supposedly unable to make payroll last week.

Do you need to livestream your event?

Nor do you need a swing in your seminar room

Short answer: probably not.

A colleague of mine, who has a lot more experience than I do, has a rule of thumb for events.

For a free, in-person event in London he estimates that only about 50% of those who sign up will actually turn up, plus a handful of people who didn’t sign up do turn up.

Add in a fee and/or a less immediately accessible location and you get more of your sign-ups showing on the day.

I thought about this at various points in recent weeks, as I organised, attended or discussed the new hardy perennial of events: do we livestream?

As someone who doesn’t want to just pretend that Covid didn’t happen, I’m glad that we’re exploring how best to connect online and in-person experiences, but I worry that the default of ‘stick a camera on a speaker and you’re done’ isn’t the solution we’re looking for, whether in the classroom or the conference panel.

This is where we go back to my colleague.

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Early Career Instructors: Supporting ISA’s next generation of teachers

I’m back from Montreal with an overwhelming to-do list. Regular ALPS readers may have noticed that in recent years I haven’t been writing here as much; that’s partially due to free-riding on Simon and Chad, who do an excellent job; part because I don’t teach undergraduate students anymore; and part because I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’ve promised Simon that I’ll start posting more, and so here’s an initial effort: unpacking the excellent roundtable discussion on early career instructors at ISA 2023: why we are remiss as a profession in providing support, and some tools and considerations for changing that.

I co-chaired the roundtable with Michael Murphy of Queens University–and if you aren’t reading his work, you should. He is the one who coined the ‘early career instructor’ moniker, an important way of considering the needs of those who are first starting out teaching. As a profession, we generally do a terrible job of preparing our ECIs for the classroom. With some exceptions, graduate students are rarely actively encouraged and supported in pursuing opportunities related to teaching: in general, such opportunities impose some kind of cost to pursue, in time, money, or reputation. Many have shared that they are either actively discouraged from spending any time on learning to teach, and that they are told their career will suffer if they are perceived as caring too much about teaching.

Let’s talk about the problems with this practice.

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What to do about grading

This guest post comes from Eric K. Leonard, Shenandoah University

I had the pleasure of spending last week at the annual International Studies Association conference in Montreal.  It was a pleasure because I got to hear so many interesting discussions on pedagogy and honestly, ISA wasn’t always that way.  I attended my first ISA meeting in 1997 and the number of pedagogical panels was limited, to say the least.  

But as the years (actually decades but that makes me sound really old) have progressed, ISA has truly embraced the push by members to create space for pedagogical discussions at the annual meeting. I know for me personally, it has made attendance at this conference a joy. 

Amongthe plethora of pedagogical workshops, roundtable discussions, and panels that I attended one topic seemed to keep emerging – the assessment of students or grading. And within that topic, there was a lot of buzz around the idea of “ungrading”.  

I will admit that I generated some of the buzz since I am a vocal advocate of this method.  But in several discussions, this topic was raised without my prompting, albeit not always with the same enthusiasm and positivity that I hold for ungrading.  One thing was shared by most in the room and that was a disdain for grading. In one session, Simon Usherwood even mentioned that his appointment does not require grading!  Frankly, based on the level of jealousy that erupted from his confession, I was surprised he made it out of the room in one piece. So maybe we all can’t stop grading, but what would it mean to start ungrading? 

First, let me state that I am not a fan of the term ‘ungrading’.  As one of my students pointed out, they still get a grade at the end of the semester, so is it really ungrading? I much prefer self-reflective grading or something less clunky (suggestions are welcome). 

Second, ungrading is not one method of assessment.  It entails a lot of different methods that include specification grading, labor-based grading, minimal grading, authentic assessment, and others. The commonality amongst these methods is that students primarily self-assess through a process of self-reflection.  

The method that I employ is often considered the most extreme form of ungrading because as the instructor, I don’t grade any of my students’ work.  Because I teach in a hybrid format that includes a flipped learning model (maybe a conversation for another post) students submit a written assignment every week of the semester.  However, I don’t put a letter grade on those submissions.  

Instead, I provide students feedback to assist in their improvement of future submissions and to push students in terms of how they think about the week’s topic.  So throughout the semester, students never receive a letter grade.  But my university requires that I input a grade at the end of the semester.  

The way in which I ascertain student grades is through a process of self-assessment.  At three different points in the semester, students complete a self-assessment of their learning process.  This self-assessment includes questions about what they learned, what sparked curiosity, and questions about attendance, the number of assignments missed, if any assignments were late, participation level and quality of their comments during our classroom discussions, the effort a student has put forth, and the overall quality of their work, which can be compared to an “Answer Key” that contains examples of exemplary work from students in the course.  After students consider all of these different variables, they are asked to submit a grade and justify that grade.  

I explain to students that in most instances, I either accept that grade or input a higher grade.  And historically, that is the case.  However, I reserve the right to request a conference with a student if I am struggling to see how that student justified their grade.  In my experience, these conferences are rare (less than 1% of students per semester) and typically conclude with the student gaining a better understanding of the self-assessment both in terms of its criteria and its purpose.  In two years of ungrading, I had one student that refused to rethink their grade after a conference and therefore received a grade that I struggled to justify.  

With that brief accounting of how I employ ungrading, let me remark on a few critiques that typically emerge around this form of assessment.  

The first is that students, especially certain demographic groups, will simply overvalue their performance. In other words, students won’t truly self-reflect on their work and they will just provide themselves with a higher grade.  

I had a similar fear when starting this process but I can honestly say this has not been the case.  As mentioned above, only one student was adamant about their earned grade, despite my pointing out statements in their own self-assessment that didn’t seem to square with the perceived grade.  Because my policy is to let students grade themselves, I allowed that student’s perceived grade to stand.  But as mentioned, this has happened ONCE in two years.  Ballpark number, that is 1 in 250 students.  And a quick aside, that student would not have fit the demographic that the literature tells us would contest their grade. 

Second, as one participant stated during a panel at ISA, ungrading is “fake.”  I think what they meant by this statement is that ungrading does not accomplish what it claims to.  

An incomplete list of ungrading claims is that: 

  • Ungrading relieves the stress of grading and promotes greater learning rather than a focus on the grade.  
  • It encourages greater collaboration rather than competition among the students and between the professor and the students.
  •  It recognizes the subjective nature of traditional grading, especially in essay submissions, and allows students to agency in their learning process.

Given the context of the conversation, I believe the “fake” comment was directed at this final claim.  But what claims like this one fails to accept is that when an instructor grades an essay, research paper, or dissertation, there is a subject component to it and the student has no agency.  Thus, that is also fake.  

If we provide students the opportunity to be part of the discussion on their grades, we might get more thoughtful students that are more interested in learning rather than their GPA.  And although they do not have complete agency over the grading process, since I am creating the self-assessment form and providing an understanding of what exemplary work looks like, the level of agency is much higher than in a traditional assessment format.  I don’t understand why people see this as a dichotomous relationship in that students either have agency or they don’t.  The reality is that any increased level of agency for students in the educational process is a good thing and I believe ungrading serves to fulfill that goal.     

One final thought on ungrading.  And this is probably the most important point I can make in this post. 

Ungrading is not for everyone.  

Just like any other pedagogical method, ungrading has to fit with your teaching style, your approach to higher education, and your students.  Thus, this post is not an attempt to advocate that everyone adopt ungrading and to chastise those that refuse. Instead, it is an attempt to shed light on how one professor implements this assessment method in his classroom.  

You will notice that I didn’t discuss in any detail the literature on why we should stop grading or how it benefits the learning process.  This literature exists (in abundance) and engaging it might persuade some to give ungrading a try, but the question that every instructor has to ask themselves is whether they think this could work for their pedagogical approach and their students.  I answered that question with a resounding yes (and I have the student comments to support this claim)!  But that doesn’t mean your answer is the same.    

Notes From a Conference of Damp Showers and Wet Snow*

Continuing on a theme . . . some notes on today’s pedagogical discussion at ISA 2023:

Teachers want to create an environment that facilitates learning and stimulates a spirit of curiosity. Students may have different expectations. As one session participant put it, students can have the purely transactional attitude of “I’m not going into debt so I can feel emancipated.”

In a similar vein, we talk about what students should get out of a college education, but we don’t ask what they bring to it; e.g., a K-12 education where the teacher was the sole authority in the classroom.

So we are frequently faced with a situation where students don’t want to engage unpredictably with new knowledge because it makes them feel uncomfortable, which they do their best to avoid.

To resolve this dilemma, students need to become familiar with tools for giving and receiving feedback productively so that they can learn from each other. They also need to learn how to articulate why they hold certain positions, why those positions are important to them, and what they mean when they state those positions.

During the conversation, I thought of a tweak to an assignment that might help with the above. As I have written previously, many of my students are unable to identify the author’s thesis, independent variables, and dependent variable in Perusall readings. I’m thinking of adding “What is a question about this article that you want answered?” to the assignments, with the stipulation that the answer needs to come from their classmates, not me. This could also be a way of getting students to design their own quiz questions.

*Allusion to 19th Russian literature, of which I am mostly ignorant — a known unknown that I am at present mostly comfortable with.

Notes from a conference III, or: why you hate grading

It’s probably bad to write three posts, one straight after the other, but hey: tough.

We’ve got more grading/assessment-related posts coming from people more on it than me, but a couple of times in the first days of ISA, we’ve had the classic teaching-related panel moment of everyone nodding along to ‘but everyone hates grading, right?’

[Parenthetically, one of those moments led to talk of how good it would be if our jobs didn’t including grading at all, whereupon I noted my job doesn’t include it, to many jealous looks. I’m mostly happy that I have so little grading to do (like a dozen scripts a year little), but part of me does miss it, mainly for the reasons set out here.]

The obvious question that no one really seems to keen to investigate is why we all seem to hate grading.

After all, it’s the main mechanism we have for evaluating student learning and, by extension, whether our teaching is getting the results we intend. It’s more rigorous than a chat at the end of class about learning gain or the impressions we glean from observing debates in the classroom, so why are we so down on it?

Let’s consider the usual suspects.

First up, ‘it’s repetitive’. Sure, if you have a pile of a hundred essays on the same topic, that is super-dull, especially if there’s a lot of overlap in the intellectual sources your students used (your lectures, the core textbook, the readings you suggested): it’s a rehash/mangling of what you’ve taught them and it’s probably not pretty.

So don’t make that your assessment. Give them choice, make them responsible for finding their own sources, get them to bring something more personal and individual.

My old negotiation course asked students for their only assessment point to tell me what they had learnt from the course: I was emphatic that it could be absolutely anything, as long as it was grounded in what had happened in class and was connected out to whatever literature they had found useful. Result was such a rich variety, every time I ran that course.

Second up, ‘it takes such a long time.’ Partly that’s about the time-elongating/mind-numbing of reading the same stuff a bunch of times that we just discussed, but partly it’s our demands of the process. Often, we normalise the essay of X pages or Y thousand words as proof of learning, even as we rool our eyes at ‘all that text’.

So go for concision, not length. You know it’s harder to produce a good short text than a good long one: the demand to focus much more tightly on what’s important, to lose the blah, is something we find tricky (to judge by the number of ropey abstracts you and I have read). Set a much shorter length piece, or ask for a 2-page policy brief, or a poster, or an infographic, or a 3 minute video.

Of course, shorter assessment outputs doesn’t automatically mean quicker grading, but it helps. As does trying things like videoing your feedback, or asking students to make their own evaluations of their or their peers’ work.

Finally, ‘students find it boring/unpleasant (and so do I)‘. Find me the student who loves to do assessments and I’ll just start wondering what happened to them to make it come to this. I get that everyone thinks it’s an imposition and chore.

So involve your students in finding assessments that engage them more/turn them off less. Amanda’s breakfast exercise for research methods is my go-to here: super-fun, super-engaging allowing them to really capture their experiences in an assessment.

If assessment is about cementing the bond of teacher and learner, then why wouldn’t you want to bring them in to find a mutually-satisfactory assessment regime?

Unless you’re working under a highly prescriptive institutional system, you hold the power to make your assessment and grading less boring. So use it.

Notes from a conference II

Probably a learning moment here to, but more just a reminder that we are an award-winning blog

Apart from my worries, ISA is also making me think about the purpose of teaching.

I’d been thinking about this anyway, partly because of this post from John Warner that popped up on my timeline recently.

The instrumentalisation of education as a stepping stone to the next thing, working, has been around for a long while now and it is pernicious in its compromising of student engagement: what they are told they need is a good grade, not a good education and given the incentive structure we shouldn’t be surprised if they act accordingly.

I’m guessing you’ve had these students in your class, more or less often. Either the ‘just tell me what I have to do to get a good grade’ version or the ‘my corporeal self is present, but not my mind’ version.

Regardless of whether we cleave to a knowledge transmission model of teaching, or (more likely among our readership) an active learning approach, you still rely on the student being present and engaged.

So what to do?

One of the conversations I sat in on here spoke about teaching as problematisation; making things uncertain to open up space for reflection, debate and development.

I like that idea. We aren’t here to solve the world for our students, but to invite them to create their own understandings of situations and problems, to recognise and act on their agency in that world.

But again, if our students aren’t in the metaphorical room, what good is challenging conventionalities?

My reflection is that much of what I have done over the years is try to distract students from their learning.

Using games and simulations, taking the class out onto the campus lawns, literally removing the physical and conceptual constraints of ‘the class’: it’s all grounded in a notion of ‘I’m not expecting this: what is it?’

The disruption of the moment hopefully leads to the delight of doing something different, and that hopefully leads further to ‘dammit, I’ve been learning stuff’.

Colleagues here have spoken about how alums tell them how they remember the random moments – the simulation, the talk of Russian hookers, the exercise with the blindfold – long after they forget the ins and outs of whatever IR theory was on the syllabus that week.

It’s why I will always argue that those who say fun can’t be serious are wrong.

Precisely because fun isn’t (linguistically) serious, it opens up the possibility of serious learning, of helping students to gain insight from all of their interactions with the world.

That’s why I can learn from the movie I watch on the plane, why I can learn from watching my child play with Lego, why I can learn from a big erection (you’re not clicking that link, are you?): because all these things are surprising moments to learn. The only difference is that I’m consciously looking for that.

Our present-not-present students are not, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep on challenging their assumptions about what ‘learning’ is and keep on offering them cause to think.

It’s not foolproof, it’s not a comprehensive solution, but it’s a way in.

Notes from a conference I

Also worried about whether the duck can cope with that harsh New England climate

We’re a bit more than half-way through ISA here in snowy/rainy Montreal and I’m concerned about a number of things.

Most mundanely, I’m worried that even as we’re getting people interested in writing some guest posts for us, the top post is about the movie I watched on the way over.

Almost as mundanely, I’m worried that I’m not built for such an extended period of rich dining.

But mostly, I’m worried about how I teach.

There have been lots of roundtables and discussions about teaching at the conference, touching on all aspects of our practice. It’s been a while since I’ve had so much time to reflect and debate these points, in the broad way that we have been.

Obviously, much of this has been couched in the language and frame of the US experience, with its particular concerns and touchstones. But abstracting from that isn’t so much of a problem as the nature of my work.

As regular readers (who are more numerous and engaged than I realise: props to you all) will know, I work in a distance-learning University, where I never interact directly or synchronously with my students.

Much of our discussions have been about building the relationship with the students in our class, to create a space in which to exchange and learn, however we might specifically go about that.

But I don’t have that. Instead, I have to imagine my students.

Imagine who they are, how and why they study, what they know and what they want to know. My colleagues and I take an educated guess and pitch our materials in that general direction.

And then some (long) time later we find out how those students did on assessments, get some feedback and tack for the next time around. Not that the next time will necessarily be the same types of students.

I’d not really thought about this until now, mainly because I know that the system works pretty well in practice: student performances are strong, feedback is positive, our institution’s reputation is sound – none of that would be the case if we weren’t getting it right most of the time.

But the general is not the particular: just because we got it right before, doesn’t mean I will get it right now.

My worry is perhaps the worry we all hold, whatever our situation – that there is a risk in teaching, for our students, for us, for the process.

That worry is also perhaps what keeps us motivated to be thoughtful about what we do. By turning our worries into action, we might forestall the failure, we might improve our chances of making a difference, we might help our students to be, well, just more than they were before.

So I’m owning my worry, because my worry is pushing me forward, not holding me back.

And it shouldn’t hold you back either.

Don’t think, just do: Why Maverick is a bad teacher

Yes, I’ve been sent across the ocean once again, this time to ISA in Montreal.

We’ll be talking about teaching here (although not as much as planned after the cancellation of the pre-conference day) so I thought I should use the flight over to bone up on my movie representations of teaching.

As I’ve previously discussed, good teaching is apparently beyond any film producer, so I didn’t approach Top Gun: Maverick with much confidence. The film has already stimulated a pile of thought pieces about what it says about the US’s confidence in global leadership (spolier: not much positive), but no one has recognised the insights that Maverick has to convey about the practice of pedagogy.

[We’ll pause here to say that I probably have lots of spoilers hereafter, but frankly, if you didn’t already see the film, then you’re not going to now, so tough]

At first blush, this is a movie all about active, experiential learning: the team have to discover for themselves how to perform the seemingly impossible task, with Mav as some kind of sage mentor to help them believe in themselves. There are threshold learning moments, as pilots find out what more is possible when they do things like, um, go faster or, err, disobey orders. Hence the recurring motif of ‘don’t think, just do’.

There’s also a heterodox spin here: rule-breaking here is the goal, to help get inside the enemy’s OODA loop. ‘It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot’ comes up quite a lot and the unpredictability of the latter is the key to defeating SAMs and 5th-Gen fighters.

But all this falls down on the conceit that Maverick himself is the best there is: his excellence is the key to unlocking his students’ potential.

He is the one who has to show that the timed bombing run can be done within the time, that the g-forces can be withstood, that the fractious individuals can be knitted into a team through a session of beach ‘football’.

Yes, this is a very particular kind of teaching situation, with a very specific learning objective, but leaves us with the trope of teaching-as-performance, where students are to be stunned into learning by the sheer majesty of what they see before them.

If nothing else, most of us aren’t those kinds of people.

And nor should we be.

Active learning is about helping students to see the doors to learning and getting them to open those doors and walk through: not smashing them down then showing students the limits of what can be done beyond them.

The objective is not to be the hero of the classroom, but its facilitator, because the classroom is about the learners, not the teacher.

Which is why I always like coming to conferences like these, where I can learn from others who’ve done stuff that I haven’t and we can reflect on how to move things forward.

[I also watched Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow on the flight, which I now realise also involves a lot of teaching, but you really don’t want my opinions on that one]