By Doug Ward

The intellectual work that goes into teaching often goes unnoticed.

All too often, departments rely on simple lists of classes and scores from student surveys of teaching to “evaluate” instructors. I put “evaluate” in quotation marks because those list-heavy reviews look only at surface-level numerical information and ignore the real work that goes into making teaching effective, engaging, and meaningful.

A pile of books next to a notebook with a pen on top
Debby Hudson via Unsplash

An annual evaluation is a great time for instructors to document the substantial intellectual work of teaching and for evaluators to put that work front and center of the review process. That approach takes a slightly different form than many instructors are used to, and at a CTE workshop last week we helped draw out some of the things that might be documented in an annual review packet and for other, more substantial reviews.

Participants shared a wide range of activities that showed just how creative and devoted many KU instructors are. The list might spur ideas for others putting together materials for annual review:

Engagement and learning

Nearly all the instructors at the workshop reported modifying classes based on their observations, reviews of research, and student feedback from previous semesters. These included:

  • Moving away from quizzes and exams, and relying more on low-stakes assignments, including blog posts, minute papers, and other types of writing assignments to gauge student understanding.
  • Moving material online and using class time to focus on interaction, discussion, group work, peer review, and other activities that are difficult for students to do on their own.
  • Using reflection journals to help students gain a better understanding of their own learning and better develop their metacognitive skills.
  • Providing new ways for students to participate in class. This included adding a digital tool that allows students to make comments on slides and add to conversations the way they do through online chats.
  • Using universal design to provide choices to students for how they learn material and demonstrate their understanding.
  • Scaffolding assignments. Many instructors took a critical look at how students approached assignments, identifying skills in more detail, and helping students build skills layer by layer through scaffolded work.
  • Bringing professionals into class to broaden student perspectives on the discipline and to reinforce the importance of course content.
  • Creating online courses. In some cases, this involved creating courses from scratch. In others, it meant adapting an in-person course to an online environment.
  • Rethinking course content. Sarah Browne in math remade course videos with a lightboard. That allowed students to see her as she worked problems, adding an extra bit of humanity to the process. She also used Kaltura to embed quizzes in the videos. Those quizzes helped students gauge their understanding of material, but they also increased the time students spent with the videos and cut down on stopping part-way through.

Overcoming challenges

  • Larger class sizes. A few instructors talked about adapting courses to accommodate larger enrollment or larger class sizes. More instructors are being asked to do that each semester as departments reduce class sections and try to generate more credit hours with existing classes.
  • Student engagement. Faculty in nearly all departments have struggled with student engagement during the pandemic. Some students who had been mostly online have struggled to re-engage with courses and classmates in person. As a result, instructors have taken a variety of steps to interact more with students and to help them engage with their peers in class.
  • Emphasis on community. Instructors brought more collaborative work and discussion into their courses to help create community among students and to push them to go deeper into course material. This included efforts to create a safe and inclusive learning environment to bolster student confidence and help students succeed.
  • Frequent check-ins. Instructors reported increased use of check-ins and other forms of feedback to gauge students’ mood and motivation. This included gathering feedback at midterm and at other points in a class so they could adjust everything from class format to class discussions and use of class time. At least one instructor created an exit survey to gather feedback. David Mai of film and media studies used an emoji check-in each day last year. Students clicked on an emoji to indicate how they were feeling that day, and Mai adapted class activities depending on the mood.

Adapting and creating courses

The university has shifted all courses to Canvas over the last two years. Doing so required instructors to put in a substantial amount of time-consuming work. This included:

  • Time involved in moving, reorganizing, and adapting materials to the new learning management system.
  • Training needed through Information Technology, the Center for Online and Distance Learning, and the Center for Teaching Excellence to learn how to use Canvas effectively and to integrate it into courses in ways that help students.

Ji-Yeon Lee from East Asian languages and culture went even further, creating and sharing materials that made it easier for colleagues to adapt their classes to Canvas and to use Canvas to make courses more engaging.

Resources on documenting teaching

CTE has several resources available to help instructors document their teaching. These include:

  • A page on representing and reviewing teaching has additional ideas on how to document teaching and student learning, and how to present that material for review. One section of the page includes resources on how to use results from the new student survey of teaching.
  • A page for the Benchmarks for Teaching Effectiveness project has numerous resources related to a framework developed for evaluating teaching. These include a rubric with criteria for the seven dimensions of effective teaching that Benchmarks is based on; an evidence matrix that points to potential sources for documenting aspects of teaching; and a guide on representing evidence of student learning.

Documenting teaching can sometimes seem daunting, but it becomes easier the more you work on it and learn what materials to set aside during a semester.

Just keep in mind: Little of the intellectual work that goes into your teaching will be visible unless you make it visible. That makes some instructors uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that you are your own best advocate. Documenting your work allows you to do that with evidence, not just low-level statistics.

Doug Ward is an associate director at the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism and mass communications.

By Doug Ward

Nearly a decade ago, the Associated Press began distributing articles written by an artificial intelligence platform.

Not surprisingly, that news sent ripples of concern among journalists. If a bot could turn structured data into comprehensible – even fluid – prose, where did humans fit into the process? Did this portend yet more ominous changes in the profession?

Robots carrying paper run from a lecture hall
By DALL-E and Doug Ward

I bring that up because educators have been raising many of the same concerns today about ChatGPT, which can not only write fluid prose on command, but can create poetry and computer code, solve mathematical problems, and seemingly do everything but wipe your nose and tuck you into bed at night. (It will write you a bedtime story if you ask, though.)

In the short term, ChatGPT definitely creates challenges. It drastically weakens approaches and techniques that educators have long used to help students develop foundational skills. It also arrives at a time when instructors are still reeling from the pandemic, struggling with how to draw many disengaged students back into learning, adapting to a new learning management system and new assessment expectations, and, in most disciplines, worrying about the potential effects of lower enrollment.

In the long term, though, we have no choice but to accept artificial intelligence. In doing so, we have an opportunity to develop new types of assignments and assessments that challenge students intellectually and draw on perhaps the biggest advantage we have as educators: our humanity.

Lessons from journalism

That was clearly the lesson the Associated Press learned when it adopted a platform developed by Automated Insights in 2014. That platform analyzes data and creates explanatory articles.

For instance, AP began using the technology to write articles about companies’ quarterly earnings reports, articles that follow a predictable pattern:

The Widget Company on Friday reported earnings of $x million on revenues of $y million, exceeding analyst expectations and sending the stock price up x%.

It later began using the technology to write game stories at basketball tournaments. Within seconds, reporters or editors could make basic stories available electronically, freeing themselves to talk to coaches and players, and create deeper analyses of games.

The AI platform freed business and financial journalists from the drudgery of churning out dozens of rote earnings stories, giving them time to concentrate on more substantial topics. (For a couple of years, I subscribed to an Automated Insights service that turned web analytics into written reports. Those fluidly written reports highlighted key information about site visitors and provided a great way to monitor web traffic. The company eventually stopped offering that service as its corporate clients grew.)

I see the same opportunity in higher education today. ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence platforms will force us to think beyond the formulaic assignments we sometimes use and find new ways to help students write better, think more deeply, and gain skills they will need in their careers.

As Grant Jun Otsuki of Victoria University of Wellington writes in The Conversation: “If we teach students to write things a computer can, then we’re training them for jobs a computer can do, for cheaper.”

Rapid developments in AI may also force higher education to address long-festering questions about the relevance of a college education, a grading system that emphasizes GPA over learning, and a product-driven approach that reduces a diploma to a series of checklists.

So what can we do?

Those issues are for later, though. For many instructors, the pressing question is how to make it through the semester. Here are some suggestions:

Have frank discussions with students. Talk with them about your expectations and how you will view (and grade) assignments generated solely with artificial intelligence. (That writing is often identifiable, but tools like OpenAI Detector and CheckforAI can help.) Emphasize the importance of learning and explain why you are having them complete the assignments you use. Why is your class structured as it is? How will they use the skills they gain? That sort of transparency has always been important, but it is even more so now.

Students intent on cheating will always cheat. Some draw from archives at greek houses, buy papers online or have a friend do the work for them. ChatGPT is just another means of avoiding the work that learning requires. Making learning more apparent will help win over some students, as will flexibility and choices in assignments. This is also a good time to emphasize the importance of human interaction in learning.

Build in reflection. Reflection is an important part of helping students develop their metacognitive skills and helping them learn about their own learning. It can also help them understand how to integrate AI into their learning processes and how they can build and expand on what AI provides. Reflection can also help reinforce academic honesty. Rather than hiding how they completed an assignment, reflection helps students embrace transparency.

Adapt assignments. Create assignments in which students start with ChatGPT and then have discussions about strengths and weaknesses. Have students compare the output from AI writing platforms, critique that output, and then create strategies for building on it and improving it. Anne Bruder offeres additional suggestions in Education Week, Ethan Mollick does the same on his blog, and Anna Mills has created a Google Doc with many ideas (one of a series of documents and curated resources she has made available). Paul Fyfe of North Carolina State provides perhaps the most in-depth take on the use of AI in teaching, having experimented with an earlier version of the ChatGPT model more than a year ago. CTE has also created an annotated bibliography of resources.

We are all adapting to this new environment, and CTE plans additional discussions this semester to help faculty members think through the ramifications of what two NPR hosts said was startlingly futuristic. Those hosts, Greg Rosalsky and Emma Peaslee of NPR’s Planet Money, said that using ChatGPT “has been like getting a peek into the future, a future that not too long ago would have seemed like science fiction.”

To that I would add that the science fiction involves a robot that drops unexpectantly into the middle of town and immediately demonstrates powers that elicit awe, anxiety, and fear in the human population. The robot can’t be sent back, so the humans must find ways to ally with it.

We will be living this story as it unfolds.

Doug Ward is an associate director at the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism and mass communications.